Recently at a talk I was giving at Long Island University someone suggested that my exercise habits make me an anomaly among fat people, suggesting that most fat people don’t exercise.
I pointed out to her that my exercise and physical fitness (pressing 1,000 pounds with my legs, doing the splits etc.) make me an anomaly among everyone -typically I exercise more than anyone, of any size, in any room that I’m in. It should be clear that I don’t do this for my health- I do it because I’m a dancer (and a dancer who is moving to LA where she intends to work.) If I just wanted to be healthy I’d do 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week and take up knitting, learn a couple languages, and finish my damn book.
I also want to point out that the idea that most fat people don’t exercise is based on a stereotype and not good evidence. (The Fit Fatties Forum has only been around a few weeks and we already have almost 550 members talking about fitness from a Health at Every Size perspective.)
Even if we believe the stereotype, the truth is that it’s kind of amazing that fat people workout at all considering the massive social forces that work against us being physically fit.
First is the lie that if exercising doesn’t make us thin then it’s not making us healthier. This flies in the face of the actual evidence which shows that exercise will NOT lead to weight loss but does lead to health. The misinformation campaign around health, fitness and weight loss often causes people to give up on exercise when it doesn’t make them thinner. What they often don’t realize is that it’s making them healthier.
Then there are the challenges we face just getting dressed to exercise. While my thin friends try to decide between 20 brands of workout wear, what style of sports bra they want to wear, and which kind of advanced sweat wicking fabric they prefer, I’m desperately looking for one pair of workout pants that is wide enough for my ass and not too long for my short legs. Failing to find some, I often have to have my yoga pants hemmed. Dude. I don’t really care about looking cute at the gym but I’m not excited about pants that have a cathedral length train. And a lot of people do care about having cute clothes to wear at the gym and it’s not fair that thin people have that option but fat people don’t.
Next is what we face when we get there. Tonight two women who were at the gym with me at 3am illustrated almost every “what not to do” that there is.
First, people who assume that if you’re fat you must be new to the gym, or new to working out. Tonight as I started my interval work one of my two new best friends came up to me waving with desperate flailing muppet arms. I removed my earphones and she said “You’re going to hurt yourself, you don’t have to do it all right away, take it slow when you’re new!”
Next, the assumption that our size dictates what we can do. I was doing plyometric work (I was jumping on and off a box) and the other woman came over and told me that “jumping is dangerous at your size, you want to be careful.”
Then there is the assumption that we are unhappy with our current bodies, that our goal is weight loss, and that we want to be encouraged in that pursuit. In my gym next to the weights there is a wall of “success” stories where “success” is weight loss. I was resting between sets of leg pressing 630 pounds. The woman who was worried about my interval training showed back up to say “just keep working hard and you’ll be one of those successes on the wall someday.” As if pushing around more than twice my body weight doesn’t make me a success.
Happily I did not face the worst thing – which is when people are cruel to us at the gym. It happens sometimes – someone will moo at me or say something nasty to their friends within my hearing.
So I have to deal with all of this and I have the benefit of being experienced at the gym – I have a program, I know how the machines work, and I can kick the physical fitness ass of most of the people there and some days I still don’t want to deal with it. It can seriously suck for a beginner, and even if they don’t have a bad experience the intimidation factor can be off the charts.
There’s another option as well, I’ve been meaning to tell you all about this book for a long time. I actually got the book before I became friends with the author. Jeanette DePatie is The Fat Chick. She is a certified fitness professional who created a 12 week program to help people get into exercise. Whether you want to keep working out from home or you want to develop a baseline of fitness to be more comfortable at the gym, her program is awesome. Jeanette and I have since become very good friends (she is my get shit done soulmate) and she and I started the Fit Fatties Forum together. I highly recommend you check her out at www.TheFatChick.com. (The fine print: I paid for my copy of her book and she is not paying me at all for this endorsement. I just think that she is awesome and her program kicks ass.)
In exercise as in everything, you are the boss of your underpants. You get to decide if exercise is important to you. If you are trying to decide if it’s worth it, I highly recommend this video. Regardless of what each individual does, in the end I think that assumption that “fat people don’t exercise” is grossly oversimplified considering the tendency to stereotype fat people, the evidence to the contrary, and the issues that fat people face when we try to workout.
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