Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 11, 2011

Too Fat to Go to the Gym and Other Irrational Thoughts

A friend once tossed out one of my favorite workout-skipping excuses of all time: “I’m too fat to go to the gym.” My first thought was “That’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard.” But you know what? I totally got it. I’ve been too fat to go to the gym. Heck, I still am, depending on my mood and depending on the gym.

I used to go to Large Mega Corporate Gym™, and I frequently felt too fat to workout there. I was out of my league with all the buff weekend warriors looking to hook up with each other. I’d show up in my running shorts and appropriately baggy shirt with an even baggier sweatshirt over it, and inevitably I’d be running on the treadmill adjacent to someone who looked like she was working out in her bikini. During the week it wasn’t so bad, but on the weekends, it was like a Bud Light commercial without the beer. There were abs everywhere. Needless to say, it was not exactly my kind of crowd. My membership didn’t last long.

Alas, winters are icy and miserable in Chicago, so I needed a place to run on the treadmill. Reluctantly, I went to my local community fitness center. It was small and light on amenities, but it had a much more laid back vibe and no hook-up scene. There were still the occasional abs sightings, but for the most part people kept their shirts on. Literally.

However, because the fitness center was so compact, there were mirrors everywhere. Every time I went, no matter what treadmill I hopped on, I’d look up and there I was, running right back at myself. I tried to get on a treadmill behind a column or another piece of equipment to block my own reflection, but that tactic never worked. I couldn’t avoid my own gaze. Nothing like seeing yourself right before your own eyes to really make you take stock of your body.

So, I understand the “Too Fat to go the Gym” phenomenon. Between the zero-percent-body-fat babes in Lycra and the unforgiving mirrors of reality, there are certainly some strong incentives to stay home. But of course, we all know it’s ridiculous. You go to the gym to get in shape, not because you’re already in shape. Reason, however, doesn’t banish the irrationality. I’ve skipped yoga because I’m not flexible enough. I’ve put personal training on hiatus until I developed more muscle tone. And don’t ask me how long I postponed setting up lessons with a swim coach because I was such a bad swimmer.

It’s not just exercise-related things, either. This absurd phenomenon can be seen in other areas of life, like styling your hair before you go to the salon for a cut. Yes, I’ve even done an at-home manicure before getting my nails done (I don’t want the woman to think I walk around with horrible looking nails all the time, now do I?) And I know I’m not the only one. I once had a friend who obsessively cleaned before her house-cleaner’s twice-a-month visits. One day, she ran out of time, and in an effort to hide the dirty pots and pans before the house-cleaner arrived, my friend put all the dirty cookware in the oven. Later that night, her husband turned the oven on to pre-heat, without realizing what was inside. They nearly burnt down their whole apartment building.

It’s all part of the same problem: this idea that we need to have a level of proficiency in order to pursue an activity, to already be reasonably good at what it is we are trying to improve. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s there anyway, or at least it is for some of us.

I recently confronted this phenomenon head on when I was getting ready to go to biking camp last week. Even though I’d been reassured by the coaches that the goal of biking camp was to get in biking shape, I fretted that I wasn’t already in good enough biking shape to start. Yes, I’ve been riding indoors all winter, but I was far from peak fitness. What’s more, there would be hills at biking camp. Big ones. Not just the little highway overpasses we have here in Chicago. Things with steep grades, and I was simply not prepared for that. Clearly, I needed a biking camp to get in shape for biking camp, but I’d run out of time (and money). And, of course, it could be an endless cycle. I’d need a pre-pre-trip to get ready for the pre-trip to get ready for the trip. Where would I draw the line? In the end, I had to let go of the irrationality and remind myself that it’s okay to get winded on a climb, just like it’s ok to jog on a treadmill while trying to shed those extra pounds. I still, however, will do my nails before getting a manicure. After all, I have my pride.


  1. I totally get you and your excuses. Some of them are my excuses too. One of my favorite’s is the need to have stronger muscles before I take a strength training class at the gym. Another is the thought that I would need to clean the house before the house keeper has arrived (that is why we don’t have one!)
    I find that when I whine and make excuses to others, someone always puts me in my place and tells me how it really is.

  2. I sure loved working out with all those hot strippers at Crunch on South Beach, Miami. Being an average woman, I was completely invisible. I was fat, but who cared? Watching them hook up with the meathead weight lifters was like watching a soap opera unfold right in front of my eyes. Not *quite* the same at Bigfork Athletic Club, watching the old people and their four-pronged canes try to stay on the treadmills. Those old women loved to parade around nude in the lockerroom, showing you your breasts’ sad, unhappy future. So, this time, I went back to Gold’s. My friend said, “Oh, you don’t want to work out there…too many meatheads….” But I’ll take meatheads over real life naked women ANY DAY.

  3. Isn’t it weird…that as adults, we have this fear of NOT doing something because we’re uncomfortable (for whatever reason) but as kids…it’s like we’re fearless. We have a better “can do” attitude as kids than as adults.

    Something seems backwards about this…

  4. Hysterical. And also sad because it’s SO true. I’ve heard this out of many other mouths, besides my own. Earlier this month I was studying Spanish in Guatemala. So what did I do all during the month before I left? Study Spanish at my computer. And yesterday, just before I went to the dental hygienist, guess what I did?

  5. I don’t think it’s “for whatever reason” at all. I’ve stopped going to Pilates privates with a specific trainer more than once, because I felt they were punishing me by working me to the point of being literally unable to breathe the next day because I came in there larger than they “thought” I ought to be.

    (And a lot of these are dancers and ex-dancers, so their concept of what a “too big” body is already going to be a little warped. I speak as one myself.)

    So no. I don’t think we should be down on ourselves and characterize something like that as an “excuse”, or say we’re being “lazy”. Aren’t we already relentlessly hard on ourselves?

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