The question: I am trying to go to the gym regularly, but I am extremely anxious about people looking at me as I train. Any advice on how I can feel more confident? The stress and anxiety of people watching me often makes me skip my workouts.
The answer: I know from experience that activity can be energizing and empowering, so it is disheartening to me that the quest to be active can become intertwined with feelings of body shame and a negative, judgmental internal dialogue. I wish less people felt the way you do: that the gym is a judgmental, unfriendly environment.
All I can say is, you are not alone.
Even I have contemplated skipping a workout out of shame. I once almost didn't go to a boot camp class with a girlfriend because I was feeling low energy. I didn't want her to judge my poor performance. When I told her, she looked at me like I was crazy, then responded that she almost didn't come out of fear I was judging her!
The main takeaway: Feelings of shame and guilt use up valuable energy, and are counterproductive. They often simply contribute to a negative cycle in which we feel guilty and judged so we don't do the things – like going to the gym – that will actually make us feel better about ourselves! We all have to stop judging ourselves and others, and instead use that energy to get up and move.
Instead of feeling guilty, acknowledge the less-than-perfect health decisions you may have made in the past, then learn from those mistakes and make better health choices next time. I know this advice is extremely easy to say, and very hard to do – I get it. But I also know that health is a process. So, if you know you currently can't get over this hurdle at the gym, find alternative ways to be active. Work out at home or walk outside.
Bottom line: Make movement a "non negotiable." Don't allow your fear to sabotage your health efforts or provide you with an out.
Trainer's tip: A great "gym-free" option is a pedometer. Gradually increase your daily step-count so eventually you get to a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. Bonus: Many phones now have free pedometer apps!
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.