Doubt Creeps In

A friend of mine recently posted this meme to Facebook. Along with it she posted how self conscious she feels when she does work out. She stated that she feels like everyone is looking at her and judging how fat she is, how out of shape she is, how bad she is at it and how she just doesn’t belong there- wherever ‘there’ is. She’s not an athlete and everyone knows it. Or at least that what she/we think. But when you start out, you have to remember a few things.
Exercising is competitive, but the competition is what we make it.
It is so scary to join the world of fitness. It’s competitive by nature. We run races, we win games, we beat records- it seems like so much of being an athlete is determined by winning. When you’re overweight and out of shape, you’re so far from the finish line that winning looks very different for beginners than it does for more accomplished athletes. For me, I had to let all of that go. I had to realize that I was way behind the curve and I had to want it more than be worried about winning or beating someone. I realized that running for two minutes was a tremendous deal for me. A reason to celebrate. For me, that was a win. When I ran for a mile for the first time, that was a win, too. My wins looked different from the guy who ran an ultra marathon and got his best time or the guy who came in first at the 5K. My win is just being able to do it. Realizing that the competition was all internal was pretty important.

{A deer in our neighborhood!}
Fitness is for everyone.
For some reason, in my head, it was an unofficial rule that fitness and participation in athletic activities was reserved for people who have been walking the walk for their whole lives. That there wasn’t room for late comers- I would be seen as a failure in the making or and interloper- worse yet- a poser! But fitness is for everyone.
Last week at boot camp there was a new couple. They were both really, really heavy and I would bet that this was their effort at a fresh start for a new life together, a new focus on getting fit. She was dressed to the nines with spanking fresh workout gear and cute shoes while he was wearing cargo shorts and those strappy athletic sandals. Throughout the whole workout I could see them struggling- burpees were a joke, push-ups were out of the question, and by the time we got to the cool down song, neither of them got on the floor to stretch. They just stood there, breathing, and as soon as the song ended, they high-tailed it out of there. I wanted to run after them and tell them that it gets better. That the third or fourth time they come that they would have much more confidence, much more know how, the accommodations would be more clear, but it just wasn’t my place to do it. I would look like I pitied them or was an annoying know-it-all and it might point out that they stood, which they didn’t, but it would seem like it. I just identified with them. But I wanted to tell them that this was their place, too. That over time they would see and feel that. I hope they come back… Because fitness is for everyone and we all start somewhere.

Most people aren’t judging you in the way you think they are judging you.
When I first started running, I refused to go to the track. If I did go to the track, I ran on the outermost ring, far away from anybody else. I didn’t want to be seen as in the way or like I was really a part of this. I thought they would be looking at how slow I went, how my body jiggled, they would hear how hard I was breathing and see how much I was sweating. All things that pointed out my inefficiencies and toward the absolute truth that I was a joke running around the track. What I failed to realize is true athletes are looking for everybody to be in the same boat with them. True athletes do judge, but they are not judging in the way non-athletic people think they are. Athletes want everyone on the track, they want everyone to get active. Athletes don’t understand why people choose lives where their bodies are still and quiet, unused, so they aren’t judging the people on the track, they are proud of them! Sure, they do want us to follow the rules (slow people, stay to the right!) but they want everyone on the field.
I don’t necessarily consider myself an athlete in the sense that I’m referring to here, but I do consider myself to be moderately fit and in shape. Whenever I see someone who is clearly struggling, I feel so proud of them for bringing it. There’s nothing harder than getting going on an exercise plan when you’ve been fairly stagnate up to that point. It hurts physically and the mental games that we play with ourselves, the awful things we say to ourselves, can totally take us out of the game. As athletes, we compete, but we hold one another up and we always want more people on the team.
I have to be honest and say that I have been on the receiving end of catcalls of “Run, fat girl, run!” On two different occasions as I ran through my hood, but otherwise my big, jiggly butt hauling my hard breathing lungs around my neighborhood has done more good than anything. People who I’ve never spoken to before have stopped me on the street to tell me they have noticed what I’ve been doing. They see my changes and compliment my obvious health shift. They see my consistency and marvel aloud about it to me. They ask me what prompted it, how do I do it? They tell me I’ve inspired them to start losing weight/working out. So, even though I have been at the receiving end of some unkindness, I’ve gotten so much positive feedback and the negative feedback is terribly minimal. I belong.

Fit people don’t always look like you expect them to.
I never wanted to go to the gym because that’s where fit people worked out with their tiny shorts and cropped tops showing their toned midriffs. Going to the track would yield these topless Adonis type men with abs trickling down their bellies and rigid, strong, runner’s legs. You’ve seen them. It’s intimidating. The truth is very different than that. Fitness and having fit bodies looks incredibly diverse. I’m a fit person. I’m still technically overweight, but I can really bring it and you can’t deny that I’m still chunky. Some fit runners have skinny legs and a big torso. Some Zumba dancers are chubby, soft and still wearing revealing clothes. Some people at the gym are easily 450 pounds. Yes, there are the perfects, with perfect butts and abs and legs and nothing jiggles anywhere, but they’re not as omnipresent as you would think. Everyone fits in and athlete bodies are diverse, just like everything else.

Dress the part.
Because I never wanted to look like I was assuming too much about myself, I didn’t want to put the cart before the horse. When I first started working out I would wear old, ratty sweatpants that I had used for painting paired with a huge, ratty shirt. I felt gross, looked gross and performed to match. Just like any other situation, I needed to look good while I worked out. Especially when I was doing something so scary- imagine starting at a new school in your paint clothes! Why would we start any important project without making sure we are as successful as possible? When we look good, we feel good. When we feel good, we perform better. When we dress the part, we act the part. So when I looked gross and dressed like I didn’t matter, I was way less successful because I set the standard and told people that I was gross and didn’t matter. Plus, I told myself that, too. When I bought the uniform of running capris and a running shirt, it helped me to feel like I fit in and I felt good. I pushed myself harder. I acted the part. I’m not above putting on mascara to go to Zumba, either. I just feel cuter! And when I feel cuter, I dance way better! Silly, huh? But it works. Do what works!
(And I can’t stress this enough- get a good sports bra, ladies!! I like these moving comfort ones for my cans!)

If I’m perfectly honest, most of the things we worry that others are thinking about us are usually because we thought them first. We judge people. We joke in our heads about how fat someone is, how they look like they’re pulling a lot of air, that it looks like it their first time at the the track, that they are so fat it’s a lost cause- that’s us. Not them. Really we are just seeing ourselves as we think others see us. But 99% of the people who see us are proud of us. They realize what we are doing and they are impressed. They know how hard it is to get fit and maintain it. They know that the beginning is so difficult and they know where we are. And if you ever get down or discouraged, remember that no matter what you’re doing, you’re lapping your yesterday self who was sitting on the couch. Whatever you do today helps you tomorrow. You’re making a difference in your life, so just do it. Turn off the voices in your head, ignore the few voices who are actually big enough jerks to externalize it, and do what you can today. Go be amazing!

And here is a favorite article that I read when I was doubting this whole issue at the beginning. It’s important to hear someone else say this when doubt can be so crippling.


  1. LeAnn

    Thank you X a million! I really needed to read this today. In two hours I head out for day four of ‘running academy’. I’m slower than everyone, which makes it hard. But this was a good dose of encouragement at just the right time.

  2. Lesleigh A

    When ever I get back from a run or a race my daughter always asks me if I won. In the world’s reality I never will but as far as I’m concerned the fact that I’m out there running at all makes me a winner…so I tell her “Yes!”

  3. What awesome words!!! I feel so out of place most of the time but you’ve got me thinking about why I feel that way. I feel a mind shift coming on!!

  4. Sara

    I’m always amazed at how you put thoughts into words, Tami. Add to that your positive choices, hard work, and huge heart… you are something else! But you don’t need me to tell you! Xo

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