The other day, I walked into the gym, ready to workout and witnessed a disturbing situation. A young, overweight women, wearing a traditional hijab, gold bangles, and comfortable clothes (not “gym” clothes), walked in. She looked nervous and scared. It was obvious she was at the gym for the first time. What really surprised me though, was the looks she got from those around me. Some people stopped in their footsteps, others eyed her up and down. What was this women feeling? In the next breath, I looked up and the women turned around, and walked out. As I continued to run on the treadmill, it bought back an old moment of time in my life. I was in 2nd year university, now more that 20 years ago, and I too had walked into the gym for the very first time: “I walked into the huge open room with hundreds of mysterious machines. I felt like everyone was watching me, judging what I was wearing, and how well I was doing. I was frustrated that I didn’t know how to operate the weight machines. I felt too ashamed to ask for help, because it looked like everyone knew what they were doing…” I am a women of visible minority, but that day, I wore the perfectly coordinated gym outfit, I was not overweight and I did not have any “cultural” clothing on, yet, I still had felt the “fear of going to the gym”. Today, as a registered dietitian, a mother, and a heart patient, I know this women is a “walking time bomb” for heart disease, for diabetes, for high blood pressure and much more. She needs to be in the gym. She needs to exercise. She needs to lose weight. Being a women, of visible minority, and wearing cultural clothing such as a hijab, or a turban coupled with walking into an intimating gym is a recipe for disaster. In my heart, I felt this women’s pain. She took the courage to take the first step, she made time out of her busy life, to make a difference and take care of herself, but she was not able to take the first step. After this incident, I spoke to a close friend about what I had experienced. Ironically, she wore a hijab. She used the words, fear, anxiety attacks, embarrassment, and family values, and said she too had been in the same position, so she simply stopped going to the gym. I was in shock! So many times, I’ve had people say to me, “I really need to get in shape, so I can go to the gym”, but I never really understood it, until now. Although, it’s normal to experiencefears when you go to the a gym, for women, especially those of a visible minority, its very difficult, but not impossible. It requires courage, support, a friend and some planning. Here are some tips and suggestions, until you find your rhythm, and get comfortable. Soon you will see that your fears are your worst enemy. Let’s celebrate women, and find the courage to take the first step, it’s always the hardest…
Dress comfortably You don’t need to have a perfectly matched gym outfit, just something that is comfortable and you feel great about! There are many reasonably priced options so find something that fits you now and is flattering Own your Space It’s fine to claim the treadmill in the darkest corner of the gym, place down your yoga mat near the door or an elliptical that’s in the back quiet corner. Going early and find your personal space. Grab some great tunes, or listen to an audio book to get into your zone. Try a Class There’s safety and comfort in numbers. In a class everyone is of different ages and body sizes and moving forward together. It’s encouraging because there’s always someone behind you and someone better than you Time it Right! One thing that always worked for me, and still does, is to go to the gym when it’s least busy. For my gym, that’s early morning, early afternoon or late evening. Find a time that works for your schedule and take the plunge! Ask for Help Don’t be scared or ashamed to ask for help. That’s why they have people working there, to help. Doing an exercise machine the wrong way can be more harmful, than simply asking for help.
The hardest part of my journey was taking that #firststep