5-Star Wellness Retreat

Is Shame Keeping You from Working Out?

yoga pose

“I’m too busy.”

“My back / knee / shoulder / pinky finger hurts too much to exercise.”

“I’m allergic to exercise.  No, seriously.”

“The dog ate my sneakers.”

When it comes to working out there’s no shortage of excuses offered by those who would rather do anything but.  However, there’s one excuse that’s rarely voiced out loud, even though it’s extremely common and charged with painful emotion.  The excuse?  “I’m too ashamed (or embarrassed)”. 

Perhaps this excuse has been holding you back…

On any given day, feelings of shame and embarrassment keep countless individuals stuck in their out-of-shape bodies and as far away as possible from gyms, health clubs, swimming pools, and anywhere else people go to work out.  The fear of being judged and humiliated is powerful; not to mention both paralyzing and incredibly demotivating. 

Sadly, it creates a vicious cycle.  You see, every time you avoid something there’s a short-term payoff.  It comes in the form of not having to experience unpleasant feelings.  And that payoff reinforces the avoidant behavior. 

What’s even worse is that each time you avoid exercising, you increase (or at least maintain) the very thing you’re ashamed of.  For example, if you’re too embarrassed to exercise because you’re ashamed of your out-of-shape body, not working out isn’t the solution.  It just keeps you out of shape and, over time, results in your being even more out of shape – and feeling more ashamed. 

Do you see the irrationality in this way of thinking?   It’s understandable, but irrational. 

Identify the reasons for your shame or embarrassment

Fortunately, shame and avoidance can be overcome.  But in order to do that, you first need to identify all the reasons you feel ashamed or embarrassed.  Following are some of the most common:

  • You don’t know what to wear (to the gym, etc.)
  • You’re afraid of being klutzy
  • You worried about looking foolish or stupid
  • You’re ashamed of your body (too fat, too out of shape, too much cellulite, not toned or muscular enough, etc.)
  • You fear other people will judge you harshly (for being fat, out of shape, etc.)
  • You’re certain everyone will notice you (and be highly critical)
  • You’re comparing yourself to others (for example, you’ll zero in only on those who look much better than you and selectively filter out anyone who looks similar to or worse than you – aren’t our brains clever?!)

Sometimes you have to do a bit of internal digging to unearth the real reason or reasons for your shame.  Perhaps someone said something hurtful (e.g. “I prefer women who are toned – and you aren’t”) that’s stuck with you for a long time.  Or perhaps you grew up with a critical parent who always seemed to find fault with your body, weight, or appearance. 

Once you identify and acknowledge the reason or reasons for your shame, you can start taking steps to overcome it. 

10 tips for overcoming the embarrassment and shame

Following are several things you can do to shift the way you see yourself, debunk your erroneous perceptions about others, and overcome the feelings of shame and embarrassment that are keeping you from getting and keeping your body in shape – which, by the way, is something you absolutely deserve.

  1. Rather than focusing on all the beautiful, perfectly toned and ripped bodies of others around you (at the gym or wherever), focus on this thought instead:  There are literally millions of out of shape, overweight individuals sitting at home in front of their TV, working their way through a bag of cookies or chips who, unlike you, aren’t being proactive and doing something to improve their bodies and their health.  Be proud of the fact that you’re doing something to improve your body and your health!
  2. Forgive yourself and let go of the past. Yes, perhaps you could have done more to get and stay in shape.  Yes, you could have been more disciplined with your diet and kept the pounds off.  However, all those “woulda, coulda, shouldas” won’t get you anywhere – except nose deep in a quart of Haagen-Dazs to make yourself feel better!  You can beat yourself up for past mistakes ‘til the cows come home and hell freezes over, but it won’t accomplish anything.  Make a decision to forgive yourself for past mistakes. 
  3. Be mindful of your self-talk.  That little voice in your head can be incredibly powerful, even though the things it says aren’t always true.  Pay attention to any negative phrases following “I am” (e.g. “I’m so fat”, “I’m a loser”, or “I’m so out of shape”). Make a conscious decision to talk to yourself like you would a close friend – with kindness, acceptance, and encouragement. 
  4. Remember that most people are too focused on what they’re doing to pay attention to you.  The only person who’s giving more than a second thought (or even a first thought) to your flaws is you.  The self-conscious paranoia is primarily in your head, and it’s part of the negative self-talk that you need to be mindful of. 
  5. Exercise in the privacy of your home.  Between online videos, workout DVDs, and home exercise equipment, there’s really no reason you can’t work out at home if you find the gym too daunting (at least for now).  If you’re on a tight budget, you can do bodyweight and other exercises that require nothing more than a mat. 
  6. Invest in some new workout apparel.  If you’re not sure what to wear for working out, you can find all sorts of information regarding fitness fashion online.  Consider investing in at least one new workout top and workout pants that you really like and feel good wearing.  Add to your wardrobe as your budget allows (and as your body changes for the better!). 
  7. Avoid comparing yourself to others. The comparison trap can be deadly to your self-esteem and self-confidence.  The sad thing is that it’s pointless.  There isn’t one other person at the gym (or wherever) who’s walked in your exact shoes in life, has a body (and genetic makeup) exactly like yours, or experienced your unique challenges and life experiences.  Not to mention, you’d be surprised how many people had a lot of work to do before they got to where they are now. 
  8. Focus on your goals.  The more you focus on your goals, the less susceptible you’ll be to worrying about everything else.  And be sure to reward yourself for both your efforts and your progress!
  9. Be patient with yourself.  Depending on how deep the shame you’re experiencing goes, it’s going to take some time to make these adjustments and start feeling more comfortable and confident.  There may be some days where it seems it’s one step forward and two steps back.  Give yourself time, focus on your goals, and you will gradually become more comfortable and improve your body. 
  10. Give yourself credit for pushing yourself forward, in spite of your fear.  Whether they’re big steps or tiny little baby steps, every step forward counts. They took courage and you deserve to give yourself credit for taking them! 

Make a decision today to no longer allow shame to keep you from having the healthy, fit body you deserve!