I feel body conscious because I’m not into fitness but all my friends are gym junkies. How do I cope with the pressure?
- When both society and your friends are pressurizing you to go to the gym, it's hard to ignore.
- But the gym isn't for everyone, and if it isn't for you that's fine.
- Movement is of course important, but there's no one size fits all solution — you need to find what you enjoy.
- Focus on your overall health and how your body feels, not how it looks.
- Read more Working It Out here.
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Lately I seem to be very conscious about my body, especially with other people going to the gym multiple times a week. I guess what I'm saying is, how should I cope with all my friends who are gym junkies pointing out I'm the odd one out that doesn't work out as much?
We live in a world where it's very hard not to compare yourself to everyone around you, but one of the best realizations you can make is that you are you, and what's right for your friends isn't necessarily right for you.
Body-shaming is rife and often subliminal. There's a lot of societal pressure to fit a, quite frankly, unrealistic ideal, and it's really challenging to ignore those pressures.
Those pressures make so many of us feel not good enough, not fit enough, not lean enough — but you are enough.
Comparison is the thief of joy
It's an often bandied around phrase, but "comparison is the thief of joy" is very true. If you can't appreciate what you have and are always feeling bad because someone else appears to do or have something better, you'll never be happy.
You don't have to ditch your friends for having different interests to you — I'm a lot more into fitness than all my close friends — but you'd do well to surround yourself, virtually or otherwise, with people who will help you stay strong when your friends start talking about how much they're going to the gym.
And social media is a good place to start.
"Unfollow any accounts that are promoting weight loss or super slim bodies as the only way to be healthy," said Emily Harding, a qualified yoga teacher, body positivity advocate, and founder of Yeh Yoga.
"There are so many incredible accounts by real people out there that are helping to dismantle the toxic body-shaming messages about our bodies. Diversify your feed so that when you open your apps, you see content that inspires you instead of promoting insecurities about your body," she said.
Curating your feed makes a big difference. When I became a lot more aware of how certain Instagram accounts made me feel about my body, and then started unfollowing some, it helped change my outlook for the better.
Focus on your health and happiness, not your appearance
An important mindset shift to make is away from how your body looks, and more about how it feels and performs.
"Treasure your body for what it can do for you, not for its shape or what it looks like. Focus on your overall health and happiness," Harding told Insider.
There's a lot more to being fit and healthy than going to the gym all the time — you need to make sure you're nourishing your body, keeping your stress levels down, looking after your mental health, having meaningful social interactions, and keeping alcohol in moderation, to name but a few.
"Fitness and working out isn't the be-all and end-all," Harding said. "Health is so much more than the shape of our bodies."
No one's body stays the same forever, so tying your happiness and feeling of self-worth to your appearance is a recipe for disaster.
Find a way of moving that makes you feel good
I'm not going to say don't move at all, because being completely sedentary isn't healthy. But that doesn't have to be the gym.
When it comes to movement, there certainly isn't a one size fits all solution.
Some people truly do love the gym, but a lot don't. They force themselves to go due to external pressure and it feels like punishment, which is unsustainable. It sounds like this is your position, and life's too short.
There will be a type of movement you enjoy though, you've just got to try some more things, maybe climbing, boxing, joining a sports team, or yoga will be for you. And you'll likely find a new community of friends when you find your new passion too.
If you feel self-conscious about your body, you can start at home.
"Practicing on Zoom can be amazing as you can have the screen off and it's just you," said Harding, who offers yoga classes over Zoom.
"Yoga teaches us to be content with where we're at and what we've got, rather than chasing or craving what others have," she added.
Listen to yourself, not your friends
Your friends may think they're looking out for you by commenting on the fact that you're not going to the gym, but shaming someone into adopting healthier habits never works.
"Are you feeling conscious about your body because deep down you feel you should be doing more, or is it purely driven by the fact you feel everyone is doing something you're not? That's an important distinction to make," London-based personal trainer Faisal Abdalla told Insider.
"I always tell people on fitness journeys to find their 'why' — the thing that drives them and squeezes that little bit extra out of the tank when they feel like they're done," Faisal said.
"If your 'why' is a fear of being the odd one out, you will never stick with your fitness journey because any journey of self-improvement should be embarked upon for you and you only. However, if your 'why' is because deep down you know exercising more will help you become a better version of yourself, then I'd say listen to that voice because it's probably right," he added.
Be honest about how you feel
Talk to your friends about how their comments make you feel. Explain to them that they're not motivating, but discouraging you.
This doesn't have to be the case though.
If they're your friends, they will have your best interests at heart, and they will want to know what they could actually do to help.
"Use their energy to fuel your journey but don't fall into the trap of feeling you need to join them on theirs," Abdalla said. "We are all on different paths, we all have different goals, abilities, and schedules, so have the confidence to stay in your own lane. Avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others. You want to get better, not bitter, so do you, for you. You've got this!"
Wishing you well,
As a senior lifestyle reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you're struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world's most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she's always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
Have a question? Ask Rachel at [email protected] or fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.
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