Stop me if this is a nightmare you still have: You’re wearing those tiny, humiliating shorts. You’re faced with the climbing rope, or sometimes it’s the chin up bar. Whatever task it is, you struggle to pull yourself up with arms that seem terribly flabby and inadequate, and you get nowhere. And then your classmates, a bunch of shithead kids in equally ridiculous shorts, laugh at you.
I don’t know what it is about physical education in school. If you’re a fat nerd (or a thin nerd, no need to exclude) the classes felt like they were tailor made to drive home the point that physical activity is the most miserable experience a human being can have inflicted upon them. And then there were the jocks. You know, the people who spent all their time being utterly mean to us, and then running effortlessly up and down the field, and you know what? Fuck those guys. They’re jerks. If that’s what it takes to be good at sports, you didn’t want to be one of them anyway.
When I was in junior high – this is a true story, just ask my mom – the first time they dragged us outside and made us run on the track, I was in the middle of a twenty teenager pile up and broke my leg. And I was relieved. Happy even. Because it meant that while everyone else had to run on the track – where I knew that I’d be puffing along at the back of the pack, if I could even keep running at all – instead, I got to sit on the bleachers and soak in all the sympathy you can earn for having a cast on your leg.
What the hell is wrong with this picture, that I’d feel happy I broke a bone?
This attitude follows us out of school, I’ve noticed. Just listen to how most people talk about physical fitness: I had a piece of cake, I need to punish myself on the elliptical trainer tomorrow. We’ve all heard things like that before. Exercise is presented as something you inflict upon yourself in retribution for enjoying good food, or playing too many video games, or just having the poor taste to be chunky. Maybe it’s just something that appeals to the weird, creepy inner puritan of the American psyche. Chocolate cake is something you like, so it’s a sin. Exercise is good for you, so that means it’s got to be unpleasant because it’s bad to enjoy things okay?
Because we all know, exercise isn’t supposed to be fun.
Yeah, screw that.
This is the problem, with treating exercise like a punishment: unless you’re a hard core masochist, you’re not going to want to be literally inflicting something horrible and unpleasant on yourself, day after day. It’s just not in human nature. There’s a lot of evolutionary programming in us that says unpleasant things are bad and that we should avoid them. Eventually, the urge to not suffer is probably going to win over your willpower. I think even more importantly, there’s the fact that life is short. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Why the hell do you want to spend a significant portion of your day doing something that you absolutely hate if you don’t have to do it to survive?
I struggled for a really long time trying to come up with an exercise regimen I could stick with, because I knew I was out of shape and I didn’t want to be. (Here, I mean out of shape as in “oh god don’t make me climb a flight of stairs” as opposed to “judgmental jerks call me fat.”) The problem was, after a while I’d find myself making excuses to not do it, because day after day, running on an elliptical trainer was slowly driving me insane. It wasn’t fun. If I had my choice between doing that and playing video games, the video games were eventually going to win because I’m only human.
And that’s okay.
This is the secret: exercise is supposed to be fun. The people who we all hated in school because they were stupidly, effortlessly fit? That was mostly because it was fun for them. When doing something is fun, that makes it really, really easy.
The first inkling I ever had that exercise could be fun was thanks to a game called Dance Dance Revolution. I could play that thing for hours at a time, until my muscles were just burning and screaming out for mercy, and I’d still be ready to keep going because it was fun. Working up a sweat and dancing until I thought my heart was going to explode was fun. Fitness was fun? It was fun!
I really believe that the first step you have to take is getting rid of that mental bullshit about exercise being punishment. Exercise shouldn’t be a thing you inflict upon yourself because you’re overweight or lack definition in your muscles or want to fit back into your old jeans. It needs to be a thing you do for yourself. It needs to be joyful and something that makes you feel alive.
And it can be anything that is joyful and makes you feel alive. I run and do kung fu. But I’m not the archetypal fat nerd. That’s a thing that doesn’t exist. My experience is not going to hold true for everyone, and I don’t expect you to like the same things that I like because I’m not a jerk.
So what to do? Do you like taking walks? Dancing? Water polo? Weightlifting? Do some exploring and see what you enjoy. Figuring that out is the first step, and we can always talk about that more later. The point is: whatever gets your heart going and helps you work up a sweat is a-okay as long as you like it, and anyone that tells you otherwise can go hang.
There aren’t many of these – I think that a lot about fitness is individual. But this, I’ll lay out there as a universal fat nerd truth: You need to have fun.
Because if you’re not having fun, why the hell are you doing it?
Hi, I’m Rachael. I’m a fat nerd. I also run 3-4 miles a day and have done kung fu for eight years. I’m not writing this because I want to be some kind of fitness guru. Hell no, that would be ridiculous. I’m writing this because I’ve got a lot of friends that struggle with the [metaphorical] Fitness Demon and I’m hoping my experience might make things a little easier for them. I’m also writing this because it’s a lot of stuff I wish someone had told me, back when I was making attempt after unsuccessful attempt to get into this exercise thing. If it helps you out, great.