Help! I'm afraid of exercise

..and if I don't get over it soon, I'll get cancer. Apparently.
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..and if I don't get over it soon, I'll get cancer. Apparently.

The Lancet Medical Journal recently published a study that states that smoking and physical inactivity are the two major risk factors for non-communicable diseases around the globe.

This, of course, sparked a whole load of buzz articles in the way that only the What-Causes-Cancer-Paper-Du-Jour can do.

Apart from reminding us that exercise is good for you, the paper made several other sweeping statements as well, all backed up with a load of figures and statistics that I skipped through. Including the claim that being inactive is perceived as normal.

I beg to differ, Mr Science and Medicine Man (it was a man I'm not just being linguistically patriarchal here). 

I am inactive. And if I had to guess, I'd say that people wouldn't be surprised to learn that I don't exercise (although they might be surprised to hear me admit it). I am a fat girl, after all.

But I don't for one second think they would tell me that it is a 'normal' way to live, no matter how much the rising obesity statistics splutter and cough and bang their hands on the table in a vain attempt to try and get our attention.

Fat is still not 'normal' - any girl who has been to secondary school could tell you that. So why, you might ask, don't I exercise? Surely I must know that by increasing my movement even a little bit I'll improve my chances of losing weight?

Sure I do. And I also know that my diet is fairly healthy. In fact it is more balanced than the diets of the majority of the people I know (GASP). The legacy of my disordered eating is my fat, but I no longer eat in a way that increases my weight, or more importantly my self-hatred.

It's not that I am lazy - although that is a popular family joke - but whenever a walk is suggested I pull a face. I baulk at the idea of a bike ride with someone.

However, I love to swim and to cycle and to hula hoop. I love yoga and pilates and the plank and I even enjoy weight training. But rarely will you see me do any of those things.


A wild Hattie has been spotted in water. Don't use splash 

The fact is I am afraid to exercise. Which is definitely not normal (I know because I've Googled it many a time and have yet to find a name for it).

I plan to get up early tomorrow and cycle into work, and already the thought of it is making my heart pound faster. I think about hula hooping when I'm home from work and my stomach flips with apprehension.

If I ever actually force myself to leave the house without the safety net of my car I get something close to a panic attack.

Maybe it's the last vestiges of my agoraphobia still gripping me. Leaving the house is difficult some days and having safe 'spaces' like my car (which also provides an easy escape) is important. Walking somewhere is anxiety inducing.

Maybe it's because I am afraid of the aspects of myself that are obsessive and controlling. I am worried about the times in my life when I've over-exercised and over-dieted. The schedules, the targets, the rules, have all ended up being too triggering.

Maybe it's because I am afraid of losing weight and what my sense of self would be if I did. But that is a whole book in itself and I believe Susie Orbach has already written it.

Maybe it's because I am afraid of being seen to exercise. I know, I know, it's muthafudging crazy. But bear with me.

When a fat girl goes outside she puts her body in the public domain. Experience has taught us that the public domain is a place to fear.

Whether it's from school, magazines, the internet, your parents, your friends, your coworkers, your spouses, strangers on the street, drunks in pubs and clubs, everyone thinks that they somehow have some right to you.

The thicker and thicker layers of fat cannot protect you from people and the things they say, the access they feel they have to your sense of self.

A fat girl eating in public might be subject to the waitress judging her choice of food. She might have friends trying to convince her to have pudding with them because they only feel able to do so if she does as well.

She might be told how 'good' her food choice is by her mother and the nutritional value of what she's trying to eat. She might have more food pushed on her by well meaning Jewish relatives.

She might have a boyfriend suggest a salad or a brother comment on how fast she's eating. She might be conspiratorally told about 'naughty' eating, or how much weight so-and-so lost on Atkins.

A fat girl exercising in public might get sneers from people as she gets sweatier, redder, more out of breath than others.

She might get people assuming that she is somehow doing it wrong or 'cheating' because she is still fat and not miraculously Megan Fox. She might get pity because she can't go as hard or as fast or for as long as you.


This is the most exercise I do now. Note that I think by moving my hands out to the side I will somehow manage to beat my brothers at Mario Kart 

The fact is it's not exercise I fear (I don't think) it's all of those reactions and more importantly my own emotional response to them.

I eat a second breakfast, despite not being hungry, if my dad has bought croissants, because I can't help but feel that by saying no to those pastries I'd be somehow rejecting his love.

So you can imagine my fear of cycling to work, ducking my head so I don't see the eyes on my flushed cheeks or, on my return home, my housemate noticing how long it takes for my breathing to calm down.

I know that I can only fix these things by exercising, but I'm afraid of somehow failing and being visible to others in failure. I don't yet know what that failure would entail but I fear losing myself in it.

Does anyone else fear exercise or am I really the only one? Also - how do I get over it so I don't get cancer?