How it really feels to be the biggest girl at the gym – The Sun
WRITER Polly Jean Harrison, 24, reveals the nail-biting fear of stepping into the gym for the first time as a plus-size woman – and how she overcame her phobia.
"Standing on the running machine and looking around at all the toned women, my heart was pounding – but not from my workout. At a size 28, I was the biggest woman on the gym floor and I felt like everyone was judging me.
I’ve always been large, because I ate a lot and didn’t exercise. Growing up, I was self-conscious about my body and avoided the scales, and by the time I was 13 I was already a size 16-18.
My parents helped me when I wanted to lose weight by offering support and cooking healthier meals, but diets never worked.
Although I had close friends, I still got nasty comments about my size. Once, I heard girls at school laughing at me during PE, and another time a boy said he’d never go out with someone as fat as me.
Their words really hurt, so I felt anxious if people laughed around me, assuming I was the butt of their jokes. When I went to Keele University in September 2014, aged 18, I was a size 22.
I felt like all eyes were on me whenever I went into a lecture. I was quiet and kept to myself, but the few times I went on dates I’d panic that men were judging my body. Whenever I felt down about my looks or studies, I’d comfort eat.
Chocolates, sweets and takeaways were my vice, and I was too ashamed of my weight to go for a run, never mind step into the gym.
When I graduated in July 2017 and moved back in with my parents in north Wales, I was a size 28 and weighed 26st – at 5ft 7in, it was the biggest I’d ever been. I hated what I saw in the mirror, and I even struggled to walk up stairs without getting out of breath.
I knew I had to lose weight, and my GP agreed. In the past I’d tried fad diets, but nothing stuck. I needed to exercise, especially since I’d sit all day at my office job as an administrator.
So in March 2019, I signed up to a gym. Thankfully, it had a ladies-only section, but just thinking about going sent me into cold sweats.
According to a poll by Sure Women, I’m not alone, as one in four women avoid the gym for fear of being judged. I bought a new gym kit to boost my confidence, and set my alarm for 7am.
At the gym, I kept my eyes down, prayed no one would look at me and climbed on to the running machine – feeling sick that it might break under my weight – and started jogging.
Everyone was slimmer than me, and I worried people were looking at my jiggly arms, but I continued with my workout for an hour, walking and stopping when I needed.
'BOOST MY CONFIDENCE'
I even managed some sit-ups, and no one laughed when I had to stop to catch my breath. Afterwards, I was relieved and went straight home to shower – there was no way I was stripping off in the changing rooms.
At work that day, I felt so proud, and the endorphin rush from the exercise was huge. My next gym visit a few days later wasn’t quite as scary. One lady even told me she was impressed with how hard I was working.
Since then, I’ve been going to the gym three times a week and have been trying to eat more fresh fruit and veg instead of chocolate and crisps.
I’ve lost 2st, and am now a size 24 and 24st, and I feel a bit fitter – I’ve even started doing press-ups, something I thought was impossible.
Some days I have to give myself a pep talk before starting a workout. If I’m feeling insecure, I’ll think about plus-size model Tess Holliday and singer Lizzo, who both work out and are very successful in their careers.
Facing my gym fears has done wonders for my self-esteem. I’ve been with my boyfriend Thomas, 26, for nine months, after meeting online, and he’s been really supportive.
I’ve also moved to Nottingham to complete a master’s degree in magazine journalism.
My arms still wobble and my face turns bright red, but now I know being the biggest girl at the gym is nothing to be ashamed of."
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