For as long as I can remember, body-image issues have been my thing. Crying and pinching my stomach in front of the mirror at age nine; EDNOS from 12 through 16; calorie restriction, binge exercise, and a diet of grilled chicken and arugula at 20; a steel-reinforced armor of self-deprecating jokes and a falsified DGAF attitude today, at 23. At my lowest (during the Year of Arugula), I weighed 89 pounds. Now, I hover in the 130 range.
Needless to say, I have a terrible, terrible relationship with food and exercise. And you know what everyone, from a string of discarded therapists and physicians to my friends and even my mom, tells me? “You need to exercise.” That’s all I ever get. Not necessarily because I need to lose 40 pounds again, but because it would help to change my rapport with my own body for the better. This has been proven, I think.
But I don’t do it. I can’t. Even though I felt incredible after the exactly one time I went to a kickboxing class, even though I pay close to $100 a month to belong to a gym I’ve been to four times in the past four months, I have some kind of mental block. I just hate it. It makes me feel sleepy and sweaty and like I’m going to have a heart attack. I’m out of breath, I have a cramp in my side, I have poor coordination, I can’t keep up with everyone else in the class. Exercising makes me feel inadequate, because I’m not good at it, and I have trouble willingly subjecting myself to something I’m not good at. I’d rather sit at home and have a glass of wine, because I’m very good at that.
I’ve exercised in the traditional sense—hitting the gym, going to a $34 class—at most 15 times in the past three years. Because I get very little physical exertion aside from the necessary foot travel of city life, I don’t feel great. I am tired most of the time. My anxiety is pretty bad. My attention span and ability to focus are practically nonexistent. I spend a lot of time stressing out about my health and my weight, all while doing literally nothing to help myself.
Full disclosure, because I think this is important to mention: I don’t really have low self-esteem. I’m confident in the fact that I’m smart and easy to talk to and a little bit funny from time to time. I have plenty of friends, and my boyfriend frequently tells me that I’m a “cool domestic partner.” I don’t hate my life, but I would like for it to be better, and I would like to start now.
Over time, through talking to fitness professionals and health gurus and googling “best workout for people who hate working out,” I’ve deduced that getting a personal trainer can mean the difference between dragging your ass to the gym and paying $15 to cancel a class through ClassPass after the 24-hour cancellation window once again. I, like many other people who aren’t Khloe Kardashian, cannot afford a personal trainer at this time or maybe any other time, ever. But I can ask them questions. Lots and lots of questions.
I spoke to John Ford, a certified health and fitness specialist, about how he gets his clients to get shit done. His tactic? Agreeing that exercise can be the worst. “I get a lot of clients who hate working out, and I try to immediately commiserate with them,” says Ford. He also encourages said individuals to think about exercises they can do well, and which they’ve done in the past, and simply gives them pointers to make those moves more effective. “It builds up their confidence and develops a rapport between us so that we can start tackling more challenging workouts in the coming weeks and months.”
It’s an important lesson: Even if you, like me, have been out of the game for years, considering workouts you’ve done well with previously can make you feel better about getting started again. For example, I enjoyed doing high-intensity interval training on the elliptical while watching any and all Bravo shows. This is probably something I could do again, and all I would have to do is put my body on the elliptical.
Both Ford and fellow trainer Judy Kuan agree that being social while working out—going with a friend, or taking a group class—is instrumental in actually enjoying the workout. That’s the key: You have to find a way to enjoy something just a little bit—really, the bare minimum of enjoyment. You’re never, ever going to do anything you absolutely hate. I hate dance classes, so you will never see me at one of those, sorry to say.
Also! Take it easy. “Let’s say my client hates burpees because they get out of breath and nauseous,” says Kuan, “I’m definitely avoiding burpees when we first start training, and will slowly introduce ‘build-up’ exercises so that when I do introduce them, their body is ready for it and their minds are open to it.” This addresses one of my biggest challenges, which is the fact that I only think of working out as going hard. I can go to the gym and jog slowly on the treadmill for 15 minutes and then lie on the floor for an additional 15 until I’ve built up some endurance and am ready to do more. It’s OK.
The idea that I can start small and work toward bigger things is encouraging to me. It means I don’t have to feel like an abject failure if I can’t totally crush a SoulCycle class or run a five-minute mile tomorrow, even if I could when I weighed less than 90 pounds and did two hours of cardio a day like a fucking lunatic.
I haven’t found exercise enlightenment, nor am I suddenly itching to go to the gym. This just doesn’t happen, at least not to me. But I’ve decided to start trying one new class a week, even if it’s $30, until I find one I like and want to continue. There are so many options here in New York City, and investing $30 a week isn’t so bad when you consider what it is I’d be investing in: my health. I’m also probably, definitely going to cancel that gym membership. Hey, treadmills and Spin classes just aren’t for everyone.