Here’s Why It’s so Much Harder to Work Out When You Feel Like People Are Judging Your Weight

Overweight people work out less when they feel discriminated against

For a lot of people, beginning a significant weight loss program can be terrifying. You don’t really know what you’re doing yet, or what diet and fitness regimen will work best for your personality and body type. And, perhaps most daunting of all, you might feel discriminated against by the hard-bodied men and svelte, spandex-clad women who move around the gym with absolute certainty. It could all be in your heard, but feeling this way can keep you from working out, according to research published in BMJ.  

In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 5,400 men and women who were about 50 years old and living in England. All were part of a long-running study called the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which started in 2002. Participants answered questions about how often they participated in light, moderate, and vigorous physical activities, and how often they experienced discrimination over their weight.

Overall, about 5% of the people in the study said they felt a prejudice toward them regarding their appearance. And while that number may seem small, consider this: The more men and women weighed, the more likely they were to report feeling judged. Less than 1% of participants who were overweight felt discriminated against, while more than 13% of people who were obese did. 

Men and women who felt most singled out for their weight were consequently less likely to work out: 10% said they did no regular physical activity and 18% said they did only light physical activity at least once a week.  

Unfortunately, feelings of discrimination were (and are) incredibly damning. Those feelings swayed a person’s decision to be physically active more than the person’s actual body mass index.  

“People who have experienced weight-related discrimination may lack the confidence to exercise in public,” lead study author Sarah Jackson said in a press release. “They may also begin to believe the negative stereotypes against themselves as lazy and worthless, leaving them wondering why should bother trying to be active,” she said.

The best way to combat this crushing domino effect is to bolster your self-image. Check out our suggestions on how to feel more confident in yourself and boost your body image and self-confidence.