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Helping Overweight Patients Face Their Gym Fears

Some clients who are overweight may embrace the idea of exercising at a gym but find it
Helping Overweight Patients Face Their Gym Fears
difficult to face the other people there, concerned about the stares, snickering, unwanted advice, and questions they generally associate with such a setting.
Allison Grupski, PhD, a psychiatrist at the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care in Chicago, helps patients who are overweight establish new behaviors in both eating and exercising. “I encourage patients to engage in reality testing,”
she says. “Some of the judgment you perceive might not actually be coming from others but rather is a thought you have to explain to your brain why you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious.”
Grupski says there are many ways to help clients improve their comfort level while exercising, including staying in one room of the gym until they become more familiar with the layout, exercising with a friend, having a trainer introduce them to the machines, going to the gym during off-peak hours, or staying toward the back of an exercise class until they have a better sense of the routine.
“It’s important to remind yourself that any new routine takes time to become comfortable with and that over time and with experience, you will notice a difference in how you feel,” she says.
Sometimes, overeager gym staff members are unwelcome. If employees push interactions, Grupski recommends telling clients to do the following:
• Fight the urge to tell them to back off; if they work at the gym, clients likely will see them again. If it’s a trainer, encourage clients to trust their gut. If the trainer’s approach turns them off, he or she probably won’t be the best fit for them, even if they’re looking for a trainer.
• If gym staff are encouraging the client to work harder, the client can let them know the current pace is perfect for today considering current activity level and fitness goals.
• Thank them for their time and ask to review any written materials about their services on the way out of the gym. This lets the client consider later, on his or her own time, whether the trainer’s expertise may be helpful.
The gym can be a clubhouse of sorts, with “regulars” who like to get to know new members. When someone strikes up an unwanted conversation, clients should respond in a way that allows them to continue their routine peacefully and comfortably. Grupski recommends clients do the following:
• Politely and directly communicate that they exercise best when they can fully concentrate on what they’re doing.
• Let the friendly interrupter know the client needs to focus on his or her routine because of limited time available to spend at the gym.
Another pitfall is for clients to compare themselves to fellow gym members. “Your exercise goals should be centered around physical health and well-being rather than a
specific appearance type,” Grupski says.
Grupski says the goal is for the client to become a regular at the gym within six months. “Getting there takes small but consistent steps that work with your lifestyle,” she notes.

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