A fitness club here in Vancouver has banned fit people. Body Exchange only allows Plus Sized women to join. The idea is that overweight people are made fun of or made anxious by fit people in ‘regular’ gyms, and so should only have fellow overweight people in the group with them.
I have read a lot of articles on this lately, some pro, some con. As a Former Fattie, I’ll weigh in (no pun intended) with my initial thoughts.
This doesn’t appear to be a standard gym, it looks like they do bootcamps, 4 weeks each (also personal training and “Adventures”, but I’ll discuss the bootcamp here). That’s actually exactly what I did to start when I began the big weight loss. At that time,Warren (my fellow blogger) ran a bootcamp at my gym, the YWCA here in Vancouver. It was called ‘Fat Burning Camp’, but I referred to it semi-affectionately as Fat Camp. It started out with a relatively easy workout (although not easy for me at that point) and class by class got progressively more challenging. It was a good re-entry point for me to get back into fitness.
In that bootcamp there were people of both genders, and different sizes and fitness levels. I liked that there were people there at my fitness level (lower) and also people who were fitter than me so that I had a benchmark to work toward. Over the eight or ten weeks of Fat Camp I lost 11 pounds and was significantly fitter, had gotten a trainer (hi Melanie!) and kept on going.
So, what do I think of the Body Exchange only allowing Plus Sized women to join?
I understand their point in the sense that in the ‘normal’ gym I initially felt self conscious and like I was so much less fit than everyone else, and that they all were looking at me and thinking ‘why is that fat girl here’. I was so intimidated at my first spin class. I looked at this uber-fit girl on one of the bikes and thought “She’s effing hardcore, I could never do that, why am I even trying”. But I did it anyway. I didn’t leave the class, I stuck with it. I did the best I could every class, and gradually came to the point where I lasted the whole class. Six months later when I was fit, a girl in the gym who wasn’t in the class commented to me as I was walking out “Wow, you’re hardcore, I could never do what you do.” The irony was not lost on me. I was now the girl I had been intimidated by.
The fact is, most if not all of the people in the gym aren’t looking at you. They aren’t laughing at you or thinking you’re fat or out of shape. They are either thinking about themselves and their workout, or are busy wondering who is looking at them and thinking they are fat or out of shape, or thinking that they themselves are fat or out of shape. When I’m in spin class, I have zero idea what anyone else is doing or how hard they are working. Seriously. I’m focused on survival and not throwing up and my form, the same as I was when I was fat. I spent far more time looking at people when I was overweight than I do now.
So, I get why this group wants only overweight people in it; a lot of overweight people really do think that fit people are looking at them negatively; I did. I also think that a bootcamp tailored to very overweight people would have limited value to a quite fit person; at my current fitness level I would find that camp easy enough that it wouldn’t be of much use to me. Anyone who consistently challenges themselves and progresses fitness-wise would probably have a limited time that they would get results from that camp and would move on anyway. Doing the same activity/class over and over can also get boring and lower motivation, and your body would gradually adapt and limit your results if you’re consistent. I think this type of bootcamp can be a valid approach to getting very overweight people engaged in fitness. If it gets them in the door, hopefully they’ll keep going; it’s better than them never going at all because they are intimidated.
My main issue with the bootcamp is that it may be validating the perception of the participants that they are correct in thinking that gyms are full of douchebags who make fun of fat people, that it’s “Us vs Them”. It isn’t. Fit and less-fit people are all just people, they are just at different places on the fitness continuum; unfit people can become more fit, and fit people can become less fit, it depends on what’s going on. Feeling like people are looking at you funny isn’t the same as it actually happening.
I also believe that in all facets of life there is value in surrounding yourself with people who are fitter/smarter/more talented/more successful than you are. That’s how you learn, and it can help you challenge yourself to be better at something than you are. Consistently surrounding yourself only with people at your level can lead to stagnation and complacency and boredom, none of which are good for people trying to grow.
So, I’m on the fence about this. My immediate reaction was that it’s a bad idea. But in the end, if the participants get value from it and it helps them progress fitness-wise and keeps them engaged in healthy activity, it’s a good thing. Hopefully they use it to move forward health-wise and not get complacent and stagnate.