I am too fat to exercise: Critical mass

White shirt, 19 years ago, 300+ pounds.

We talked about the mental aspects of obesity and  exercise…

What about the PHYSICAL side of this battle?

I’m 5’7″ and weighed 392 pounds at my heaviest.

Does not take much imagination to fathom that I was physically not able to move well because of my size.

Physical aspects of being obese and active come up in conversations with people who know me and are facing triple-digit weight loss.

Complete strangers who hear about my journey have engaged me in blunt, instantly-intimate, humbling conversations as well. ‘I sweat more than any human on the planet and you wouldn’t believe the problems it causes…’  (I would) or ‘I can’t put on shoes that tie because I can’t reach my feet”. I feel like I have heard just about everything.

Understanding is all most people really want.

Maybe a solution or two.

With a dash of hope.

I will share with you the top 5 physical challenges I faced along with notes on how I tackled some of these barriers. I hope that by sharing this level of blunt detail, I might remove some obstacles or excuses for folks.

Being morbidly obese is not for the WEAK

1. Big boobs. They get in the way when I eat and sit still. Put them in motion and you are just asking for trouble. Do they make sports bras in my size?

Sports bras come in ALL sizes. Some are great and some are useless. You get what you pay for. I bought cheap sports bras in the beginning of my lifestyle change because I KNEW I would be losing weight and that they wouldn’t fit for very long.

BIG mistake. Chafing, sore back, one bra even tried to strangle me after freeing the girls MID-CLASS. Disaster. After that little episode; I bought a GREAT sports bra. 🙂

They make bonafide, athletic-quality sports bras with serious motion control and back support for G cup and larger. Invest. You won’t regret it. It will make you feel braver. 🙂

2. I carry the bulk of my weight in my torso. I have a huge belly. Walking or physical activity with any intensity?  This ‘body part’ has its on inertia.

Compression clothing is your new best friend if you have a large belly or loose skin on your torso. Compression gear is supposed to be TIGHT – like swearing, sweating and struggling just to get into it. It’s worn UNDER your workout clothes and holds things in check and limits motion.

I wore tank top style compression with the strongest panels being over my belly. Bonus? Compression tanks/shirts also serve as back up for the sports bra. Compression shorts for men and women work from the bottom up. Pun intended. 🙂  

3. I can’t get up and off of the ground without some serious effort and hopefully a hand rail. I barely fit hip-to-hip on the largest treadmill. Some machines or equipment have weight limits; I exceed them.

(Get your doctors permission. MAKE sure they know you are getting started with a physical activity routine and see what advice they have for you.)

Seriously… Check out weight limits on yoga balls if you doubt me. Looking for the phrase ‘burst resistant’ does NOT build confidence.

Do NOT pick the hardest thing to get started.  If getting up and off the ground is difficult right now – pick an activity that doesn’t require that. Don’t set yourself up for failure or injury. 

START where you are, not where you WISH you were.

My doctor told me to get started by walking, which I did. Walking was relatively gentle, could be done anywhere and was not as threatening as testing the true weight limit on a machine by accident. Her other suggestions were swimming (bathing suit. HELL NO!) or using a treadmill.

I slowly added in things that required me to move differently or stretch my boundaries a bit.

4. I have not seen my toes in years. My belly is in the way and I can’t do a sit up. I have NO stamina. I can only do 10 minutes of activity, not a full 45 minute class.

You HAVE to start somewhere.

Pick something that you will enjoy and that will make you sweat WITHOUT injury. You can add complexity, intensity once you get moving and gain confidence.  

I couldn’t do sit-ups, had NO stamina, couldn’t do push-ups, couldn’t run, couldn’t bend, just getting to the gym was a freaking full-out cardio workout….

Trying exercises when you can’t fully do them felt stupid and useless.  

BUT it is not. You have to get started. Do one. The next time do two. SERIOUSLY. Start THAT small. So what if anyone else is doing 10 minutes or 50 reps?  Even they had to start somewhere. You just weren’t there at THEIR beginning.

Start where you are and work from there.  


(Except against your old self.)

Remember that you will SEE progress at some point if you stick with it. And progress — progress is magic!


But keep your eyes peeled for the slightest hint of progress. And celebrate the hell out of it!!!

5. Do they even make workout clothes in larger sizes?  And does it have to be form-fitting spandex..? Hell.

They do make sizes 5X and larger. Some of them are really cute while being functional. Cute is NOT important in a sports bra. But cute clothes? I’m a fan of cute clothes.  (With polka dots.)  

Get in some comfortable clothes that let you move about freely and let you sweat.

And yes, they use a lot of Spandex.

No, it’s not to be mean. It’s so you can move.

You want your clothes to fit to your body and NOT be in the way.  I was super guilty of wearing anything that resembled a tent to cover my bulk.  Not sure who I thought I was fooling. Large, loose fitting clothes will actually get in your way.  Trust me.

This is about clothing your body in the right ‘tools’ so you can get moving. 

Those were my top 5 challenges and pretty much in the order of what I feared AND then had to learn about.

Not everyone has the same challenges, but I know from multiple conversations that these are fairly common concerns.

These issues AND the solutions are largely not talked about in the circles of obese active folks because it is just freaking embarrassing stuff to have to talk about.

This post was taunting me for weeks. And honestly, I’m still kind of cringing at seeing it all written out…

BUT if sharing these details can help someone, anyone, get past their embarrassment AND into the ‘gym’… Then I will keep sharing.

‘You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.’ — Zig Ziglar

Running with my dear friends Wendie and Hannah at night, with headlamps! Fun!


6 thoughts on “I am too fat to exercise: Critical mass

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