The idea of stepping into a gym used to make Jenniefer Gadsby, from Leeds, petrified.
Exercising when you are overweight can be daunting, and the fat-shaming attitudes of others do not help.
New research out this week shows people who feel discriminated against because of their weight are far less likely to .
Jenniefer, aged 32, says she faced criticism about her weight.
It knocked her confidence so much that it put her off going to the gym.
“I would’ve rather done karaoke naked than set foot in a gym,” she says.
“I was petrified. I was convinced that I would feel like the fat girl at the back of the class not knowing what I was doing and that I would get laughed out of there.
“What you need from people is encouragement, not them highlighting the problem. You know you have a weight issue. You don’t need others pointing it out,” she adds.
Jenniefer, who joined a Weight Watchers class, says she had always been large and by her early twenties she was unable to do up her size 24 trousers.
She wanted to make a change, but could not face exercising in public.
Instead, she began eating a healthier diet and took up walking, and the weight then started to fall off.
One day I went past the gym and it was empty so I went in. I was still petrified, but I forced myself to go in,” she explains.
She began working out with a personal trainer and has not looked back.
In her own words, she’s now a “healthy size 10” and a gym convert.
She has become a qualified personal trainer and now helps other people get over their gym fears.
“You don’t have to be thin to be fit. It’s about encouraging people so they feel capable and, importantly, enjoy exercising, whatever their shape or size,” she points out.
Dr Sarah Jackson from University College London carried out the newly published research into stigma and exercise.
She says the findings, based on interviews with more than 5,400 middle-aged men and women, shows what might work and what does not when it comes to encouraging healthy behaviours.
“Stigma may work for something like smoking cessation campaigns, where you highlight the harms of cigarettes,” Dr Jackson says.“But it’s not the same for weight. Public health bodies are starting to understand that.”
Sport England’s National Lottery-funded This Girl Can campaign aims to celebrate women, of all shapes, sizes and levels of ability, becoming active.
The TV ad features real women and girls playing sport “in all their sweaty, jiggly glory”.
A spokeswoman for the campaign said: “While lots of women worry that other people will judge them, research shows that once you begin to get active these fears lessen.”
Offering people a welcoming and supportive environment is key, and it’s really important that the sports sector continues to find new ways of connecting with people who think that sport or physical activity isn’t