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The Fitness Zone

Eating Disorders: What To Look Out For And How You Can Help
November 16, 2016

As a fitness professional, chances are you have been exposed to someone; a client, friend or team member, that may have an eating disorder. Unfortunately in our industry it is something that is not uncommon, and it is worth noting that you can’t always tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them so it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs. So, here Loren Byford, Psychologist for Eating Disorders Australia is here to share some tips on what to look out for, and how you can help.


Things You Can Look Out For As A Personal Trainer

- Preoccupation with weight, body shape or composition

- Sudden or frequent changes in weight

- Taking supplements for weight loss/gain, or performance enhancement

- Anxiety about missed sessions or disruption to exercise

- Training despite illness or injury or to the point of exhaustion

- Experiencing dizziness, lightheadedness, or disorientation during or after exercise

- Weighing themselves frequently

 -Unwillingness to take rest days

It can be hard to know what to do, or whether you should approach someone; a common fear is that approaching the subject will make things worse. This is almost never the case!

If you are worried about someone, remember that you aren’t expected to have all the answers and it’s not your responsibility to become their personal counsellor. However, you can help them connect with appropriate professional services to help them get the support they need.


Eating disorders and compulsive exercise

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting approximately 9% of the Australian population, with only one in six getting treatment. An eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice, a diet gone wrong or a cry for attention, and anyone can develop one regardless of their age or gender.

Eating disorders, compulsive exercise and negative body image frequently co-occur. If someone is exercising despite illness or injury, or experiencing a lot of anxiety over missed workouts, they may have an unhealthy relationship with exercise. People who are compulsively exercising often experience a range of eating disorder related symptoms, like unhealthy eating patterns, social withdrawal and body image concerns.  


What to do if you are worried

It can be hard to know what to say to someone who might be struggling. It’s a sensitive topic, but one that is of real importance to you, as a fitness professional in promoting the health and wellbeing of your clients and colleagues. Research shows that the earlier an eating disorder is treated, the greater the likelihood of a successful recovery.

If you’re planning on talking to someone about your concerns, it’s important to be prepared. Some tips include:

- Read up about eating disorders, body image and other mental health issues in advance

- Make sure you’re the right person for the conversation – if you don’t have a trusted relationship, another colleague or trainer may be more appropriate

- Pick an appropriate time and place for the conversation, being mindful of confidentiality

- Be calm, open and honest and use specific examples of things you have noticed

- Listen to their response and don’t take it personally if they get angry or upset

- Have contact details for organisations such as Eating Disorders Victoria at the ready in case they would like to get in touch

There are many resources available, especially for fitness professionals.


What help is available

Encouraging someone to contact the Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 236 or help@eatingdisorders.org.au is the best starting point to help them access more specialised support. Eating Disorders Victoria can talk through the options for treatment and explain the different services available, as well as provide a listening ear and confidential support.

Visit How Far Is Too Far  or Eating Disorders Victoria for more information. 

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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