Fitness and Wellness Class: Eating Disorders in Fitness: What Fitness Professionals Need to Know

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine
| Stay Updated with NASM!
As a fitness professional, you have probably met (or seen) individuals who have endured disordered eating at one time or another. This can be a difficult thing to overcome.
We invite you to this “industry focus” podcast, as Abbey Griffith, a survivor and body positive gym owner, breaks down her journey from disordered eating to empowered wellness. She’ll share the warning signs inherent in disordered eating and struggles with body image. Gain some valuable tools to help guide your clients toward sustainable, flexible, and fun fitness.
CTA: Want to earn CEUs for listening? You can by joining NASM Connected and unlock unlimited CEUs. Get access to this course and hundreds of others to earn the credits you need for recertification. Find out how. https://nasm.co/3yKpyWZ

Abbey Griffith:
Hello, everyone, my name is Abby Griffith. I am the owner and founder of clarity fitness. And I'm here to talk about a really important topic, eating disorders in the fitness industry, what I wish I knew and what I now know today. So my intentions with this webinar are first and foremost, to meet the fitness industry where it is today. I think that right now, a lot of times the body positive community is almost against the fitness community. And I am a part of both, and really want this to be an educational and fun and uplifting conversation about the benefits of each and how we can come together to really create some lifelong wellness sustainable, flexible, fun practices. So my other intention is that I don't want this to be luxury. I don't want this to be too personal. Although it is very personal to me. I want to be a lighthouse in this journey, so to speak, and bring you knowledge and peace and clarity around what body positivity means around helping people who might be impacted by eating disorders, disordered eating, body image struggles and everything else that's in that realm without it becoming too preachy. So that's my intention here. I'm going to enter this space with a clear judgment free mind, and I hope that you do the same. So with this, I really want you to also know that I am here to answer any questions that you might have. I am just around the corner for any support any brainstorming of anything that I can do to make sure that I'm here as a resource if you have any clients that you're concerned about, or if you have questions around your own fitness journey, I am just an email away and all my contact info should be linked below.

I also wanted to start off just getting to talk a little bit about who I am, I went to school for industrial engineering at University of Miami, down in Florida, my fellow canes hopefully you guys are listening. I've been on a lot of different podcasts and TV shows and radio shows and fitness conferences talking about my story with an eating disorder, as well as how fitness professionals can really reshape their thinking of a lot of the common things that we as fitness professionals deal with on a day to day basis. Most recently, the gym clarity fitness that I own got featured on Good Morning America, that was awesome. And we were really, really proud of how we've been taking on this wellness journey in a really, really funky time. We opened January 6 of 2020. So this has been a really big pivot point for us on a lot of different levels. And good morning america really featured our different approach to wellness as well as what we're doing during the pandemic to keep things moving. I am a nap NSM certified personal trainer as well as a nutrition coach and I serve on the board for eating or education and insight on eating disorders. And that's been a really incredible opportunity to help give back to a community that is near and dear to my heart. And the working out consistently the fun stuff now since fifth grade. I was really interested in getting a personal trainer pretty immediately upon entering Middle School body image issues were very real at the time. And I thought that it would be important for me to make some shifts in my wellness journey to feel better about myself. Whether or not that is true we can talk about in a second but I really really did have a great time in the fitness world a great time with my personal trainers and learned a ton about how to take care of myself. So I absolutely love the fitness industry for that. Unfortunately What I want to start off with, I am also an eating disorder survivor. And that was also largely brought on by some of the things that I had soaked up from the fitness industry. Again, I love the fitness industry, it is near and dear to my heart and ASM has been an incredible support system getting my fitness center off the ground. And they have absolutely been a beacon of help for me in my eating disorder, with the science and with the judgment free approach that they bring to the knowledge that they give all of us a little bit about my story. As well as eating disorders in the fitness industry, it is really important that we first address the elephant in the room. It is not if you have worked with someone with an eating disorder, but which client had one and which client you're helping today who is still impacted 30 million people in the United States alone, of all genders of all shapes, all sizes, all races, all backgrounds struggle with an eating disorder. It is not size specific, it is not race specific, it impacts everyone. And it's really important that we start these conversations now, you are 242 times more likely as a child in today's world to struggle from an eating disorder than type two diabetes. But type two diabetes still gets more accredited accreditation and more attention, because it is something that we are really really as a society afraid of. I am not saying that we shouldn't be afraid of that. But we also need to open our eyes to other things that are going on such as this eating disorder epidemic that is really, really impacting the entire world. We also want to bring up the point that it is not how someone looks or how someone works out or how someone eats that necessarily is the determining factor of them being impacted or not. For me, personally, I was never very small. And that was what took away from people saying that I might have had an eating disorder and getting me the help that I needed earlier. I was always of the mindset, oh, I'm I'm fine, because I'm not small enough to have an eating disorder. And I think that that's also the tone that the fitness industry takes that was certainly the tone that my loved ones took and no one really thought anything of it, including myself. That's no one's fault. That's not anything against the fitness world. That's just the fact that it hasn't been talked about as much as it needs to be talked about. So again, I hope that this conversation can start some wheels turning for you, and can really open your eyes to where this might come up. We really, really need to make these conversations accessible and educational, and warm and welcoming. No one wants to be in a conversation where they feel like they're walking on eggshells, or where they feel like they can't just ask the big bold questions as they are. And that's exactly why I want to be in this industry and why I want to help people whether they've struggled with an eating disorder or not have those conversations and become more aware of what's going on.

So next I wanted to also talk about we're having some technical difficulties, my phone turned off so sorry, my story. This is all live theater, everyone. So my story is really really impactful one to me, obviously, I was really struggling with an eating disorder for much of my life. I had struggled with an eating disorder since probably younger than fifth grade, and just really didn't recognize that. Again, we had talked about this I was focused on a shape and size, I was focused on a look. And I wasn't focused on how obsessed I was with calories with tracking with forcing workouts to look a certain way and last a certain amount of time. And I was constantly seeking that validation around, getting outside support of looking good enough or feeling like I was strong enough. I wasn't paying attention to other things in the wellness industry that are just as important, if not more important, to my well being. I was also really, really focused on trying to people please on trying to be the best client possible for my trainer. And while I think that that's awesome, and I have no shade to throw against our amazing Taipei clients out there. Sometimes those ideal clients can be the ones that are the most at risk and are the most important to just be mindful of. I am not a psychologist, I'm not a doctor. I am not diagnosing anyone. But I do know from the eating disorder community, a lot of us who have struggled are very, very much so trying to do the best that we can to be perfect. We're not aiming for excellence. We're aiming for perfection. So we want a rulebook, we want a meal plan, we want calculated everything we want all of our macros documented and tracked all the time no matter what. And again, that's not necessarily what health looks like, all the time. I think that we forget that health can be flexible and sustainable and fun, and really be more about taking care of ourselves long term. So I also wanted to talk about one trainer that stood out to me as a support system, she had kind of made a passing comment as I went off to college about, Hey, don't get an eating disorder. That was the only conversation that I heard along the lines of some type of red flag being raised. Obviously, 2020 hindsight after getting diagnosed, and starting my own recovery journey with my therapist, and with my team, I went back to her and I asked her what triggered that comment? What did she see in me? That made her question if I was going down that path, and a few things stuck, stuck out to me that she had shared, she had said that I was always so so focused on my body. Remember, this is fifth grade, I, she felt that I was very focused on picking myself apart in the mirror, you might notice the side body check or squeezing at yourself to check where the fat is and check how things are looking and that to an obsessive degree. She also noticed that I was really, really focused on everything tracking, I asked if I needed to track gum, I asked if I needed to be tracking how many leaves as spinach I ate it was to the nth degree of focus and control and not in a positive and empowering kind of way

I also wanted to talk to you a little bit more about what led me to that point, because I think that people think that it's one fitness thing, or one slip up of your wellness journey that leads you down this path. And that's so not the case, there were tons of different messages sent my way as our common of everywhere. And it was really, really more of a tone of weight gain was something to absolutely reject at all cases. And people in bigger bodies aren't accepted people in bigger bodies are so many negative things. And I had really internalized that messaging and was killing myself over trying to achieve this standard. I was always focused on weight loss, no matter how much weight I actually lost, I wanted to go that one step further that one step further. And in my fitness journey, I eventually tried the bikini competition approach at the precipice of my eating disorder journey, because I thought that that was the height of fitness and the absolute best that I could do to be fit. And that was another big learning curve. For me, it's not about fitness isn't the best in any way. It's it's different parts and pieces of an overall wellness journey that work for you. And that's what's best. And there's not this one way that fitness needs to look or feel that is the height or the peak of wellness. So I really think that that's an important thing to remind clients as well, that it's not about looking a certain way. And it's not about achieving a certain fitness goal. It's really about being on the same team as your body and having fun with it and figuring out what you actually enjoy. instead of always focusing on achieving the next thing. Here at clarity, we have this phrase that was actually a giant eating disorder recovery phrase for me. And it is that you are enough. And that's not meant to be complacent that's not meant to be unmotivated. It's actually meant to remind ourselves and our clients that we're enough and we deserve respect and TLC in our treatment and our compassion for our bodies. Instead of being motivated from a place of never feeling like you're good enough and always needing to strive for the next thing because you're not enough as you are. That's not what we're coming at it from we're motivating ourselves and taking those next steps and getting to that next place out of a place of respect and out of a place for knowing that we're worth it. That's a very, very different tone and not a tone that I was familiar with when I was deep in my struggle. So I also wanted to talk about some of the warning signs specifically, we kind of breezed over them in my own journey, but I think I think that it's really important to know that you can't tell the person's eating disorder history or disordered eating based on their body shape and size. And I wish that someone had told me that I wish that I had had a trainer that could sit me down and have a conversation or send me in the direction of a non diet based nutritionist or dietitian or therapist or support group or something, even just sending me a message that I'm enough as I am, would have potentially been a life changer. Again, I love the fitness industry, I just really think that we need to wake up to the messages that we're sending. And I think that we all have the best of intentions and want to motivate our clients and guide them toward a better, happier, healthier way of living life. But then that sometimes comes at a cost of their overall wellness and peace within themselves. And we forget that it doesn't look the same for every individual. And super, super important that if we have any concerns about someone having an eating disorder, we reach out and we talk to people who might know more than we do about that pathway or about how we can improve their lives. It does not need to all come from something that we know inside, reaching out for support reaching out for resources is beyond Okay, all the time. So I really, really think that that in itself, just having a conversation can be a game changer for all of your clients, whether you focus your entire life on body positive wellness, or if you just want to make sure that people don't take it to an extreme in either direction of either constantly working out, never eating, or constantly eating, never working out, just coming from a place of respect for yourself as you are, can be a big, big deal. Next, I also wanted to talk more about that type a client situation. So when our clients are type A when they want the cheat code, when they want that meal plan when they want everything calculated out for them, we really need to be careful with the messaging that we send, we need to be sure that we're creating an environment where they can talk to us about tough body image days, and where they can share their thoughts and feelings about how their wellness journey is going about how their fitness is feeling and about what we can do to be a support system to them. It does not need to always come from a place of giving them exactly what they want in terms of that meal plan or in terms of a more intense workout. Sometimes we might be able to ask the question, how is your day at work? How is your day at school? What are you feeling right now? Where's your mood, where's your stress levels, and maybe if their stress levels are super high, and they're super tired, and they want a super hardcore workout, we can be like, hey, let's tune in a little bit. And let's shift and let's see what it feels like to go on a walk today. Or to really focus on some flexibility or mobility or stability training instead of really getting after it under the barbell. There's different ways that we can pivot these conversations, whether we've built rapport or whether we're just getting started with the client. Another thing that I dealt with very consistently was getting super dizzy or needing to sit or even lay down during sessions, I was never told that I might not be eating enough, it was always, oh, sometimes that happens. It's okay, just rest have some water. And we just kind of left it, left it at that and moved on to the next workout The next day, not diagnosing anyone by the idea of them maybe getting a little dizzy in the workout. We're not going there. However, it is potentially a warning sign. If we see this with a lot of other things going on. We also want to really start to focus on people's comments about their body. When we get clients here at clarity, we really focus on shifting those conversations from the start. People will come in and say they hate their arms, they hate their stomach and they want their butt to look different. And there's this laundry list of items that are wrong with their body. We can stop that conversation right there instead of feeding into that conversation. We can shift it from all of the things that are wrong with you and maybe seeking some gratitude toward those parts of your body and saying Okay, so I get that we're not best friends with our arms, but they do a lot of really cool things for us, they got us here they whether you are able bodied or not, you are very much so allowed to appreciate your body. You can work that through with them, or we can focus less on changing that body part or that item going on and focus more on How we're feeling or how certain movements are going or Okay, I totally get that this is frustrating. Instead of the appearance, how about we focus on some mobility, strengthening or some flexibility? Or we focus on lifting a little bit different? Have you tried out this move? This one's super fun, do you like this one, start getting the conversation going in the direction of how their bodies feel, and how movement feels, as well as what they can be grateful for. I also constantly hear conversations about people coming into the gym, and saying that they're here to burn off the weekend, or they've been eating bad and need to fix it with this workout. And I think that those are really important conversations that we can just look at as well. Those conversations were very, very commonplace for me, I think that it's really important to talk about those, because instead of just letting that be fact and saying, Okay, well, we're gonna get after it. Now, we focus on working out is separate from fueling our body. They're both very important components of health. But we don't do one to give ourselves permission to do another, we don't force ourselves to walk eight extra miles in order to eat breakfast, we don't force ourselves to finish off these cookies, because we know that we worked out really hard today and are planning on working out hard tomorrow, there's this separate pillar system that we need to pay attention to. Because when we start to do one to give ourselves permission to do another, or restricts one, because we are trying to get somewhere or we haven't done another, that's a really slippery slope, and that is very much so equating working out as good eating as bad. And so you cannot mix those interchangeably. There is a slight caveat, that is the eating disorder kind of principle, that good and bad foods don't exist. I felt all of the eye rolls just occur. But I promise that what I'm trying to say is actually aligned with what you probably think as well. It's just a verbiage shift. So we're not saying that eating cheeseburgers and pizza all day every day is the epitome of health, what we're saying is that you can't add moral value to the things that you're putting into your body. Because again, that can be kind of a slippery slope. I like to say nutrient dense and not so nutrient dense, or you can say nutrient dense and energy dense since calories are energy. So the calorie rich foods are energy dense and nutrient dense foods are the more typical good or healthy foods that have all of the nutritional bang for its buck their book. And I think that that could be a really, really cool conversation just to start to hear, oh, I've eaten well, or I ate this good food, or I ate this bad food, let's say let's not associate being good with eating, we can focus on getting those nutrient dense foods so we can feel our body with the gasoline that allows it to run efficiently and effectively. We want to prioritize that we want to make sure we're taking care of ourselves in that way. But we don't need to shame or guilt ourselves for eating other foods because that starts a whole cycle of restriction and then overdoing it, and then guilt and then restriction. And that can be a really vicious cycle in itself as well. So other things that I want you to pay attention to are how I had said the focus on perfectionism. When people want the exact plan and the breakdown of everything, and they come with their goals and their days of the week that they want them done and it has to go this way. We want to kind of focus on excellence. There is nothing wrong with being an excellent athlete and being an excellent general health person. But when we aim for that perfectionism, we can really start to get in that guilt cycle and that shame cycle and that beating yourself up because you took a rest day kind of zone. I think that it's really important that we start to use words like for the most part. For the most part, we're fueling our bodies with nutrient dense foods. For the most part, we're drinking enough water every day for the most part we are moving and alive and active and able to celebrate our lives.

But then there are days where we ride the couch and you don't have to hate yourself for that. You don't have to feel like you're not enough if you have a super super sedentary day. Every once in a while, it's for the most part, again, gauge your client, there's a whole spectrum of different people that we're talking about. So if you're already starting to meet some of the things that I'm saying with resistance, think about which client you're thinking about, maybe it's someone who really, really does ride the couch 99.9% of the time, maybe you don't need to tell them to ride the couch 100% of the time, but you also don't need to shame them for their chosen lifestyle, it doesn't necessarily mean that getting after them and guilting them into change is a productive way to go. You can empower them into change, and you can support them and love them and remind them that they're enough as they are. And that things might feel better if they start to look at certain situations or choices differently. There is also the situation of someone who has not taken a rest day since 1996, maybe they could benefit from taking a day to themselves to relax. It's, again, a whole spectrum. So it's really, really hard to speak to the right way to do things. There isn't one, it's all according to that client. But again, if we come from a place of movement, because we love our bodies, not because we hate them, or we want them to change immediately. That's a really, really big mindset shift that definitely will and already has saved tons of lives across the fitness world. We also want to think about different ways that we're balancing life. So I remember deep in eating disorder times for me in college, I was really, really beating myself up for going out with friends and enjoying dessert here and there. And having alcohol in college. It doesn't necessarily mean that in college, we have to go out and we have to drink alcohol, and we have to spend 99.9% of our time with our friends. Totally not what I'm saying. But that was what I really wanted to do. And that was really what I was seeing my friends do and explore and play with in a fun and safe and healthy ish way. And that was what I wanted to try on myself and giving yourself permission to enjoy college and to recognize that maybe this isn't the day that we're going to meet all of our macros, but we are going to have fun with our friends and create some memories that might not be around forever. That's what balanced fitness and health looks like. That's where those pillars of sustainability and flexibility and fun really come in is if these three pillars aren't met in whatever standards someone has set up for their fitness and wellness journey, there's something missing. For me, the sustainability component was missing, I was going 110% every day I was not focused on if I felt like I could do this at 85, I was just focused on trying to get as lean and as strong as physically possible as fast as possible. And that ultimately was a very detrimental decision for me, I was almost hospitalized because of it, I could have lost my life. Every hour, someone does lose their life to an eating disorder. This is not something to take lightly. And it's really, really important that we start to have these kind of talks. So I also think that looking at how are you tapping into different spheres of wellness, there's a really cool image online if you type in different aspects of wellness or different wellness buckets, different things in your wellness sphere, that are all important. There's physical, the working out and the moving and the fitness and all that awesome stuff. But then there's also spiritual and emotional and mental and so many other components. Social is one of them, and being able to spend time with family and friends and allow for some flexibility in the food or allow for a rest day here and there. If it means spending time with loved ones that you might not see because you're away on a holiday break. Or you know that they're only in town for the night. But you have to get your workout in so you can't see them but you really want to see them. These are where the social bucket where the other buckets of wellness start to deplete and all we're focusing on is the physical side. So that's really what I mean about this balance idea about making sure that all the different buckets are met and as much as we can for the most part. Again, it's not perfectionism, we don't need to aim for 100% of our buckets filled 100% of the time, but we can aim for reaching that a majority of our days. We also want to think about movement as something That refuels us, not something that drains us. It is very, very common to aim for the most intense and the most hardcore fitness modality, especially for those type A clients that are really just gung ho on knocking out their goals and being the best athlete they possibly can be. I think that it's really important to think about movement, especially in the eating disorder community as something that is building up not breaking down, we are going to get into the details of people who are really, really deep in their eating disorders struggle, and incorporating wellness and movement back into their lifestyles in a minute. But for just the general public, it's really, really important to seek movement as something that fuels and not drains, no matter what, obviously, some workouts are more hardcore than others. I love CrossFit as much as the next girl. But I've learned that CrossFit super fun, that community is amazing. If I only do CrossFit, and don't do anything else, I end up injured. Because I'm depleting myself, we can have the argument about what my mobility routine looked like and what else I had incorporated another date, that's totally not my point. CrossFit has its place. And it is amazing for people that love it. And if you are passionate about CrossFit, do CrossFit. But not every new client that comes in the door means to have a CrossFit workout, just like not every new client that comes in the door needs to go to yoga or needs to go to dance fitness, or needs to go only to mobility and no strength training whatsoever. There's so many different ways that we can help people find what is actually going to fuel their fire. Because as we know, that's what people are more likely to do long term. And we ultimately can really be that fitness professional, that helps get them to that point where they love fitness and where they're feeling sustained. And feeling fueled by this amazing World of Wellness.

Next is just general awareness, we tend to forget, I think, in the fitness world, that binge eating disorder is truly an eating disorder as well. When I originally thought of eating disorders, I was thinking about small bodied people and bulimia and you can't get out of bed because you're so weak and so depleted. And that's the kind of scary thing about the eating disorder world is it is very easily missed by body shape and size and your general life choices, or at least the life choices that people see on the day to day basis. So it's really important that we take into account binge eating disorder. And I wanted to bring this up specifically because in fitness, a lot of times we're very focused on weight loss. And we're very focused on this rigidity and this pressure of control around food. And we think that I'm not saying that you think this, but I thought this at a period of time that if someone had enough control or enough focus or discipline, they could lose the weight. We're learning more and more that that just simply isn't true. There are a ton of other factors that go into weight gain and body shape and size. And there are very, very serious mental situations that are going on for people that it's like saying to someone who is anorexic and severely restricting food, hey, just eat. That's not going to work. Because there's really very real psychological things going on on the inside that we need outside support to address. So with binge eating disorder, if we as fitness professionals are just putting pressure on don't eat this, don't eat that you shouldn't have had that. Why did you do that? We're feeling that guilt cycle, and that can lead to more binges, which is why we really really need to tap into our non diet based or neutral or non diet based nutritionist or dietitians in the wellness community. There are a ton of resources to find them Health at Every Size or haze HIE S has a really, really great resource library of people that are aligned with that the body positive calm is a great resource. And again, all my contact information should be linked and I really, really would be more than happy to support if there are any questions. Don't assume that somebody has an eating disorder because they are in a smaller body. And don't assume that someone doesn't because they're in a bigger body is ultimately the point of that shape and size argument. Eating Disorders come in all different shapes and sizes, all different genders. Men are absolutely affected too and it's really important We start to see that. Another thing that I wanted to bring up was that when I was originally in therapy for my eating disorder, I started to be a personal trainer at University of Miami, and thought that some of my eating disorder, tips and tricks that I had learned in terms of recovery would be really helpful for clients, I thought that they might be cool to have in the back pocket if I heard somebody having too much pressure on themselves, or being kind of judgy of their body and thought that that could be something that I could help with if it came up. I did not have one client that didn't benefit from some type of resource or connection or idea or something that had helped me throughout my entire time as a trainer there. It affects people of all shapes and sizes, I thought that it would be only the girls that were my age, shape, size that might resonate with my story or my journey. But there were 80 year old men that hated what they saw on the mirror every day, there were 15 year old girls that had been insulted at school and came to me because they wanted to fix what they were insulted about. There were 30 year old men that were athletes before. And I had taken some time off after college and couldn't stand what their fitness ability was. Now, there's so much judgment in this industry. And it's so sad. And we are here to really help people see that they're amazing. And NSM really, really helped me with that, because in my eating disorder recovery, I started to read the textbook to get my certification early on. And I remember my therapist was really nervous about that, because he was worried that some of the things that might be recommended in the fitness world might be detrimental to me. But what I found through reading the NSM textbook was the exact opposite. NSM breaks things down to science, the industry that shows up on Instagram and the industry that sometimes things get clouded into our weird the fad diets and where the judgment and where the beating yourself up comes from NSM never said that you're a bad person for having a cheeseburger in their textbook. In the fitness industry, we have this kind of guilt response to eating things that are not so nutrient dense. And I think that that is something that's really important to start to respond to, and a ton of people really are, which is awesome. There's no reason to beat ourselves up over the food that we put in our bodies, and there's no reason to beat ourselves up. For workouts that might have been missed or workouts that might have not felt super great. And I think that that's a really important lesson to bring to clients. When we look at the raw science, it is so much less judgmental than the mountain that we turn it into when we start to judge ourselves and add that fuel to the fire. If you are dealing with someone who has a severe eating disorder, or has had one in the past, steer clear of food conversations, this is a very slippery slope, whether you have an whole doctoral background on nutritionist history and wrote your dissertation on foods that fuel your body and gut health and gut flora and all of these fancy things we really, really want to clear because there are some times that we try to say things that haven't necessarily caused that guilt, like what happened for us. But for someone who's on the eating disorder end of things and is stressing out about their Dictionary of food rules that they already have. If you even so much as mention the amount or the grams, or the macro breakdown of what you had for breakfast, if you say I had a half a cup of oatmeal that gets lodged in their brain, and they remember that that is what my trainer had. So that is what I must have. And if I have more, that's not good. These are kind of the slippery food slopes that we can go down again, it is not that any of the information that you're sharing might be wrong, but it's just how it gets spun in the eating disorder mind. I remember conversations about exactly how many cups of food my trainer said that she had. I know it's a lot but it got lodged in there because I cared so much about her advice and her experience and her knowledge that I made that be what I needed to do and I made that be the right way to eat. And it just became this never ending additional series of books in my brain about what I was and wasn't supposed to eat, whether that was from my trainer, or from friends at school or from a completely uncredible source on Instagram, I just internalized all of it. And that really didn't help. So just kind of steer clear of food, you can always reach out for support, if you need someone who can guide you in a direction of body positive or eating disorder, conscious food advice. Also, we really want to make sure that if we see body checking, which is I guess we do it a lot in the gym. But when you are looking at your body, and you are judging it shape and size and how it looks, and you can just see the sadness come over the clients face. And you can see the depletion or the feeling like they're not good enough sweep over them. shift that quickly, it's very important that we catch that. And we have maybe even a rule that when you're in the gym, you gotta be nice to your body, you gotta respect it, the words that come out of your mouth have to be kind, just in that hour, just in that half hour that you're there, that can be a really big game changer and a start in the positive direction as well.

If someone is deeply affected by an eating disorder, there are a few things that you can do. First and foremost, give them permission to help you figure out what the workout of the day is, you can shift the workout or shift your plan or shift your programming based on their energy levels, based on how much food they did or didn't eat today, based on how they're feeling overall. And based on quite frankly, what they want to do. I think that gets overlooked so much, especially when we're under the pressure of they've come with this goal. And we want to get them there. And we want to help them achieve that as fast as possible. Because that gives us credibility, instead of being so focused on the timeline for help them also focus on how they're feeling, because that's what's going to turn them into a longer relationship and a permanent, hopefully relationship with some sustainable and fun movement for them. challenge the it doesn't count or it's not enough mentality around fitness, if they are the type of client that always has to get a certain amount of intense workout in throughout the week, or their workout always has to look the same or it doesn't count. If it's not this calorie burn. Look at maybe taking it slow for a day and look at educating them on how beneficial those rest and recovery days can be, is very, very challenging for someone who has a tough relationship with fitness to change up that routine. So take that idea with a grain of salt because changing the fitness routine is kind of like suddenly changing your religion in some cases. So it might not be met with gratitude. But at least having a conversation about how important recovery and rehabbing your body after a tough workout is, could be a really big game changer too. If you're concerned, first and foremost, email or call or reach out to an eating disorder, specialized therapist or nutritionist, there are a ton of resources out there. And I am more than happy to either be a liaison to someone who might know and be able to support you or your client. And I'm more than happy to bounce ideas off of what might be going on with you, as well as share some of what happened in my story and what might have helped me.

Again, I'm not a therapist, I'm not here to clinically diagnose anyone or tell you what you should say or any kind of mindset related therapy approach. But I'm here as a friend to support you to make sure that we're ultimately bringing the most good into the world. We also want to make sure that in our conversations, we're not of the camp that more is always more, sometimes less can be more this ties us back to that general fitness and recovery kind of component. That was something that I learned in my personal training certification way back when and I guess I'm really stressed the importance of rest and recovery days. And I asked them talked about five workout days a week. And that was really, really a new thing for me because if I worked out five days a week, I was doing at least one double and my rest day never really was a rest day but it would be a lower energy kind of day but I'm still at least go on an intense walk. There was no honoring that policy because again, my eating disorder was telling me more is more, eat less move more was all I lived by and there's A lot of new science out there, that is proving that that is very detrimental, especially when taken to the extreme, like what I was doing. Keep in picture, keep in mind, the big picture about looking at different types of components in someone's life, fitness is one part of a really, really big life that they have to live and bringing more attention to that, especially when we're coming from a place of our client having abused exercise or been a chronic over exerciser, that will really help them hearing that from a fitness professional that they love and trust is going to change their approach to that, because you've built that rapport and you know, that they will trust you at the end of the day with that advice.

For someone that's just getting started again, with having had an eating disorder, just getting back into movement, slow, easy, gentle, very, very lightweight kind of stuff, even if they have run a marathon in the past, or even if you know that their body could do more started super, super slow and move super, super slowly. There definitely are times where there's going to be pressure or feedback from that. Because if they're used to having run 12 miles a day, every day for years, if you're saying, hey, let's try to walk a mile, they're going to be like, why did I hire you. And it's very important that we can remind them and ground them into the idea that that still movement, and that's still helping our body out because our body appreciates it. And our body appreciates it in a way that's working with it instead of trying to grind it down. So play with different modalities play with resistance bands, very, very, very lightweight, rest is absolutely part of the equation. And they really need to be at three or less days a week, specially in the beginning, they should be starting with one and gearing up to that, but we should not be moving them past three very mild, very gentle, very stable workouts a week until they're well past eating disorder recovery. There's also a lot of science, that movement, while struggling with an eating disorder is actually a positive thing that was very scary for very many people for a very long time. So it's been a really cool find to see that that type of wellness can be a really great tool, remind them that rest and recovery is part of balancing that equation, the physical and the mental stress of an eating disorder is very much so weighing down on this side. So meditation time with family and friends, time to recoup is very much so needed to kind of level things out. And if we forget to make that balance, that's when the eating disorder can really keep continuing to take over.

So to close things out, I wanted to get to two final very common questions that I hear all the time. The first question is with the approach of body positive wellness. How far is too far? When are we at the point where we're actually hurting our clients, whether they've struggled with an eating disorder in any capacity or not? How can we make sure that we find that middle ground and are really helping them remain and get healthier instead of sending them down a new spiral. And I think that the best vision that I can provide you is thinking about, again, a pendulum. When we're at the eating disorder side of things, we might be all the way over here. And when we start to try on for size, the opposite way of living, we might sail all the way over here. So for example, with me, I was over exercising a ton. I was very, very focused on my macros, I'm counting on tracking on all of this control. And when I released that, first of all, it was very scary, it did not happen overnight, it took years of therapy to get to a point where I could let that go. I moved to a point of oh my gosh, I can eat whatever I want. Because I don't have to feel guilty about it. I absolutely overdid it in the this direction for a while. But I got to a point in my body where I was tuning in. And I was like my body truly does not want to eat these things anymore. It doesn't want to continue to eat frozen yogurt that was my favorite, because it suddenly just didn't have this power over me. And so then I kind of swung back over here and thought that I was getting too out of control. So let me start tracking a little bit or let me make sure that I have a workout routine. And then I kind of resisted that and I settled into this middle place of obviously there are some good days and some bad days and again, air quotes Something good and bad. But it's really important for me to be able to live my life and take care of my body in a way that I feel like I could easily do until I'm 85. Until I'm 105, if I feel like I'm doing something really, really rigid or really, really controlling and thinking about doing that for such a long time, sucks, that is not the move for me

So I play with different types of fitness modalities. And that's not to say that my workouts are always super easy. I love lifting heavy, I love trying new things. I love challenging my body. Because when I want to, I want to, I don't always feel like I have to. And that is a very, very freeing feeling to tune into what I actually want to do that day. Whether it's rollerblading or walking outside, or trying a yoga video or trying one of the clarity, fitness movement workouts that we have or working with a new trainer. There's so many options available instead of feeling like everything always has to look the same forever.


The other question that I sadly hear and ask myself in early eating disorder recovery days, or was if I liked my body? Why would I work out? That's heartbreaking to me. I truly didn't have an answer to that. If I liked my body, I would have no reason to work out. So why would I work out? What's the point? There's an infinite number of answers that I really, really hope you can already come up with. But there's so many social benefits. There's so many mental benefits, there's so many general quality of life benefits, there's things that you can do independently that you might not be able to if you don't take care of yourself and when you are 85. What does general life look like? Can you walk? Can you stand up? Can you take care of yourself? Or is that completely dependent on someone else? And how does that feel? Do you like that? everyone's life and everyone's answers to these questions can be completely different. But I really do think that it's important that we start to tune in to what else we get out of movement and help our clients see the same. We always talk at clarity fitness about what clients enjoy and helping them try out new classes and try out new things online and point them to other gyms that resonate with our mission that might be fun for them to tap into. We have community events, we have community builders, we have different things that allow fitness and this fitness industry to be home. And to really matter permanently and not matter until the weight is lost or until I'm happy with my body, which unfortunately, we're learning usually never happens to be completely satisfied with what you see in the mirror is very, very rare, especially when we're continuing to fuel our mind with this idea of not being enough. When we start to get to that place of I am enough and I want to treat my body like I am enough. That is when the magic happens. And that is what I want to leave you with tonight. I hope that that is a message that you can internalize that you can bring to your clients that you can spread to the world. And that can really really help you be a pioneer in the fitness industry, truly bringing sustainable, flexible and fun wellness to the lives of people whether they've been impacted by an eating disorder or not. It is way more common than you might think. So I really, really hope that this message resonated.

I hope that we've all taken a little bit of time to put some judgments aside, I know that the body positive industry can be associated with an excuse not to take care of yourself. But in reality, I think that it's the exact opposite. And it's a reason for people that haven't felt motivated to take care of themselves before to slowly start to respect and appreciate themselves as they are and then act on that. And then move their bodies because they know that that will take care of the body that they appreciate. And then fuel their body with the foods that they know will make them feel good because they deserve that respect and that appreciation on the inside and on the outside and have fun and live their lives and be more fulfilled especially in wellness. So thank you so so much for your time tonight. I hope that it was an educational and fun and inspiring presentation. And I am just an email away if anyone has any questions. Thank you so much for listening.

The Author

National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Since 1987 the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been the global leader in delivering evidence-based certifications and advanced specializations to health and fitness professionals. Our products and services are scientifically and clinically proven. They are revered and utilized by leading brands and programs around the world and have launched thousands of successful careers.


Start Your Fitness Career Today

Become A Top-Notch Certified Personal Trainer

A NASM advisor will contact you to help you get started.

Get Started