For personal trainers, a life of physical fitness and healthy eating is as natural as breathing. It’s as much a part of their daily routine as that morning cup of coffee is for the average American. But unlike the average American, they also know how to listen to their body’s signals. They back off from their training when they feel unusual pain, and usually allow themselves a piece of cake or a thick, juicy steak now and again without anxiety or guilt.
For those with body image issues, the body is not something you feel and nurture, it’s something to be ashamed of and fixed. These are the clients most trainers will see, and many are good at hiding their body discomfort. After all, they’re happy and excited as they make significant changes in fitness and body shape. What could be wrong?
The answer is they may be developing anxiety, depression, and even an eating disorder. For someone who is not a trained therapist, these signs can be hard to pick up, especially in the gym where grunting, snarling, exhaustion and endorphin highs are the norm. But there are some clear signs that you can look for.
Listen for a pattern of comments that reveal any of the following:
- Exercise is used obsessively and excessively (based on frequency and commitment) for the primary purpose of expending calories and altering body shape (“I ate a big piece of chocolate cake and I need to run an extra five miles today to burn it off!”)
- High levels of anxiety and perfectionism (“I can’t go out tonight because my belly just doesn’t look flat enough in my new dress!”)
- Masking other eating disorder behaviors (binging, purging, starvation) (“I’m not eating today because I ate pizza last night.” “I was so bloated but I took a diuretic and look much better now.” “I’m going to a wedding today and I need to work out extra hard so I can really party tonight.”)
- Training through pain, injury, illness (“My knee is killing me, but I’ll be alright if I just put some ice on it afterwards.”)
- History of being involved in sports with weight requirements but not currently in them and still striving to keep that body size (i.e. gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, running, dancing, ballet) (“I was a great wrestler in the 145 pound weight class. I was so much better looking then. I’ve got to get back down to that weight!”)
If this sounds like someone you know, it’s time to confront them and suggest additional professional help.