Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Eating disorders and the gym *trigger warning*

Something happened today which left my little fingers twitching to write a blogpost about it.

I've been a member of a gym for about 4 months now. I decided that I'd go to aid Nathan along with his fitness, as well as treating myself to the extra luxeries that this gym had compared to my previous gym, for example sauna, jacuzzi, proper gym complex, etc in comparison to my old gym, just next door, but most definately not worth it.

At no point during this period has my gym experience triggered the relapse of my eating disorder. I've been what I call 'recovered' for a fair few years now and despite still massively struggling with my body image, it's not something I would desire to turn anorexic for again.

My gym offers free health MOTs and I decided I would give it a go. I half-expected my health to be pretty poor as it happened, but surprise surprise, I had an extremely high aerobic level for someone who gets out of breath extremely quickly and feels dizzy and weak all the time.

Part of my health MOT involved a weight, height and BMI calculation. I guess you could say I was about 40% worried about this, I'd weighed myself the day before and somehow had this massive fight with myself that whoever ran this BMI test would judge me on my weight. I convinced myself it was an irrational fear and moved on from that.

The guy doing the health MOT was extremely sarcastic, and not in a good way. I was getting frustrated at his light-hearted and quite rude attitude towards everything, until he done my waist to hip ratio. He took the tape measure and placed it around my waist, to which he then said 'wow, you need to eat some beef stew and dumplings, I reckon'.

I guess you could argue I was taken aback by this comment. For a fitness instructor to rudely comment on my waist size without clearly knowing my past seemed to shock me.
Later on in the MOT he revealed the results of my BMI. My weight was lower than what my scales at home had suggested and no surprise to myself, I was underweight. He smirked, and asked me if this surprised me, and I said not really as I was anorexic as a teenager.

The shock on his face satisfied me a little, as he'd realise he'd landed his foot in the whole thing. He was speechless for 5 seconds before sympathetically saying, 'we..well....well you look....WELL, now!' and the whole 'how are things now?', etc. I'd clearly shocked him and taken him by surprise.

I wasn't 'offended' as such by his comments, just a little disgusted. I think weight needs to be monitored more efficiently by gyms and also feel that gyms need to be trained to be prepared to deal with those like I, wanting to return to a healthy lifestyle after suffering from an eating disorder for the majority of her teenage years.
The instructor asked me lots of questions about my health history, but never did once ask me a question about any past history of eating disorders/weight problems. And I think that's where gyms are going wrong.

Don't get me wrong, gyms mostly have a subscription rate of those who want to get fit and healthy, and perhaps lose a few pounds. But gyms can also be used in the opposite way and can be used to fuel ones eating disorder. Gyms can be overused by sufferers and be used as a tool to drastically lose weight. And these kinds of issues are falling by the wayside.
I'm not really sure how I feel about gyms 'intervening' if they suspect one of their customers has an eating disorder, and still remain undecided. But I think gyms need to be educated about the various stages and areas of life where their customers come from, and have a more sympathetic approach to those who may take exercise that little bit too far.

I'm not entirely sure where I'm getting at with this post.

So I'm going to leave it to you guys,
What improvements do you think gyms need to make to improve service towards those in the depths of an eating disorder, those at the beginning of recovery, or those, like me, who are recovered?


  1. I was waiting for a blog after knowing you were going to the gym and worried about the BMI check etc.

    On this - I really do feel that too many 'causal' gym assistants are no properly trained to notice and deal with people who abuse exercise alongside the illness or use it again once in 'recovery' or recovered.

    With myself - I was a member of my gym in London - and at my worst ED'd prior to really going for recovery (but not my lowest weight) was still running for miles, swimming for hours and attending high-aerobic classes and pilates and yoga and despite wasting away and passing out on numerous occasions on the gym floor not ONCE was I pulled up on my illness or the detriment to my health.

    I also used a small gym at my work place, and no one questioned my break and lunch and post-work workouts. I was fine, right?

    With a background in sport and a high-performance gymnastics coach myself - I really do feel like more needs to be done about eating disorders and exercise abuse - in the ED world and in treatment we know the problems and issues and how dangerous it is to someone's ED - but in the 'gym' and 'exercise' world I honestly don't think enough is being done to train these people to notice, approach and 'deal' with people abusing exercise. It is a realm where so many people have issues, get addicted and I feel there is a VERY fine line between donig it for health and it becoming an unhealthy obbsession, wheather the person has or had an ED.

    I am personally not yet at a stage of recovery where I am 'allowed' to do gym work, or high level cardio - but when I am - I want to return to classes I used to do - but I am cautious that I won't know when to stop - will someone pull me up? I used to see so many 'anorexics' in classes, running, swimming, wasting away, but was it only me that noticed?

    There needs to be more education for gym staff and lesiure centres - maybe someones ED could get picked up sooner if more people know the signs and are vigilant and know the right way to approach someone - looking back, my behaviours at the gym were disordered BEFORE my weight was abnormal.

    VERY interesting debate!

  2. I've never thought about it from the professional point of view. I've gone to the gym and wondered if the people around me had eating disorders.
    I don't think gym professionals/coaches/assistants are trained or taught to be aware of people with unhealthy exercising obsessions. And that is so sad.
    I think I just had a small aspiration to be a gym coach!
    Very interesting post, much love dear xx