It starts with a thought. Just one thought. For French woman Isabel Caro that thought was ‘ I weigh more than the gas cylinder my mother is struggling with so I must be a burden to her’. For Daniel Johns from Silverchair, in an interview with Andrew Denton he says the thought was if he looked ‘sick enough’ then maybe the bullying at school would stop. The path to anorexia started with these thoughts for both of them.
Food, binging, excessive exercise & other associated behaviours can become the means of controlling feelings of low self-worth. The self talk that precedes the unhealthy thoughts & behaviours of an eating disorder is tough to change but is possible with intervention and appropriate support. These mental illnesses are often co-morbid with others including anxiety, depression, PTSD.
Any parent, personal trainer, nutritionist. dietitian, group fitness instructor, sports coach and anyone who posts on social media about nutrition, health and fitness is a person of influence. An understanding of our own motivation for participation and the messages communicated directly or indirectly, require examination. What we communicate has the power to positively influence a sufferer by encouraging the seeking of help, or negatively influence the maintenance of a mental illness. Who’s idea of ‘healthy’ is being promoted in our language and practices? Is our communication and preoccupation with the ‘exterior’ harming our physical, mental and social health?
Research shows that 77% of nutrition students responded that eating disorders are a concern amongst their peers and 30.9% of fitness professionals self-reported that they had a lived experience of an eating disorder. This is a concern if recovery has not been attained but on the other hand, if it has then these people are in a prime position to identify and support a person who may be struggling.
The number on the scale becomes more than just a number. It can become what personal value and worth as a person is based on. It becomes a gauge for ‘success’ or ‘failure’, by which a person bases their whole existence.The person often forgets who they are as the disorder becomes their identity. It becomes a trap that the sufferer desperately wants to break free from but is tormented by fear, guilt and shame to do so. The unhealthy behaviours become a means of dealing with emotions that are difficult to cope with and are often nothing to do with body dissatisfaction. To understand the thoughts behind the behaviours brings us a step closer to knowing what we can do to support someone in their journey back to health – mental, physical and social health.
There are many circumstances, contributing risk factors that are different for each individual, but we need to look beyond body shape, body size and weight to encourage true recovery. Examining what we communicate is a good start. Educating ourselves about how we can identify and support if someone is struggling with a mental illness is imperative.
Click on the link below for PDF of the presentation given at the Filex Immersive. This blog is a summary that accompanied this.
To register for the Accredited Mental Health First Aid Course and the workshop ‘Identifying and Managing Clients with Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry” click here