Signs Your Client May Be Suffering From an Eating Disorder
In the USA, it is estimated that nearly 10 million women present with an eating disorder. For men, the figure is much less, but still, it is a mistake to assume that eating disorders are isolated solely among females in the general population. Eating disorders are present in nearly 1 million males.
Eating Disorders vs Disordered Eating
We should also point out that the term “eating disorders” could easily be transposed to read “disordered eating”. By and large, disordered eating is statistically far more common than what is seen in the figures representing eating disorders as a whole. It is also less severe. But estimates put disordered eating as a concern for nearly 65 million women in America. This number is staggering and means that, as a trainer, you are more than likely to encounter clients who are eating in a disordered manner. Still, disordered eating is generally viewed as less serious than a true eating disorder.
Disordered eating may include following strict food rules, eating the same “safe” foods every day, calorie restriction of fewer than 1,200 calories per day, obsessing or thinking about food for more than 50 percent of the time, compulsive or obsessive calorie tracking, daily or frequent weigh-ins, eating a lot of low-calorie foods and adopting a vegetarian diet solely for the purpose of weight loss.
One survey conducted recently revealed that 65% of the survey’s respondents described themselves as being overweight or obese. In this way, it isn’t very surprising that a similar percent are apparently afflicted with behaviors similar to what we consider disordered eating among people who are trying to lose weight.
Anorexia Nervosa and Bulima
Among American women, eating disorders are among the top 10 most frequent causes of disability. Anorexia nervosa, one of the most serious disorders among young females, is complex and will remain the focus of research for many years to come.
But what we do know of it now, is enough to put all trainers on alert for this problem seen among those who join fitness clubs to support extreme weight loss efforts. In fact, many afflicted with anorexia nervosa fit a profile worth noting. Most instances occur immediately after serious dieting, which somehow gets out of control. The profile also includes such identifiers as coming from stable homes, successful in career pursuits, and relatively affluent. It is also typical for someone suffering from anorexia nervosa to deny their behavior and/or to fail to acknowledge that their appearance – sometimes described as skeletal – is anything to be alarmed at or even unusual. Some will still even insist that they are overweight in this stat
When we examine the causes of Anorexia nervosa or bulimia (a disorder in which a person binges on large amounts of food, followed by efforts to purge the food through vomiting or other means), we also have to understand what the research is currently telling us. That even though there are verifiable physiological or biological causes for these disorders, we can not overlook the influence of social roots in their manifestation. Trainers and coaches working in the field already know this.
In addition to physiological or biological roots, it is also believed that those presenting with Anorexia Nervosa and or bulimia demonstrate that they process information about food differently from that of healthy individuals when scans of the brain can be observed.
Researchers maintain that people with anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia tend to be preoccupied with their body weight and will, therefore, take to heart the thought that one can never be too thin. This might help to explain why some eating disorders tend to increase as developing countries become more westernized and dieting (restricting calories) becomes even more popular among the general population. We are not saying that your client is likely to have an eating disorder, but to be aware that the possibility exists.
Some psychologists have suggested that eating disorders can be the result of overly demanding parents or other family problems in the client’s life. The complete explanations for anorexia nervosa and bulimia will probably remain elusive for some time.
Treating Eating Disorders as a Personal Trainer
But since we know that these disorders seem to come from both biological and social causes, that successful treatment will probably encompass different strategies. It’s important to remember that as a personal fitness trainer, we do not diagnose or treat an eating disorder. And this is probably best, given that even discussing such topics can be difficult.
Working with clients on these particular concerns may be inappropriate if you are not sufficiently trained to do so. Always refer your clients who present with eating disorders, to a qualified professional who can help or intervene professionally.
The National Eating Disorder Association
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) runs a free, confidential hotline available Monday–Thursday, 9:00 am EST – 9:00 pm EST and Friday, 9:00 am EST– 5:00 pm EST. Refer to their website for a list of holidays when the hotline is not available. NEDA also provides instant messaging and texting options.
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