Q: Dear Fitbabe,
Hello, I am a regular gym goer, and have been observing a young girl who has an incrediably thin frame, and is always on the cardio equipment when I arrive, and is still on it after I have trained for an hour, showered and had a steam. I have mentioned her to the front desk staff and they say several others have brought it the attention of the personal trainers in the gym, but it is a difficult subject. Should I approach this girl with concern? Doesn’t the gym have a moral obligation to intervene? I am worried about her and I don’t even know her!
A: Thanks for raising this important issue, John. Your question is quite timely as I have recently brought a similar situation is to FFG’s attention. I too have notice a young woman who is very thin, does hours of cardio, and then weighs herself obsessively at my home gym. Being a Professional Fitness and Lifestyle consultant, and someone who once suffered from disordered eating and obsessive exercising myself, I feel that I have the scope of practice to approach such indiviuals; however, this is always done WITH CAUTION.
First of all, most personal trainers are not counsellors, nor doctors, and may not have the required skills for undertaking this type of intervention. What’s more, it is difficult to make assumptions about who has an eating disorder based on appearance alone. There are in fact many people who look pretty normal but are suffering from bulimia, binge-eating, and other disordered eating patterns. I realize that it is possible to make an educated guess, and yet there are many cases where someone is hiding a disorder very well. If you decide to act, I think that it would be appropriate to establish a one-on-one relationship with the person before bringing up this issue. Then, in a non-threatening way, you can raise the subject. This approach would prevent the person at risk from feeling embarrassed, angry, or ashamed, potentially driving them toward increased isolation. Hopefully a trainer at the gym could develop this relationship, and then have some pamphlets, phone numbers and websites ready to offer help. I would suggest that you do not approach this person yourself unless you have the relationship mentioned above.
For me, this question raised general considerations about the potential for enabling unhealthy behaviors in our society. Why is it that fast food chains are not required to refrain from selling their horrible fattening foods to obese individuals, knowing that it is contributing to their disease? Alcoholics are not refused service in bars, gambling addicts are free to enter casinos. It seems that gyms should be similarly allowed to enable those with eating disorders to purge calories! After all, gyms are profit-driven businesses looking to drive up sales, are they not? Maybe they turn a blind eye to such paying customers for this reason. Just a thought….
More seriously, I hope that your gym does have someone with the right qualifications to get this person on the road to recovery. Such an intervention could save someone’s life.
All the best in health,
Deanna Harder: Fitness Leadership Diploma, CSEP-CPT (Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology-Certified Personal Trainer), and Figure Competitor