It always makes me sad when I see a woman who was once healthy and robust take that turn down the road of "I won't be happy unless I am the leanest or slimest woman in town." When there is no impending body building or figure contest, or it isn't the middle of triathlon season to give purpose to the onset of extreme leanism, ( I think I made up that word!), it is then that I know a woman has been taken over by the dark aspects of the physique culture.
As a previous competitive body builder, I understand what a mental tightrope it can be to deny oneself the pleasures of food, and social company for the purpose of getting on stage and showing what disciplined eating and training can produce. It is one thing to set a goal and see it through and then relax afterwards and get back to normalcy. It is another to remain in that state of mind all year long whether one is competing in a physique sport or not. It spells trouble of all kinds.
As a personal trainer, I do feel some responsibility to identify this type of destructive behavior within my gym community, or with the students who attend my university classes. It is not always easy or comfortable to approach a woman who is overtraining and showing signs of disordered eating, but it should be done because in this industry we need to help people understand what is healthy and what is not.
I approached a woman recently that I have observed over the past year getting super lean. She has been training so hard that I have been wondering if she was getting ready for some type of contest. Her shoulders are rounding forward, and the skin of her face is drawn tight against the bones. You can nearly see the striations in her hamstring muscles which is almost unheard of in a woman who's not taking steroids. She looks like she is wasting away and she seems to have less and less energy. The bounce in her step is disappearing as is the gleam in her eye. She does not look attactive any longer and I could not stand by and say nothing.
Because I have been aquainted with this person for a number of years, she was open to my approach. I asked her several questions to see where she was coming from and I let her know that it isn't healthy to try and maintain a body fat percentage so low that it is causing the absence of the menstrual cycle. I knew right away by the demeaning comments she made about her appearance, like "I feel big. I look in the mirror and I don't see a thin body," that her mental health is also being affected by her dieting. She may need professional help to assist her back to a healthy state of mind. I encouraged her to back up and look at what she was trying to accomplish and that health should be the priority. As a first step, I encouraged her to increase her caloric intake and get her menstrual cycle to regulate itself. I ended our talk with a hug and I know she believes I care about her well-being. I will follow up with a manager or with the trainer for her group class so that she doesn't fall through the cracks. Sometimes in the fitness world, we need to pause and focus on one person when we identify she is hurting.
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