Fitness Modeling and Eating Disorders

Fitness Modeling and Eating Disorders

There are many things about the world of fitness modeling that makes an eating disorders therapist cringe. Most notably, there’s the very strict dieting, and also the large amount of time spent on intensive workouts at the gym. Less obvious – but extremely concerning – are the body image issues that arise from quests for physical perfection, as well as comparisons with other fitness models, along with judgments during competitions and photo shoots. And then there are those who are not fitness models, but who compare themselves to the images of fitness models in magazines. Stacking yourself up against another person, who may or may not be healthy in their pursuit of perfection, is never helpful. As an eating disorder therapist, I’ve worked with many current, former, and prospective fitness models, and while I do believe that some people can navigate that world unscathed, for many it is a slippery slope into dangerous waters, and many don’t know how far down they’ve gone. So what makes the difference between a healthy approach to fitness modeling, and an eating-disordered approach to becoming a fitness model? The most important thing to consider is the motivation for fitness modeling. Is it the external validation? A desire to look like someone you saw on the internet or in a magazine? To make an ex-partner jealous? A desire for the “perfect” body? Or, for the enjoyment of challenging yourself? Another area to consider is eating. If you are a fitness model, ask yourself how you feel if or when you eat something not on your meal plan. Would you even dare let yourself? Do you shrug it off, or do you try harder the...
Men and Eating Disorders

Men and Eating Disorders

10 million males in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. Source: National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Most of the attention about eating disorders and body image focus on women — however, there is a significant amount of men who also struggle with eating disorders or body image issues. Just as the media can set unrealistic standards of beauty for women, it has also been setting up the same ridiculous standards for men.  While women are encouraged to be skinny, men are encouraged to be “cut”, muscular, and lean (take a look at a recent Calvin Klein underwear ad). I’ve noticed a trend regarding actors in action movies – articles will mention how many pounds of muscle an actor put on to play a role, and his strict work out regimen to get a certain look (think Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, or Chris Hemsworth as Thor). Isn’t this just as damaging as focusing on how much weight an actress lost to get a role? Here are some additional statistics about males and eating disorders: STATISTICS FROM NEDA WEBSITE And while prevalence of eating disorders in men is significantly high, there is still a stigma for many men around seeking professional help. Some men may even feel like eating disorders are “women’s issues,” and feel shame in talking about their struggles.  The idea of how an eating disorder effects one’s masculinity is not to be overlooked. I hope that by talking about it more, and bringing this issue to light, more men will feel comfortable asking for the help they need. As...
Athletes With Eating Disorders – Intuitive Exercise

Athletes With Eating Disorders – Intuitive Exercise

RECOVERY TIP for ATHLETES WITH EATING DISORDERS: Try these strategies for Intuitive Exercise as a part of your training plan! Intuitive Exercise involves tuning in to the messages that your body is sending you about the type and amount of exercise that your body truly needs. When you have a training regimen that you’re trying to follow, it might seem like you’d have to ignore your intuition, and “just do it” (whatever your designated workout may be). However, you can still train intuitively – being in tune with your body is essential for an athlete. While the drive and pressure to perform better causes some athletes to push through pain and discomfort, they also know that not taking care of an injury early could cause even more damage down the road. Being aware of signs of fatigue, possible overtraining, and even emotional cues, like dreading work outs, are a part of Intuitive Exercise. That being said, you could very well find yourself not really feeling like going for a run one day, but do it anyway, and sometimes that is OK – pushing through is a part of the athlete experience, but a nagging consistent dread should be addressed. A key aspect of Intuitive Exercise is about motivation. What exactly is driving you? If you are feeling or sore, or fatigued, or even depressed, what gets you out the door? Is it the voice of your Eating Disorder (ED), saying something like, “You have to get that workout in, no matter what!” Or is it the voice of your “Intuitive Trainer” (IT) reminding you how much you love your sport, saying something encouraging, such as, “Go out for just...
Intuitive Exercise for Athletes with Eating Disorders

Intuitive Exercise for Athletes with Eating Disorders

Do you exercise regularly?  Do you play a team sport?  Do you consider yourself an athlete?  My name is Emily Johnson, and my view of sports is that they give so much more than the physical benefits of exercise.  I see how sports give people endurance, empowerment, and a sense of purpose.  It doesn’t matter whether you are walking 5Ks or running marathons, bouldering in a gym or scaling El Capitan – if you find that your activity of choice is part of who you are and what you value, then by my definition you are an athlete. Healthy athletes have a sense of wonder at their body’s ability to jump as high as they can, navigate curves at high speed on a bicycle, or move in spectacular ways for their particular sport.  If an athlete loses this awe and instead focuses on “awesomeness” and winning at any cost, this opens the door for eating disorders to enter.  Competitive athletes are often under extreme pressure from coaches, parents, and teammates.  Sometimes weight and size become a part of that pressure.  Runners are told if they lose weight, they’ll run faster.  Gymnasts and ballerinas are “supposed to” be petite and slender, in order to get the highest scores or earn the best parts.  This focus on weight and size can lead to dietary restrictions and excessive exercise patterns – and the development of Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder.  Personality traits that make the best athletes – such as coachability, perfectionism, and selflessness – are the same traits that are common in individuals with eating disorders. So how does one...