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...
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...