For reasons that I’ll cover as I go, I’ve decided to write a series of “Eating Disorder Awareness” posts.
For the benefit of any new visitors, I’ll give you a little background information. I started doing Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching sort of by accident. That is to say, the first few times I did it… I wasn’t actually aware of it until a few months later. I’d been writing and ranting a lot about flexible dieting, calorie denial and so forth… probably along the lines of “if you want results from training, you need to put the fuel in and I don’t care where you get it from so long as you get enough. You can’t starve yourself into tremendous athletic shape”.
So, I had a couple of young women contact me for a “getting into shape” type program based on these principles, and I’m happy to report that they got killer results following my advice. It was only months later that they actually told me the full story of how desperate they were at the time and just how dire their situation had been. I had quite a few more who were perhaps not quite in such a desperate situation, but who realised that the approaches they were using were not healthy and probably likely to lead them down a path they really didn’t want to go down.
I had such success with these clients and being told how much of a positive impact you’ve made in the life of someone who was formerly so unhappy and is now on top of the world is really such a rewarding experience, you can probably understand why I’ve become so passionate about this issue and this type of work. I now consider myself a specialist in this field and an authority on the subject.
The Dangers Of Self Diagnosis.
This is an important place to start.
The point of this series of articles isn’t to give people the means to diagnose themselves with an eating disorder. I’m not a trained psychologist, but it does seem to me that when we self diagnose, we create a belief about our identity. We identify as being someone who has that condition, and then subconsciously our behavior starts to become more and more in line with what we’d expect of someone with that condition. It is a vicious cycle.
It would not be terribly helpful to have people read this article and come out of it thinking to themselves “well that’s just great, it turns out I have an eating disorder. Now I’m even more screwed than I already thought I was”. Rather than that, my intention is to identify ideas that aren’t correct on scientific grounds, and that aren’t helpful in your pursuit of your fitness, health and happiness goals. Therefore we can identify these myths and decide for ourselves, “well, that’s certainly not an idea or belief that I want to persist with” or “that’s not something I want to make a habit of”.
The Dangers Of An Unqualified Diagnosis
Does that seem an ironic sub heading? I’m not qualified to diagnose someone as having an eating disorder, and nor would I want to. My aim in everything I do as a trainer or coach is to give people all the more reason to believe in their ability… no… of the absolute certainty of success in achieving their goals, so long as they enthusiastically persist with a sensible and healthy approach.
So. I do not diagnose people but I can certainly identify disordered ideas and behaviours and suggest that perhaps they’re not helpful, much less not necessary in achieving your health and fitness goals. In actual fact, it is these disordered ideas and behaviours that are in all likelihood halting your progress. As I stated earlier, if you want results from training you need to be putting in the right amount of fuel. You need a balanced and preferably a varied diet, of appropriate total intake. Restricting to less than appropriate intake and reducing the amount of variety in your diet is the opposite of what you should be doing in pursuit of a fitness, body composition, health or happiness goal.
Something I’m quite concerned about of late which prompted me to start work on this article is a new trend of trainers talking about “sugar addiction”, and suggesting that a client may have an eating disorder if they’re not able to adhere to a very strict “sugar detox” or “sugar elimination” diet. This is so outrageously irresponsible and offensive.
Trainers have an ethical obligation to act within their scope of practice, which is in proscribing appropriate exercise programs and sports nutrition guidelines. I say “sports nutrition” as in “appropriate intake to produce results from training at goal weight”. We’re not qualified for example to take the role of a clinical dietitician in providing a specialised diet to manage a medical condition, or to diagnose such a condition in the first place. That’s something else I’ve had a lot to say about in the past.
Let’s straighten this out now for the benefit of anyone unfortunate enough to have hired such a trainer. Number one, sugar is not addictive – here is the science. Now… your body requires fuel. Energy, as well as other resources. When you are attempting to follow a diet that does not provide sufficient energy, you get…. you guessed it…. you get hungry. Studies have also shown that for some reason, when you have a restrictive diet that bans certain choices, those are the choices you’re likely to crave when you’re hungry. So, when your incompetent trainer proscribes a diet that is both woefully inadequate in meeting your nutritional requirements and restrictive in terms of what food choices are allowed, you have virtually no chance of sticking to it anyway. It is not a failing on your part to be unable to stick to such a plan, and even if you did, it would be to the detriment of your health and wellbeing.The failing is on the part of the incompetent hack who has ignored their education in favour of pseudoscience in proscribing such an approach.
Your body requires fuel and you will get hungry. This is entirely normal. What is not normal and perhaps disordered is the idea that you need to deprive your body of that fuel and not eat when you are hungry. Especially with an active lifestyle.
We will explore this further tomorrow. Stay tuned.