by Catherine Carrigan, Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach www.totalfitness.net
Reprinted with permission of the Chek Institute For more information, please visit www.chekinstitute.com
The fitness trainer who does not encounter clients with eating disorders is a fitness professional who is either not asking the right questions, or not paying attention to what is or is not happening with their clients’ bodies.
Most of us, working with the general public, will encounter this phenomenon in well-disguised or full-flagrant form. One study that examined why many people do not lose weight identified emotional overeating as one of the top blocks to success. Because anorexia, bulimia and bingeing are so common, especially in the kind of person who would hire a fitness professional to enhance their physical image, I recommend that the question be put to every new client on the first meeting. “Do you have an eating disorder?” Stop, listen and see the answer.
One new client I had flew through her initial health evaluation with glowing colors at first. “What a healthy person,” I thought. She exercised daily. She seemed to be enthused about the company she ran. She loved her husband and wanted her children to work out, she proclaimed. Then, when I got to page two of my questionnaire, she paused. “I only throw up once a day,” she said. “I have been seeing a therapist for four years and I have it under control.” Or so she thought.
The capacity for self-denial is huge. You, as a fitness professional, will only be successful when you are able to honestly but gently help your client see the truth about their relationship with food.
I recommend the following protocol when dealing with clients with eating disorders:
The Physical Body
1. Correct depleted brain chemistry. Most of these clients will have altered neurotransmitter function. All brain chemicals are made from amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Because bingeing, vomiting and other self-destructive behaviors damage the digestive system, I recommend organic why protein powders twice a day as a midmorning and mid-afternoon snack. Include flaxseed and/or flax oil and/or fish oil supplements so that the brain, which is one-third fat, can begin to rebuild. Only when the brain’s nutritional requirements are well met will the cravings begin to subside.
2. Address adrenal function with scientific lab tests. The eating disorder itself is a symptom of a larger stress pattern. Educate your clients about where they are in the progression of stress – from alarm stage, adaptation to exhaustion. Teach the virtues of rest – not only adequate sleep, but also meditation, relaxation and play.
3. Assess blood sugar imbalances. Most sufferers will be hypoglycemic, hyperglycemic, or, worst of all, have an opposites condition alternating between the two extremes. In addition, many young girls I have worked with are so accustomed to suppressing their body’s signals they don’t know when to eat. When they do eat, they don’t know when to stop. Because their disconnection with their own physical body can be so extreme, I recommend many purchase a blood sugar meter. When their blood sugar drops to 90 or below, they can give themselves permission to eat. If their blood sugar spikes to 120 or above, they have eaten too much food, often carbohydrate foods.
4. Stop over exercising. One client wore out a brand new treadmill every six months. She got up and walked or ran for two or three hours every day. You can get a few clues when you see people who never take a day off from the gym. Explain the connection between stress hormones, excessive activity and hormonal imbalances. Often such clients benefit from softer, mind-body centered approaches such as Tai Chi, yoga and Qi Gong, which help them to reconnect to their feelings, breath and energy levels.
5. Set up a daily 5 or 6 mini meal schedule. Explain that they are more likely to binge if they allow themselves to become too hungry. Give them permission to eat frequently – every two hours if necessary to keep their blood sugar balanced.
6. Test for zinc deficiency. Get a zinc talley in your office. Zinc supports the pineal gland in the brain, which secretes melanin, allowing for deeper and more restorative sleep to help insulin work well. Adequate zinc also helps fight sugar cravings. Never exceed 100 mg. a day of zinc, and reassess your clients every month.
1. Encourage these clients to journal daily. All addictions – whether they are overworking, over or under-eating, over exercising, taking drugs or overindulging alcohol – stem from an underlying unwillingness to face feelings. Help your clients identify which emotions trigger their disorder – begin by asking about loneliness, fatigue and anger.
2. Eliminate guilt. As long as the sufferer feels guilty, they will continue to abuse themselves, whether by purging or starving the day after a binge, or expanding the scale of a panic-eating attack. Listen without judgment. Create a safe atmosphere where people can tell you the truth.
3. Establish an anti-binge strategy. Here is what I recommend if a client feels a binge coming on:
Eat a small amount of protein – 3 ounces of a grounding food like red meat is best. Drink a hot, decaffeinated beverage like herb tea to soothe the stomach and let the brain know that real nourishment is on the way.
Wait 10 minutes.
If, after 10 minute, the urge to splurge is still uncontrollable, have a reasonable portion of a treat on a small plate. Sit down, savor every bite.
After the treat, have the client lie down and rest. Often such attacks are brought on by anxiety and panic, so relaxation will help.
4. Use drawing. Have the client draw a picture of herself as she sees how she is now. Ask her to explain it to you. Listen attentively. Then, ask the client to draw another picture of how she would like to be, and ask what’s different and what she would need to do to become that different person. Often the very answers the client needs will come right out of her own mouth. I have clients say, “Stop worrying so much. Be less focused on my physical body and develop other parts of myself.”
1. Use Bach flower remedies to address the spiritual disorders that accompany this condition.
Agrimony. For those who are “emotional eaters,” turning to food for comfort. These people stuff their feelings with food. To lose weight, they need to learn to feel their emotions, especially their anger.
Cherry Plum. For feelings of being out of control with eating. Helps stop binges. This remedy restores calm and allows an individual to recognize their ability to impose self-discipline.
Crab Apple. For those who have a poor body image. Their feelings range from self-disgust to self-hate stemming from their appearance. Crab Apple allows people to accept themselves and have pride in their appearance, regardless of their size. I find this remedy especially helpful for women who hate certain parts of their bodies – i.e., their thighs or abdomen.
Genetian. For feelings of discouragement and wanting to give up on dieting. The reality is that improving the health of the body is a long-term and hopefully even a life-long process. This remedy is good for those who have reached a plateau, or who have failed in the past and don’t think their efforts will succeed.
Walnut. For breaking the habit of overeating. Also used to buffer the individual who is being bombarded by other stimuli that cause overeating. Walnut acts as a protector to all of the influences that could defeat the dieter. It is known to break the link to old habits.
2. Help all your clients recognize that exercise is but one aspect of a balanced life. Just as we shouldn’t live to eat, there ought to more to the value of ourselves than the size of our jeans or the amount of time we spend toning our bodies.
3. Examine your own attitudes towards food, exercise and spiritual balance. Working with clients with eating disorders requires a fitness professional to be honest about his or her own failings in these areas. Only when we are honest with our clients and ourselves can we be authentic and truly effective. Whether our clients can read our food and exercise diaries or not, they know whether or not we are practicing what we preach.
4. When all else fails, don’t hesitate to turn to an outside professional. Know your limitations. If you feel uncomfortable talking about bingeing, purging, anorexia or other self-destructive behaviors, create a list of professionals in your community to whom you can refer your clients for further assistance.
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