Having the conversation: fitness professionals

Key points:

  • It’s important not to ignore the problem when you suspect someone is struggling
  • Be confident that talking to them will not make things worse
  • There are many steps you can take to be prepared for the conversation and their reactions

As a fitness professional, you have probably been in the situation where you suspect one of your clients, students or team members may have an eating disorder. Maybe they have lost an excessive amount of weight, perhaps they are taking supplements for weight loss or gain (or even steroids), attending too many classes or exercising excessively.

What do you do?

It’s not an easy situation, but if you can support them to get seek professional help, their chances of recovery will vastly improve. If the person you are worried about is under 18, please read

Be prepared

  • Are you the best person to have this difficult conversation? If you haven’t developed a trusting relationship with the person, it may be better to ask a colleague or their own trainer/coach to raise their concerns.
  • Create a safe environment for discussion. Choose a private place to speak and a time when you are both feeling calm and not rushed.
  • Be prepared and educate yourself about eating disorders.
  • Learn about options for seeking help – perhaps have some brochures ready or numbers for them to call for help.
  • Think about what you are going to say before you talk to them.
  • Be aware of your own attitudes towards body image, and how these may affect your interaction.
  • Call EDV on 1300 550 236 if you would like some further tips or to practice what you are planning to say.

Having the conversation

  • Be calm, open and honest about your worries.
  • State that you are concerned about some of their behaviours around exercise and food.
    “Joanne, I’ve noticed you coming along to many of our classes, as well as working out afterwards. I’m worried that things might be going too far – with your permission, I’d like to give you the number of a professional you could have a chat to just to keep things in balance.”
  • Use examples to keep things factual rather than emotional.
    ”I’ve noticed you have lost a lot of energy since the start of the season. Is everything OK?”
  • Use “I” statements.
    I’m worried about you.”
  • Reinforce confidentiality
  • Let them know you will support them to take time off performance or training schedules.
    “I’m worried that if you keep dancing when you are hurt, the injury will get worse. Can I help you get in touch with someone who you can chat to about the importance of taking a break and looking after yourself?”
  • It’s important not to accuse them of having an eating disorder. It’s not your role to diagnose. It’s enough to express your concerns and give them referral information to seek professional help.

Their reaction

Be prepared for a range of reactions.

  1. They may be ready to listen, and take the first steps towards support
  2. They may become angry or upset. They may feel threatened by your observations and it may take time for them to accept your offer of help, so be patient and persistent.
  3. They may flatly deny there is a problem.

If the reaction wasn’t as positive as you were hoping, don’t be discouraged. You will not have made things worse for them, but instead planted the seed of recovery.

If you are worried that they will continue to exercise despite being unwell, check your organisation’s policies around medical clearance requirements.

Keep yourself available for further conversations if they need support, but remember it’s not your role to give advice or have all the answers.

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