How I Protect Myself From Eating Disorder Triggers as a Fitness Instructor

It might seem extreme, but I won’t even be a third party to these conversations. This means I have to be very aware in public places like locker rooms (the hardest, IMO), gym lobby areas, the moments in between classes, etc. I try to get in and out of these places quickly before I overhear something. Because the truth is, I will never unhear it. The reality of having a history of eating disorders is that you may tell me your name eight times and I might still forget it, but if I overhear you say something in a locker room about your body, it will take intentional effort to stop the snowball of thoughts about my body based on your comment about yours. I hate to admit that, I hate that it’s true, but I’ve had to learn to be brutally honest with myself.

And COVID-19 has made these types of conversations even more plentiful—all of a sudden people feel like it’s okay to talk about COVID weight gain or loss as something we are all experiencing. I have realized there is almost no space clear of the possibility of weight talk. So I’m on extra alert, and my ducking and dodging is getting very sophisticated.

2. I am very particular about the classes I take and how the instructor motivates participants.

If they talk about an exercise being good for a better-looking [insert body part here], there’s a pretty high chance I will never return to their class. And if it becomes too much during a class, I might leave. Yeah, I am really that strict about it. I have to be.

Comments about looking a certain way to get more dates at the bar, to go on vacation, to be ready for summer, or to wear a dress or a bikini are not motivating for me—they are actually potentially dangerous. I know that those words will linger in my head and fester. I also know that someone else may internalize them and go home to engage in some very unhealthy behaviors.

This also means I won’t speak like this in my classes. I may talk about body parts in relation to which muscles to engage, how it can help with other types of movement you do, or where you might feel something, but not to what the aesthetic results will look like. You might hear some F-bombs (from me or my music), but I truly feel this is far less detrimental than what I have heard about bodies in classes before.

3. I avoid labeling food and exercise as good or bad.

I don’t label foods as good or bad or how someone eats as “being good today” (or bad), because this is what filled my consciousness while I was in the throes of my eating disorder. I’m also not a fan of labeling movements or workouts as “fat-burning” or “slimming” or anything of the sort. Same goes for class names. I don’t mind body-part focus (like Upper Body, Lower Body, or Core), but when a class or program is labeled by its aesthetic promise—Six-Pack Abs, anything shred-related—I have to stay away. The great news, though, is that this has led me toward some amazing modalities, classes, and coaches in which form, function, solid movement patterns, and athleticism take the front seat.

4. I’m not afraid to mute or unfollow certain social accounts.

I just know that as I scroll my feed, there are certain things I cannot afford to see. Before-and-after transformation photos, posts where people criticize their own bodies, the peddling of products related to weight loss, any comments about people being lazy because they don’t work out or eat a certain way, memes or posts about COVID weight gain, or anything of that nature need to be banished from my sight.

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