Personal trainers, nutrition coaches and fitness workers are learning how to catch early signs of eating disorders in clients to boost early intervention rates.
Personal trainers, nutrition coaches and fitness workers are learning how to catch early signs of eating disorders in clients to boost early intervention rates.

How to spot the early signs of eating disorders

Fitness industry leaders, influencers and personal trainers are learning how to catch the early signs of eating disorders in a bid to increase early intervention for the rising mental illness that already impacts a million Australians.

A new online course created by fitness education provider FIAFitnation will teach professionals how to pick up physical and emotional signs of disordered eating and encourage clients to seek help.

Course founder Sophie Scott said getting help early was the key to surviving eating disorders, but often red flags go unnoticed because of a lack of community awareness.

Personal Trainer Stef Piper is one of the first to do the course. Picture: Tim Hunter
Personal Trainer Stef Piper is one of the first to do the course. Picture: Tim Hunter

"Fitness professionals and nutritional coaches are really well placed to see those warning signs early. These people see clients often and talk about eating patterns and are in a good position to see any changes," she said.

"They are not a psychologist or a counsellor and that's okay but they can help that person find the resources the same way if someone came with a bad shoulder - they'd be sent to a physio right away."

Ms Scott said key signs of trouble included rigid dieting, skipping meals, changes to menstrual cycles and hair loss.

 

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"Dieting is a big risk factor. Counting calories, cutting out food groups, fasting, having a rigid approach to food can all be warning signs," she said.

"Skipping meals but claiming they've already eaten or constantly body checking and weighing themselves. Physical signs can include loss of menstrual cycles, hair loss and depression and anxiety.

"Emotionally, social withdrawal or extreme body dissatisfaction are telling signs. People using excessive body editing apps can also show that."

The Butterfly Foundation national prevention services manager Danni Rowlands said making eating disorder knowledge a mandatory part of entering the fitness industry could help raise awareness.

Hair loss can be a physical warning sign of eating disorders.
Hair loss can be a physical warning sign of eating disorders.

She urged education providers to ensure the topic of eating disorders was covered in their courses in detail.

"So many people are struggling, and we do need to raise community awareness and also debunk some of the myths such as eating disorders only happen to young females which is grossly incorrect," she said.

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"I think anything that provides safeguards and information and support to people is really important. Fitness professionals play a very vital role in early intervention."

Ms Rowlands said The Butterfly Foundation helpline had 57 per cent increase to calls for help in August 2020 compared with January, indicating that staying at home could have lifted the curtain on a lot of hidden eating disorders.

Trainers have been taught to look out for excessive body checking and weighing.
Trainers have been taught to look out for excessive body checking and weighing.

The organisation announced this week they received an additional $450,000 in Federal Government funding to support the helpline.

"It's been really challenging in home environments where eating disorders have been hidden or haven't become apparent. The exposure of that has been quite confronting for family members," she said.

Personal training company SPT founder Stef Piper was one of the first people to complete the course.

"I have in the past worked with people who have had strong signs of eating disorders and you have to know the right time to outsource to a professional," she said.

"The course has made me more confident. I feel safe that my clients are in good hands because I know the steps to take if this arises."

Call the National Support Line for eating disorders, 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), for free confidential support, help and information.  

Originally published as How to spot the early signs of eating disorders


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