For the past 10 years, Jodi Rubin has been a psychotherapist that specializes in diagnosing eating disorders. During her years as a psychotherapist, she has come across a statistic she finds disturbing — according to Rubin, around 90 percent of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are also a member of a gym.
A fitness enthusiast and a club member, Rubin has seen the people that make up this statistic on a first-hand basis. “I’ve been in many gyms and seen many people inside showing obvious signs of an eating disorder,” said Rubin. “So I got to thinking, what are the ethical and legal obligations for health clubs to address this issue? And, if they could help, would they?”
To find out, Rubin did some research. She began by asking personal trainers, instructors and managers in the club industry if they’d ever noticed signs that someone in their club had an eating disorder. If so, she asked, “had they done anything to broach the subject?”
Almost across the board, Rubin said many of the people she interviewed confirmed that they had suspected some of their members were struggling with an eating disorder. However, they were at a loss as to how to help.
“Many of the instructors and managers I spoke with said they’d known of members they suspected were struggling with some type of disorder, whether it be anorexia, or bulimia, for example,” said Rubin. “I realized there was hole in the industry — that these issues weren’t being addressed.”
Rubin decided to fill that hole by founding Destructively Fit. Endorsed by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Destructively Fit is a continuing education course taught by Rubin. During a Destructively Fit workshop, personal trainers and instructors learn how to recognize eating disorders, and how to interact with members if they suspect a member is suffering from one.
“There are more than people are aware of,” said Rubin, referring to different types of eating disorders. “I discuss what the dangers are, the etiology behind them, etc. However, the most important thing people take away from the class is how to use their relationship with members to help them.”
According to Rubin, the relationship that personal trainers and instructors have with their clients is unique. “A trainer or instructor’s concern can resonate more with members,” said Rubin. “During a Destructively Fit class, I teach trainers and instructors how to use their relationship in a positive way.”
“Most times, you would never know by looking at someone that they have an eating disorder,” continued Rubin. “Most of the signs are emotional ones. When trainers or instructors are working with someone, they might notice a shift in their client’s emotional state. If that’s the case, a personal trainer could use their relationship to approach the situation.”
According to Rubin, emotional signs of eating disorders include a distorted body image, obsession with the body, severe depression or anxiety. “I think a lot of people struggle with certain issues, but with eating disorders, it goes a step further,” said Rubin.
CLAY Health Club & Spa in New York City was one of the first clubs to give its personal trainers and instructors the ability to take Rubin’s Destructively Fit class. According to Terry Fister, the program director for CLAY Health Club & Spa, the class was extremely well received.
“The class was really terrific,” said Fister. “Our employees just ate it up. Before, there didn’t seem to be any recognition of the harm that can be done by a trainer or instructor working with a person who has an eating disorder.”
One of the big takeaways Fister said he got from the class was asking up front if members suffer from an eating disorder. “As a result of the class, we’re now including a question in our member intake form that asks whether or not someone has, or is currently suffering, from an eating disorder. The class provided us with a strategy for us to open the door for conversation. It’s a very important workshop, and the class was invaluable.”
By Rachel Zabonick