Exercise professionals can often compromise their health and well-being because of the pressures they face in trying to embody the image their own clients are trying to achieve. Although the welfare and safety of clients are of the utmost importance, the industry must promote the importance of exercise professionals’ health.
The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) which regulates the fitness industry, ensuring that exercise professionals in the UK meet the National Occupational Standards for the knowledge, competencies and skills required to perform their roles, is urging fitness professionals to look after themselves. REPs believes that if professionals are in good health, they will be in a position to give the best possible advice to their clients.
It is something of an open secret that there are fitness instructors suffering from eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, with some imposing strict fasting regimes on themselves and using laxatives, and others suffering from overdependence on exercise – all in the name of encapsulating and projecting a certain image. And let’s not forget that instructors tend to work up to 12-hour days, carrying out energetic, back-to-back fitness sessions. In so doing, they will have to eat a certain amount of food in order to sustain their energy levels throughout their working day. However, on their days off, their bodies will still crave the amount of food they would normally eat on their working day in anticipation for fitness sessions. This can be a problem because if instructors indulge in that amount of food on a day off, they might feel guilty and then take measures to reduce the impact of this.
We all know that our bodies need a certain amount of nutrients in order to function properly. For exercise professionals to be able to perform consistently at optimum levels and to be able to do so safely, they need to be mindful of their nutritional intake. Food from the four major food groups should be incorporated: chicken, fish, meat or a vegetarian option, such as beans; vegetables and fruit; cereal foods such as rice, pasta, bread; diary foods and an adequate amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The body needs a certain amount of vitamins and minerals which play a vital role by supporting the systems in the body and energy production. The major food groups provide these.
Neglecting on certain food groups can be dangerous. For example, a lack of calcium and iron – two minerals that merit extra attention for people with eating disorders, can lead to osteoporosis and anaemia. In short, a balanced diet is crucial for maintaining enough energy to fuel training sessions carried out by instructors.
The sensitive nature of the issue means the lack of evidence is unsurprising, but fitness professionals are not exempt from suffering from eating disorders. REPs has guidelines on best practice which includes health and fitness advice for instructors and their clients. We would urge anyone who is concerned about a client or colleague to read those guidelines.
Now, with summer upon us and people preparing for their holidays, fitness instructors will be under pressure to look the part to give clients the confidence that they too can look good in time for the beach. We urge instructors who are finding it hard to maintain a healthy fitness and eating regime, to seek professional help. It takes strength and courage to admit that there may be an issue and to seek help, but in the long run, being diagnosed and getting help benefits all those involved – the fitness instructor and the clients. As they say, ‘health is wealth’.
Greg Small, Registers Operation Manager
Register of Exercise Professionals