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Does your trainer have an eating disorder? Not unlikely, fitness professionals say


They say that people who have overcome mental health problems often want to become therapists.

Drug addicts want to become substance abuse counselors. Athletes want to become coaches. So does it follow suit that those with eating disorders might be drawn to careers in nutrition and fitness?

Nisha Obaidullah, a UK fitness trainer from Bristol, says that eating disorders in the fitness industry are rampant - and that it's the dirty laundry no one is willing to air.

"It's a very secretive disease," Obaidullah told BBC News. "You would not believe the number of fitness professionals who suffer."

Pressure to be perfect

Obaidullah says she first started having disordered eating habits when she was as young as six years old. It wasn't until about a year ago - she's now 34 - that she admitted to friends and family that she was bulimic.

Working as a fitness professional, she says, only made the problem worse.

"The pressure to look great and conform to that image is really great. They're always talking about what percentage body fat have you got."

In an industry where helping clients lose weight is the focus, Obaidullah says you have to practice what you preach - and then some. Being perfect is part of your job, and clients can't know that you're not following through with the advice you give them, she notes.

Changing industry standards

While common knowledge might assert that fitness professionals should be more vigilant about their health - and willing to get help for eating disorders - others in the industry confirm what Obaidullah asserts: the stress to maintain certain ideals can be overwhelming.

"The industry can be at times very hard on its own members and a quite pressurized and unpleasant place to be," said Sarah Brookes, a fitness professional who is one of Obaidullah's clients.

A spokeswoman for the UK eating disorder charity Beat says the organization receives many calls and inquiries from people in the fitness profession.

Obaidullah hopes to help change the industry standards about being perfect, but also about being a fitness instructor with an eating disorder.

"I want to see a massive change in the industry. I want people to recognize me being bulimic doesn't mean I can't do my job. I'd like to see the shame taken away from it. It shows courage and strength to get help."

Source: BBC News