I will arrive at the gym and clock her as I amble to the changing rooms. After a bit of faffing, I'll emerge 15 minutes later and she'll be on the same machine. I might then do an hour's class if I'm feeling particularly energetic before retreating to the changing room for a sauna and a shower. She'll still be there, her frail body submitting to her steely determination.
It's clear that this is not a healthy person. She is not long-distance runner thin. Every sinew strains under her sallow skin. Her eyes and cheeks are hollow; her clothes hang over jagged limbs, her pelvic bones jut forward, and a layer of downy fur covers her forearms in some vain attempt at warming her sparrow limbs. By the time I leave the gym, she has been on the same step machine for almost two hours.
Now, I know plenty of people who work out at the gym for two hours, but they all fuel their bodies accordingly – protein shakes, carbohydrates and electrolytes. They are ripped and strong and glowing. This lady is none of these things. While I can't be 100% sure that she's anorexic, the tell-tale signs of an eating disorder or exercise addiction are there and for that reason, I believe the gym should intervene.
Despite the fact that most people who use the gym do so to lose weight, the gym should be somewhere for people to get fitter and healthier. Being underweight is just as unhealthy as being overweight and I believe the gym should be more mindful of those on the lower end of the scale. Around 1.1 million people in the UK are living with an eating disorder, and many of those are at risk of osteoporosis, heart problems and kidney failure.
It seems that a lot of fitness instructors are scared to broach the subject for fear of causing offence. It is, of course, a social minefield. Care must be taken to avoid labelling any gym goer without a muffin top as having a mental health disorder. Furthermore, banning someone with an eating disorder from the gym will not stop them exercising – I've known sufferers to jog on the spot for hours in their bedrooms when their concerned parents thought they were sleeping, then lie in bed shivering with the windows open in mid-winter to shake off those precious calories.
However, gyms must be responsible for their members be they overweight or underweight. They should be vigilant of sudden and excessive weight loss and obsessive and prolonged gym attendance and recommend that the members in question take it a bit easier or even insist on seeing a doctor's certificate that they are fit to work out – if not for concerns for their members' wellbeing then for fear of being sued for negligence.
By Olivia Solon
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