Online fitness and Eating Disorders: Friend or foe?

I had flashbacks of punishing kitchen based workouts, secretive compulsive exercising, and an underlying dread of associating my tiny home with movement over rest.

One of Leah’s ‘virtual’ outdoor set ups!
Summer 2020

A year ago, I would NOT have exercised from home. With a history of an Eating Disorder this would have been dangerous territory for me. Having worked so hard to restore my relationship with exercise (surrounded by people in a safe IRL environment), the thought of doing this ‘alone’ in my home felt terrifying. I didn’t know if virtual companions were enough, and I feared the loss of safety through connection.

I had flashbacks of punishing kitchen based workouts, secretive compulsive exercising, and an underlying dread of associating my tiny home with movement over rest.

From March/April 2020 onwards, we’ve been inundated with messages (from ALL angles) telling us we have UNLIMITED, EASY ACCESS to engage in exercise whenever we want. Combine this with the increased diet culture rhetoric, and pressures to ‘do’, ‘look’ and ‘feel’ a certain way through each lockdown…it’s no wonder Eating Disorders are on the rise. Reminding myself (and others) that our bodies DO NOT want or need constant movement has become a regular ritual.

So. With home-based-workouts here to stay, how can you as a FitPro support someone online? (for those with an Eating Disorder history AND for those without).

Perhaps my experiences of the past year may help you.

Virtual SUMMER workouts with my pal Buddy!

  • My go-to strategy at the beginning of each lockdown was to put pen to paper and ask myself… “What do I normally do (movement wise) in a typical week?” Then, I made a commitment to myself that this was the MOST I was to do in a typical lockdown week. Being at home did NOT (and will never) mean I needed to do more, whatever anyone else tells (or sells!) me.

    Remind your classes/clients that JUST because their laptops and leggings are more easily accessible, it doesn’t mean they have to utilise them whenever they have a spare minute. Books are nearby on the bookshelf, and Netflix is only a click away! Reiterate the need to continually check in with what their body is *really* asking for. Yes, we have the unlimited option to move our bodies, but perhaps we need a walk or a feet-up-phone-call today instead.

  • Working out suddenly became cheaper online. I could instantly get a lot more workout for my money. Class passes were everywhere, and doing less outside my home meant my bank balance grew (by approx. £1 a week LOL let’s not exaggerate). But inevitably, I had a bit more money to spend, and a few less things to spend it on.

    For you as a FitPro, this is an incredible chance to grow your business in the safety and comfort of your own home (how LUXURIOUS is that *mini* lie in?!?!) However, please always remember that one class pass booking, or one single class booking is STILL one whole human choosing to spend a fraction of their day moving their body with YOU. You might be thousands of miles away from them, but they matter just as much as if they were stood beside you in your studio.

    Sell your passes to them, but don’t guilt them into buying them.

  • I wanted to try new classes, and Lockdown gave me the chance to do this. I on/off attend a brilliant FitPro in London whose classes I wouldn’t really have been able to attend. (HIIIIII Elle @

    Joining a new online classes may (for some) feel less daunting than attending in real life, meaning they’re more likely to give your offering a go (the reduced costs encourage this too). Lockdown has given many of us the brilliant opportunity to go out of our comfort zones, within the safety of their own home.

    Bearing this in mind, always remember you may have ‘movement newbies’ with you and it might be hard (actually…almost impossible) to read the virtual room. You might not even know they may never have done a class before, or this *type* of workout before. If your class requires experience, REMIND people of that. You can’t fix someones wall if they lob their Kettlebell through it. You can’t physically untangle someone out of a shoot through (if you know you know), and you can’t offer ice if someone bangs their head doing a burpee. So give them as much information as you can prior to the class, so they can safely give new experiences a try and/or make an informed decision about whether or not to attend.

    Remember, we can’t stop people exercising, but we CAN empower them with the knowledge to make healthy choices and REMIND them that we are here to support these along the way.

Carly’s FIRST online Discoaerobics class
March 2020

  • Prompt people to check in with you if they have new or worsening injuries. For some, it might feel much easier to mention it to an instructor in real life, rather than making a fuss online and popping it in the chat box. Remind your clients that they are tiny humans in a tiny box on your screen and that if sumin’ is hurting or not working for them, it’s unlikely you’ll know (or have time to drop the rest of the class and give them your whole un-divided attention). Regularly give them this outlet and option in newsletters, class adverts and throughout your day to day marketing.

    You are empowering them to take charge of their health, and highlighting that you are here to listen.

  • Always consider your language. Online. Offline. Diet culture rhetoric is UNNECESSARY, TRIGGERING, BORING and OUT-DATED. You’ve heard this from me before. You’ll hear this from me FOREVER!

    We move to nourish, NOT to punish.

  • Do NOT be afraid to contact people if you are worried they are over exercising. This may be my last point, but it is BY NO MEANS the least important. Whether you’re concerned they’re coming too often to your classes (especially if you are aware they are attending others too) and/or engaging in your on-demand service, you CAN speak to them about this. This doesn’t have to be dramatic. It doesn’t have to be invasive. You could message them, you could ask for a quick phone call, or you can ping them an email. A simple “Hello! I’ve seen you’ve been enjoying many of my classes. I just wondered if you want to have a chat about how your weekly workouts look right now.” Or even “Hello, thanks so much for coming to my classes. I just wanted you to know that I’m ALL EARS if you want to chat about anything. This is a confidentual space and I’m here to listen”

WorkEDout have said this from the start, and we’ll say it until the end; you cannot stop someone exercising, but you can be that nurturing safe space, and a trusting voice that may make a tiny, yet significant difference.

To any FitPro I’ve engaged with over Zoom (that brilliant GODFORSAKEN love/hate place LOL), thank you so much for helping me survive the most triggering year since my recovery really started. Working out on my kitchen floor, and resting on my sofa have found a healthy balanced HARMONY, and my home continues to be a nourishing and safe place.

That’s down to YOU.

F45 Studio Bristol have ALSO been online throughout this year and have been a LIFESAVER.

All my words are experienced based.

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