Chelsea's Story: How my personal trainer helped support my eating disorder recovery

8 Dec, 2020

Chelsea’s eating disorder emerged from a backdrop of dieting and constant body comparison throughout her childhood and teens. In this blog, Chelsea describes her journey to recovery and the importance of finding a personal trainer that supports your recovery and therapy goals.

By Chelsea Marchetti

From a young age, it had been ingrained in me that to be accepted and successful in this world as a woman you needed to be a size 6, 6-foot-tall, with flawless skin, and shiny blonde hair.

Unfortunately for me, this idea of ‘perfect’ began at just 10 years old, and already, I did not feel skinny or pretty. My genes caused me to develop before everyone else my age and it occurred to me that I was a lot bigger than the other girls. This led me to start wearing baggy clothes to make myself appear smaller and to start ‘watching what I ate.’

A childhood of dieting and comparison

Coming from an Italian family, this was difficult as our entire life revolved around food - and lots of it. When I expressed to my mum that I wanted to be healthier, she tried to be a supportive mother by telling me what was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to eat. I don’t blame mum for this. She just wanted to me to feel good about myself and she herself had her own issues around body image and food. She was just doing the best she could.

The other issue was that other girls in the family were of smaller stature than me. This was made especially hard, as other family members would draw comparison between me and my cousins. I was banned from the lolly cabinet, given more salad than everyone else, and was not allowed soft drink at my Grandma’s house as she didn’t want me to “become overweight.”

So, from an early age it was embedded in me that weight loss and eating the ‘right foods’ was very important.

Too Big to Dance: Harmful messages lead to destructive behaviours

Adding to this, I started dancing when I was 10. Although initially fine, this became an issue when I reached the age of 13 to 14 and started missing out on gigs. I was told by coaches that I was “too big in frame" to perform. I watched my friends get the spotlight purely because they were smaller than me.

In response, I started exercising more in an attempt to get leaner, so I could get the same opportunities. I started doing gym classes and getting into weights, on top of dance classes. After three months of this intense regime, I had lost some weight, built some muscle, and was looking forward to being chosen when the next gig came up. But still, I wasn’t chosen. Apparently now I looked too much “like a man” - I missed out yet again. I was then told, “Chelsea, you could lose 20kg and we still wouldn’t pick you for the gig - it’s just the way you’re built.”

By this point I was fed up. I felt as though I was never going to look like every other girl and I was never going to be the right size. This was until I had the thought that if I vomited my food, then I could still eat without putting on weight. So, when I was around 15, I started a new diet where I barely ate anything and then went to the bathroom every time I did. This went on for about three years and got significantly worse when I reached year 12. By this stage, I was majorly stressed because I felt I absolutely had to get the top score in my final exams, otherwise I had failed.

My eating got worse and worse. The interesting thing was that I started getting compliments on my body – comments that I looked amazing and had lost so much weight. Basically, the message I heard was, what you are doing is great! Keep doing it!

New Personal Trainer, Same Old Eating Disorder

Eventually, my cousin pulled me up on my eating disorder behaviours and made me tell my parents. My mum decided that the best thing for me to do if I wanted to lose weight was to do it a “healthy way”. She sent me to a personal trainer/health coach from a local gym, and I went on a no-carb diet whilst exercising and being weighed every week.

Now, I know what you are thinking; “But Chelsea, this sounds unhealthy as well” - and you’d be right.
It was very unhealthy, but at the time I wanted to help myself and I thought this was better than not eating at all. But my eating disorder persisted. The focus on weight loss and restrictive eating kept me stuck in the eating disorder and I continued to have major fears and anxiety around eating. I couldn’t go out to eat and I didn’t want to drink with my friends anymore.

Eventually, I got to a point where my phobia around food started to impact the way I felt about myself in my relationship with my boyfriend and I thought to myself; “How am I supposed to have someone love me, if I cannot learn to love myself?” Now, don’t get me wrong, my boyfriend was so supportive and never made me feel bad about my body or my phobia, but I knew if I didn’t do something about it soon, I could have lost the love of my life.

Finding My Recovery Support Team and a New Personal Trainer

I’d had enough.

So, I scrapped my membership from the personal trainer and dragged myself to the GP where I was given a referral to a psychologist. It was the hardest and best thing I ever did.

I got a new, supportive coach/personal trainer who took the focus completely off weight loss, form and aesthetics. Instead, we set goals related to fitness and functionality. We set fitness goals every 6 weeks and his approach supports my recovery and my therapy. I also went to a dietitian who has taught me how to fuel my body so I can stay active and healthy. That, in conjunction with the psychologist, has allowed me to take a complete mind shift in the way I look at food and exercise.

Recovery has not been easy for me - and it has been a long process. But I can now say that I have not purged for more than three years. I recognise that I was lucky to have resources and loving people around me who supported me through my recovery. I also acknowledge that everyone’s personal struggles with eating disorders are uniquely difficult and valid. But the revelation that finally pushed me to recover was that: I needed to love myself, because if you don’t love yourself and who you are, how is anybody else supposed to love you?

Are you a fitness professional?

InsideOut's eLearning program 'Red Flags' provides exercise professionals with an introduction to eating disorders including screening/identification and management in a fitness environment (2 CECs).

Check it out here: ‘Red Flags’: Decision Making and Communication for at-risk Clients in the Fitness Industry

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