How to help someone with an Eating Disorder – Talk to them

So you've seen some of the warning signs, and you suspect someone might have an eating disorder - but what do you do next? When you think that someone might have an eating disorder, it can be hard to approach them. Knowing what to say, or whether you should say anything at all is hard. After all, catching someone at the wrong time, or saying the wrong thing can make it feel like you've made things worse. Despite this, it is certainly worthwhile reaching out to them. Leaving an eating disorder to run its natural course can quite literally be a deadly. Here are some pieces of advice on reaching out to someone you suspect might have an eating disorder.

Make a plan

Arrange to meet with them at a low stress time, in a non-confrontational environment. Speaking out when you've just noticed something about what they are or are not eating, is not a good moment. Take the pressure off them, and try not to say 'you' too much as this can create resistance. They will naturally be defensive and prickly about their decisions around food as they are part of a way they have learned to cope. Speak in the first person, ask them to help you talk about your concerns, as opposed their behaviour.

image of two people speaking on a park bench
Make a plan to speak with them in a non-confrontational, calm, non-judgemental way

Be caring, be clear

Let them know that you care, and be specific about what your concerns are. Their behaviour might well make you upset or even angry, so ready yourself when you do speak to them. Maintain a calm and composed demeanour, no matter how seemingly irrational or strange their response.

Find out more

They might not want to talk about their problem or might not even be aware that there is one. Try to just investigate with non-judgemental curiosity what is going on. Communicate your openness and willingness to learn about what is going on both in general and specific ways.

Leave the door open and don't rush

How often when you've debated with someone on a difference of opinion have they immediately been talked around to your viewpoint? I'm guessing maybe never, or hardly at all. Chances are, the person you've spoken with will have a lot invested in their way of doing things. If they are going to change, it won't be overnight. It's important when you first speak to them, to let them know that 'your door is open' to discuss things again with them, on their terms, whenever they might be ready. Despite our intentions, we'll never truly be able to understand another's perspective, so if they do come back, listening very carefully, and again non-judgementally is key.

How to help someone with an Eating Disorder – Know the Warning Signs

If you are a concerned family member, care-giver or a friend, it can be very difficult to reach out or know how to help someone you think might have an eating disorder. With that in mind, I've decided to post up a series of hints and tips, in line with recommendations by the National Centre for Eating Disorders on things that might be helpful.

Recognise the warning signs

There are many potential warning signs of an eating disorder. Learn to recognise them
There are many potential warning signs of an eating disorder. Learn to recognise them

Please be aware that no individual 'warning sign' means that someone does or doesn't have an eating disorder. If you feel that any of the questions below might be adversely influencing an individual's well-being, then it could be time to speak with them.

Do they refuse to eat certain types of food/food groups?

Have they recently lost a lot of weight?

Do they eat much less than they used to?

Do they refuse to eat with others?

Do they insist on cooking their own food?

Have they had a history of complaining that they feel fat?

Have they become obsessive about exercise?

If you've discussed eating habits or their relationship with food, do they deny they have a problem?

Are they always on a diet but failing to lose weight?

Do they tend to disappear to the bathroom after meals, run bathwater or play the radio loudly (in the bathroom)?

Do they have particularly noticeable mood swings?

Again, many of the signs above might be part an parcel of a completely normal individual. But if you are concerned,

1) Make a plan to speak with them

2) Let them know your concerns in a non-confrontational, non-judgemental and calm manner

3) Let then know you care

4) Leave the door open for them to re-engage at a later point

Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge – Review

Picture of hands
The price of progress...

So its done. Well actually, it was done a few weeks ago. As you can see, I got massively bored about blogging on it every day. That's because, well, it got quite boring. However, it may well have been Dan John, or some other sensible S&C coach once said:

"Never get bored of the basics"

So I didn't. I pushed on, finished the challenge, and here is what I learned.

The body adapts fast

After the first few sessions my back was in pieces and my hands were falling apart. But soon I adapted, metabolically and neurally. My grip strength vastly improved, real fast. The rest time came down and down. One workout, I hardly broke a sweat.

The timetable I followed for the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge
The timetable I followed for the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge

Even with life getting in the way and a couple of trips away I still managed to get the sessions in, in a 5 week time frame. You can either do the challenge as 4 or 5 sessions a week. But I just saw it as a number to complete.  Something to get done. Yes its arbitrary, but I think thats the point. It was certainly pretty dull. Fortunately it only got REALLY boring once I was at least half way. Not wanting to 'waste' the hard work until that point, kept me in the game.

I now swing a 40kg kettlebell without any problem, and no tape required for my now reptilian hands. This certainly falls into the range of 'super-compensation', as I was genuinely worried at the start of risking injury, I was on the edge. I was amazed at how the body bounced back. The second session, I genuinely thought I'd picked up the wrong kettlebell, it just felt way too heavy. Looking back, I don't even know what I was worried about.

You can see from the graph below which details the arbitrary internal load of each session (AVG HR x mins) how much difference there was in effort level over the challenge. There are a couple of outliers here (Session 4 of squats,) as my HR didn't log properly. Each session felt easier than the last. Towards the end, I took longer than I probably needed, as I would often get drawn into conversation, extending the session length longer than it needed to be. The challenge had become physically quite easy.

Global internal load of the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge
Global internal load of the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge

Metabolic costs

Some exercises are more costly than others. Front squats require you to move and coordinate a lot more muscle mass than the other exercises in this challenge.  I wasn't front squatting body-weight for this challenge, which meant that the load of the dips session was actually higher. If you'll remember the dips session also employs a 2,3,5 rep loading as opposed to a 1,2,3 for the other lifts - which also adds volume. Taking the legs out of the exercise however really made a difference. Despite the dips session offering the highest loading. Generally the squats, overhead press, pull ups then dips would be the order of session difficulty for me.

External load of each session in the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge
External load of each session in the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge

There is real value in seeing things through

I'll be honest. I got some stick about the challenge. Since I primarily train (although definitely don't compete!) in a strongman gym, parallels were jokingly drawn with the crossfit-like nature of the workout. Whether misinformed, deliberately light-hearted, or downright flippant, these comments did not phase me. But they really brought home how easy it is to judge a programme from afar. Its something I've done in the past, and is easy to do. But it doesn't mean its right. You can never assess something properly until you have all the facts. I didn't know what I was going to find from this challenge until the end. And that's the point. You've got to GET to the end first. You can say its stupid, you can question its value, but truth is, you'll never really know until you start it, live it, and finish it! Then you can pass judgement, evaluate, and act on that feedback. Until this challenge, I'm not sure when the last training plan I started and saw through until the death was. I know when the next one will be though.

At times it felt like a waste of time, and was frustrating to do - I wanted to be doing other lifts. But it really greased the groove of the movement. 10,000 repetitions of ANYTHING will make you better at it. Kettlebell swings are now something I've added to my workouts, and I can truly appreciate. The sheer volume highlighted some areas of weakness which have now been addressed. I never thought that at my most bored phase of the challenge I would have ever thought to incorporate MORE swings into my training. But I have. If I'd stopped at the end of the second week with an 'ok I get how this goes now, I don't need to do anymore' I might never have made that change. My deadlift has improved for it, and I feel much more robust.

Finally, the lack of variety in the routine has made more motivated to train now. I'm hitting every session with renewed vigour and motivation. At my most stale point, this was hard to envisage. Sometimes you've got to ride out those hard times, slog through. Whether is physical or psychological staleness, sometimes, not always, pushing through is the best thing you can do.

Training through illness…

image of poorly looking bandaged teddy bearSo today I was intending to complete day 5 in my 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge, but I have decided not to train. I'd be training through illness. As frustrating as that might be, I'm 99% sure its the right decision. I'm not sure its ever that easy to make the decision when you are motivated, even when you know its the right one. So instead of my training session, I'm going to pen this blog and talk you through my thoughts on training through illness. I hope that it will be of some use to others facing a similar decisions in the future.

What happened?

On Friday evening while coaching, I noticed I had a slightly itchy throat. Nothing uncomfortable, but just noticed it was slightly harder to swallow. I had a ride planned the next morning and at this stage thought, 'I'll probably be ok if it doesn't get much worse'. Sadly, at about 2am woke with what I'd describe as a noticeably sore throat and found it difficult to get back to sleep. I was grumpy to have my sleep disturbed, but was then a victim of my own vagueness. How much is '...much worse'.  It's a real grey area and I think always is.

I was up at 6 and didn't want to let my ride partner down, but my throat was no better. I've had sore throats like this before and on occasion, the infection has really taken hold and its wiped me out.  That said,  after some breakfast and a coffee, the discomfort lessened and as it was not a 'hard' ride planned, I decided to get on with it and bail if I needed too. I didn't feel weak, other than a little fatigue in the legs from general training. On returning from the ride, I felt ok, ate well, and headed straight off to a gymnastics skills workshop. A very active one! Although I definitely noticed the sore throat, perhaps a little worse than before, throughout all the drills, physically I didn't feel anything other than totally fine.

After another disturbed night's sleep and the throat at its worst, I've ummed and ahhed all morning about whether to train.  The tricky bit is that I actually feel physically ok, if not positively good. I still can't ignore that I was up early this morning because I couldn't get back to sleep from the discomfort.

Why I'm not training through illness

Any workout in the 10,000 swing challenge is a tough one. Vigorous, intense, etc etc. Call it what you will. If it was just light or light/moderate training, its a different question. Intense exercise does however compromise your immune system in the short term. I might already have let the infection take a firmer grip, and another bout of intense exercise will only likely make this worse! I have to be physically fit to work to earn a wage, so my health is always the over-riding priority. Its an added risk I shouldn't really take.

Hint: Consider the nature of the workout ahead. Is it likely to significantly compromise your ability to fight off your illness? If so, don't do it!

The challenge is just that. Its not supposed to be easy, and part of me feels like riding it out because I thrive on the process of overcoming adversity - it can be very rewarding. That process I think only really applies to more psychological challenges however (whether or not they are created by physical ones). This is different. There is nothing 'brave' or useful about exercising through illness, its just stupid.  If I can't complete the challenge now, I can always do it again, later, or a modified version. The purpose of the challenge is also to test my skills (physical, psychological etc) and to come out the otherside stronger. I want a training and performance benefit from this experience. Not the opposite. Not training through illness can be the harder thin As an aside, its also important to consider the very real risk (albeit small) of exercising when suffering from an infection. I know of at least one athlete who has significantly impacted their health and well-being permanently from pushing through when unwell. Not cool.

Hint: Look at the bigger picture. Why are you training? To improve, or to make yourself weaker. I think people take this for granted or don't consider the question enough.

I don't get ill very often. I gave the kiss of death to this the other week, proudly proclaiming that fact. Since then, I've had a nasty bout of food poisoning after the UKSCA conference and now this. The last time I had a sore throat like this was in 2007, when I got pharyngitis and was off work for nearly a week. It can get worse that what I'm experiencing now, with the added physical fatigue as the body fights infection. Again, I need to work this coming week, so I need to prioritise that.

Hint: Take your time to think back to when you've been ill before. It can be unimaginably bad (e.g. man flu - girls just don't get it!)  Remember those times when you feel so ill, you forget what it's like to be well. Use your experience. On balance, think about what you want and do what you can to facilitate that. If that means rest, then rest. I don't want to relive my 2007 experience again - one or two workouts is not worth it!

It can be really hard to actually know how you feel. How ill is too ill? If we stopped training every time we felt slightly sub-par, we'd get nothing done. Since getting control of my diet and organising my lifestyle to prioritise my health and well-being, I don't think I appreciated how good I could feel. This comes down to experience, and trial and error. Yes sometimes (and only sometimes) we have to do too much to know where that line is. I question the value of always pushing our limits and 'living life on the edge'.  Applied inappropriately, this approach can be our undoing. But as Julius Caesar said a very long time ago "Experience is the teacher of all things". Sometimes there is only 1 way to really find out. That is, dipping your toe in the lake to assess if its filled with flesh eating piranhas as opposed to taking a running dive with somersault to find out the same.

Hint: One thing that can be useful in knowing how ill is too ill is appreciating the context of how you should or could feel. Focus on health for a while, sleep well, avoid caffeine, alcohol, eat a nutrient dense diet. Learn what great feels like. Also understand where you are in your training. Yesterday on my ride, my legs were tired, but I'd had an active week of coaching, and cycled 100 miles mostly all fixed/single speed and completed 2,000 kb swings. I probably should feel a little tired.

So after a day of rest and nutritious food, and plenty of fluids, fingers crossed tomorrow I'll feel more confident that I'm on top of this temporary set back!


Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge – Day 4

So today was pull-ups as my strength movement. My back is easing off nicely and the workout time is still decreasing. I love that feeling when your body starts to adapt.

Today's workout was

10 swings

1 pull-up

15 swings

2 pull-ups

25 swings

3 pull-ups

50 swings

Rest and repeat 4 more times.

The pull-ups did work grip though, and on the 4th and 5th set after the 25 swings, my grip was in real trouble on the last of only 3 pull-ups. Not through lack of gross strength but an ability to hold the bar. Stupid endurance sport! That said, the 3 mins rest is more than enough now, so I'll drop down to 2 mins between sets from Sunday.

image of man in yellow shirt performing pull up from behind
Last one...

I've taped up my hands the last couple of times, and they have somewhat hardened after ripping them to shreds in the first two days.

image of callusts on hand
Healing slowly...

Not sure there will be many more photos to take on the next posts. Rest day tomorrow (although I'm going for a little spin on the bike) and then back to the front squats. Conceptually I'm through my first round of 4 workouts. 4 more rounds to go.

2,000 swings down, 8,000 to go.