To the Girl With an Eating Disorder at the Gym

Here’s a potentially awkward situation, right?

I don’t even know you. You definitely don’t know me. I’m the brunette sometimes hovering over the magazine pile, wishing in vain for an abandoned back issue of Us Weekly to materialize. And sometimes I zone out on the bike, aggressively mouthing the lyrics to Pandora’s Pop & Hip Hop Fitness station. But enough about me.

Maybe it’s best to just be blunt. But bluntness from a stranger seems especially rude. More rude than regular bluntness, even. I guess I just want to tell you that I know. Or I think I know. Assumptions are rude too. But if what I think I know is right, then it’s important to tell you: no one will say this to your face.

You might show up before sunrise. You probably spend an incomprehensible amount of time ellipticizing. Your shoulders could be razor-sharp and your abdomen concave. Maybe every vein in your pin-thin arms is illuminated under the harsh fluorescents, or your protruding kneecaps and unacquainted thighs are buried beneath layers of Lycra and cotton. Maybe those telltale anatomical signs are nowhere to be found. Maybe you look like any other average gym-goer diligently sweating through a cardio session. But I don’t think you are.

Others don’t think so either. But they won’t tell you that. Because really, how could they? It’s personal, it’s private. Maybe it’s not even what they think it is. You probably just have a fast metabolism. Or you’re an athlete. You could just really love the endorphins.

And your dedication is impressive—admirable, even. I bet you get a lot of compliments on that. Casual acquaintances expressing envy over your healthy commitment to fitness. Praise for staying active—obesity is such an issue in this country, you know? If only more people had your drive. How do you stay so motivated? What’s your secret?

I know your secret. I had the same one. And there are others around you harboring it too. But you don’t want to talk to them about it. You certainly don’t want to talk to me about it. You’re fine. If it were really so bad, you’d know it, you’d feel it. You feel great. Well, you feel okay. If it were out of hand, it would be obvious. People would know. People would say something to stop you.

But they do know, and they won’t say a word. No matter what size you shrink down to or how many miles you log. Even if you look the part, even if you don’t. It’s not a broken arm or gaping wound. No one’s going to swoop in and save you, and it’s not worth waiting for them to. None of it is worth it. But you have to see that for yourself.

I hope you do.

  • Molly Batchik

    I’m shocked that Hellogiggles would allow this article to be posted. Not only does it judge people based on their bodies, it shirks the seriousness of eating disorders. Loosing weight is not always a healthy choice for everyone. Not to mention that positive body image is something we should foster in ourselves as much as others. I think this needs to be revised as soon as possible. We (women) are our biggest enemies in the fight towards acceptance and love of our bodies.

    • Michelle Konstantinovsky

      I’m sorry to say I don’t think you understood the post. It’s about exercise addiction, which is not yet identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an eating disorder, but can be considered a symptom of anorexia, bulimia and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). By addressing bodies of all types (i.e. “Maybe those telltale anatomical signs are nowhere to be found”), I meant to address the fact that compulsive exercise and eating disorders are not limited to and do not only produce skeletal bodies, though symptoms of emaciation can be obvious red flags. I hope I didn’t offend anyone (well, besides you – sorry about that), but this account is true to my personal experience and it’s written in the first person. I live and breathe positive body image, so this was in no way meant to counter that. On the contrary, I hoped it would motivate people to seek help for a compulsion that I personally know can quickly spiral out of control. Thanks for reading.

  • Jaime Hammer

    Normally, I would agree with you, Molly. But we haven’t seen the person Michelle is addressing. When an eating disorder is severe enough you can tell when someone has it. The way Michelle describes her, it sounds like the woman has an obvious eating disorder (it’s not hard to tell the difference between a naturally very thin woman with a fast metabolism and someone who is trying to be very thin). Maybe this woman spends an unhealthy amount of time at the gym. We don’t know. Michelle also makes it clear that she is making assumptions and that she is possibly wrong.

    I do, however, think the title is a bit too abrasive since these are merely assumptions, no matter how true they are or aren’t.

  • Hetty Chang

    I am also bothered by this. What if this were addressed, not to the shockingly thin woman, but to the girl with a binge eating disorder? “I know who you are because you are here everyday, but can’t seem to get rid of the extra around your middle. I can tell you’re getting stronger, but you must be ingesting too many calories because of the extra flesh on your arms and thighs.” I wonder this because right now, this is me. And maybe I’m working on it, or maybe I’m not ready to. But I know I’d be horrified to think that someone might be looking at me and making those judgments. If I even imagined this might be the case, it might make me crawl into my shell and focus only on the self-harming behaviors that got me into this cycle in the first place. I am so thankful for the place I work out that provides so much positive encouragement to be healthy and strong. The positive reinforcement gives me the strength to choose what’s healthy over what the voice inside tries to compel me to do. A message like this would not.

  • Lara Paquette

    Michelle, I love this post. I think you speak really eloquently about being addicted to exercise and what it looks like. I didn’t feel judgement or a lack of understanding in your writing, just concern. As a fellow writer I think you should be proud of what you wrote here.

    • Michelle Konstantinovsky

      do you accept flowers, or just tears of gratitude from insecure writers afraid they’ve disseminated a message completely opposite from their intended meaning? just the tears? no problem. (thank you. so much.)

  • Shannon O’Donnell

    I actually really appreciate you posting this. I understand some of the concerns the other commenters have, but the fact that exercise addictions can be a part of eating disorders is something that needs to be more heavily addressed. I remember my sister partaking in the type of behavior that you describe almost two years ago, but no one recognized it as a huge problem. Only after she got worse was she diagnosed and treated for EDNOS this past summer. A lot of pain could have been avoided if someone had said something earlier. I think part of the reason why eating disorders are such a touchy topic is because there is so much shame associated with them because of how negatively they are portrayed in the media and how misunderstood they are (even in the medical field). But eating disorders are nothing to be ashamed of. One does not control whether or not they have an eating disorder; it can happen to anyone just like any other disease. One can only take control over their eating disorder if they can see the worth in themselves, like you said, but that usually cannot happen until the eating disorder is brought to their attention and they are encouraged to seek help. Thanks for your post!

  • Melanie Schmitz

    Thank you for posting about this. There is a scary lack of communication about this topic when so many women need to hear it. I see this all the time, and yet I am never brave enPugh to write anything up. Good on ya.

  • Jocelyn Cook

    This is beautiful. Thank you for posting. I can’t even describe how much I relate to this.

  • Akilah Hughes

    Maybe I’m just hyper analytical, but I think the most important thing to note is that she is writing this from a place of concern, not actually going up to someone she suspects has an eating disorder and saying what she’s been thinking. What I’m noticing in a lot of the comments is that people are saying “I’d be so horrified if people thought that about me…” and to that I say (A) it doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks, even the original poster (though I do agree wholeheartedly and I got where you were coming from) and (B) worrying about what people are thinking is skirting the bigger issue of the fact that there are signs in eating disorders and as a society we’ve sort of collectively decided that it’s almost easier to not say something, to not address the person, to not offer help, or advice, or an ear, because truthfully, those with the disorder don’t want to hear it. I think there’s a much bigger discussion here on why her even writing down that she’s thought it is a bad idea and how that translates into a larger lack of action. Good post.

  • Mercedes Smith

    I have to agree with those who are praising this post. If I had a problem as serious as this, I would be surprised and grateful that someone else had cared enough to write an article about it expressing their empathy and concern.

    As someone whose been accused of anorexia by total strangers before and is actually just naturally thin, I would (and have been before)probably be offended if I was this person and did not have the disorder and was approached with it by a stranger.

    However, I still think that its far better to care and risk a few ruffled feathers than to turn a blind eye while someone is truly suffering and in need of a hand. I’ve been offended before, but I got over it and moved on with my life. Someone whose truly in danger if they don’t receive some support might not have a life to move on to if the risk isn’t taken.

  • Erin Berrisford

    Thank you for writing this post! I am someone that no one would look at and assume has an ED but I have compulsively over exercised quite a bit. No one would know, and many would assume I’m just trying to lose weight, but there is a compulsion that is hard to overcome. I think talking about ED’s and symptom use is the first step to getting someone help. Thank you for writing this post and expressing that there is hope and help. Realizing an ED in yourself is the first step to recovery and the gym is a breeding ground for symptom use. This post was so honest and raw and a very beautiful letter. Thank you.

    • Michelle Konstantinovsky

      Thank YOU.

  • Elizabeth Dowbiggin

    The hellish experience of dealing with an eating disorder is different for everybody; when addressing the issue, the best one can do is to speak from one’s own experience, because that’s all he or she has. And that is exactly what Michelle is doing in this (wonderfully poignant) article. To say that the article is somehow lacking because it doesn’t address all eating disorder-experiences is to miss the point.
    Thank you for sharing this Michelle.

  • Cassie Zwart

    As someone who currently has an ED and admits it, I was drawn to this article. I know what’s it’s like to be that girl in the gym that everyone looks at and makes a judgment–good or bad. That said, if a stranger came up to me and started asking me personal questions about the thing that I am the most shameful about (my body), I would not want to talk to them. I guess my suggestion would be for those who are concerned like Michelle is to make a friend with that person first. Get to know them and then you can be a better judge of what’s going on in that person’s life. Maybe they are in treatment. Maybe they have an overactive thyroid. You don’t know. Since ED is an isolating disease, making an effort to connect with them on a personal level would be perhaps the most caring thing you could do.

  • Addi Black

    This article hits super close to home and I really appreciate it. I was that girl at the gym years ago and I’m so grateful to say that I no longer am. But it’s great to know people like me years ago who are sweating it out in the gym burning negative calories aren’t going unnoticed. Though there’s not always much you can do (especially as a stranger) it’s just good to know people notice and have concern. Whenever I see someone who is in the dark place I used to be, I say a little prayer for them that they would have the strength and motivation and courage to heal (beginning with admitting that they have a problem). I don’t think this article is judgmental or too assuming. If anything I think it just brings more awareness to the growing illness and expresses concern coming from someone who has been there. Well done Michelle!

    • Michelle Konstantinovsky

      This means so much to me, thank you. You should be so proud of your recovery. xo

  • Rachel Hintz

    Michelle, thank you so much for this article. I have personally been struggling with this issue for a long time, and it really helps just to know that I’m not alone. It is hard to get control and balance, but it is comforting to know that I am understood and that I am not the only one who deals with this. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Michelle Konstantinovsky

      Seriously, thank YOU.

  • Shannon Lagasse

    I like this post in that it addresses exercise addiction, which can also be a form of bulimia. I, personally, suffered from exercise bulimia when I was anorexic. No one said anything, although I’m sure they noticed how often I showed up and how long I stayed.

    Perhaps it begs the question of when is enough enough? Bartenders sometimes stop serving their patrons when they are clearly drunk. Would it be the same to ask gym members to leave after exercising for 2 hours?

    I don’t believe it’s healthy for anyone to stay on an elliptical machine for two hours. It’s just not necessary for cardiovascular health.

    The problem with eating disorders and addictions is that no one says anything. Everyone notices – friends, family, strangers, co-workers – but no one SAYS anything. It is NOT shameful to have an addiction. It is NOT shameful to have an eating disorder. It’s only shameful when you judge it to be bad.

    I applaud you for noticing this other woman’s struggle, although I think the real key would’ve been to actually say something. Darkness can only heal when it’s brought to light. How are we helping others by keeping our mouths shut and our hearts closed off? By approaching others out of love and acceptance, we can help them to grow tremendously.

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