I am convinced that there is no better time to be working in the health and fitness industry. It is a young science, but our knowledge of the body has progressed so much in the last decade, along with our access to great quality evidence-based information, that we truly are at a place where we can serve our client’s well. We are not only helping them to get stronger, we are improving their overall health and quality of life. It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of that. I am honored to be among some incredible women igniting positive change in the fitness industry. Among those are Jen Sinkler, Marianne Kane, Nia Shanks, Annie Brees, Amber Rogers, Lorraine Scapens, Michele Burmaster, Kellie Davis, Abby Clark and all the lovely ladies from Girls Gone Strong. Those are just a few, but I could go on and on. There are also the ones I haven’t met yet (and if I haven’t, please introduce yourselves!) ☺
What makes amazing trainers amazing? Well as the (also amazing) Dr. Brooke put so perfectly: “personal trainers are front line health professionals.” THAT is what separates the “good” trainers from the “bad.” We recognize our responsibility and we take it seriously. I wish everyone did.
What is Scope of Practice?
Every profession has a “scope of practice” that education and knowledge are limited to. This includes personal trainers but also medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, registered dieticians, psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists, midwives, accountants, financial advisors, etc…. I think you get my point. When any one of these professions are dealing with an individual whose issues or needs are beyond the professional’s scope of practice they should be referring the client to the appropriate professional for help. How would you feel about an accountant giving you medical advice? You would laugh, right? Medical advice is so far out of an accountant’s scope of practice it isn’t even funny.
Sometimes the line is a bit blurry, especially when there is a crossover in professional scopes. An example of this might be what your family doctor and a medical specialist are able to do for you. Your family doctor can treat you to a point, but has specialists in the medical field to refer you to when medical issues need the additional training specialists have. Any professional operating out of their scope of practice is being irresponsible and unethical, and risking absolutely devastating results. Here are a few examples that I have come across of professionals operating out of their scope of practice:
- A midwife managing a high-risk pregnancy that should be in the hands of an obstetrician.
- A doula advising parents on vaccines.
- A chiropractor treating breast cancer (the result was progression to stage 4 and the death of the patient).
- A family doctor recommending a popular diet to someone struggling with weight loss (in this case it was Isagenix, and I will rip into that company in a future blog post).
- And the one I see most commonly, personal trainers going far beyond their scope of practice in nutrition and psychology training (and doing it all wrong) and NOT referring out when it is obviously needed.
The Dark Side of the Fitness Industry
I believe fitness professionals are among those who are abusing their relationships with their clients the most. I often see trainers taking advantage of their relationships by selling client’s things they don’t need or recruiting them into multi-level marketing companies like Isagenix or Herbalife (where their client becomes part of their sales team and begins to make money FOR the trainer). I don’t like this. Not. At. All.
Nobody needs these things! All they do is undermine the client’s confidence in their own bodies. Our job is to empower our client’s to make better decisions for their bodies! Instead we are selling them one-size-fits-all meal plans, macro plans, reverse dieting plans, useless supplements, one-size-fits-all training programs accompanied with motivational speeches of how they can “become their best self” and, of course, there’s the half-naked photos of themselves to “prove” their methods work.
Some people may benefit from these products, absolutely. But what I think is the most alarming trend in health and fitness right now is that people are so afraid to trust themselves, they are paralyzed in their food decisions and have lost the ability to eat intuitively. <<< THAT is what the health and fitness community need to be working together to get people back to. Because our bodies WILL take care of us, if we move them and fuel them appropriately. No counting required.
The list of unsavory things that go on in the fitness industry is too long to name, and I haven’t even touched on the fitness competing/bodybuilding industry where there are coaches telling underweight women they’re fat and judges at competitions pressuring women to get breast implants. Yesterday my boss-man at JB Performance, Brad Posehn showed me a text he had gotten from a female friend. Her “fitness competition coach” had her training hard and eating 1000 calories a day. This is not uncommon to see in fitness competition preps (but not the only way either).
Basic nutritional guidance IS within a trainer’s scope of practice. However… Treating any specialized nutrition needs is 100% outside a trainer’s scope of practice. This includes treating men and women who have major disordered eating practices. These people need professional, psychological intervention. Unfortunately treating people with eating disorders is not where it’s ending. There are actually trainers out there targeting these people as part of their marketing plan It is a vile and disgusting misuse of personal training credentials. But it’s happening aaaaaaaaaall over the internet. All you have to do is start following eating disorder-related hashtags (like #edsoldier) and you will soon happen upon one of these trainers. They are offering sick and vulnerable people “freedom” but all they’re actually doing is transferring the food obsession from deprivation to macro counting.
My Attempt at Reaching Out
Helping people with eating disorders from inside the fitness industry is something I’m very passionate about. I started my fitness journey with disordered eating habits and I unfortunately put my physical and mental health into the hands of a fitness professional that encouraged my obsessive habits. It took ten years for me to overcome the ideas that were put in my head (that’s a story for another blog post). I consider it a lost decade of my life.
About three weeks ago I was networking with a non-profit eating disorder group called Work of Hart about an awareness project I’m working on (stay tuned!). Somehow during the conversation the name of a fitness professional came up that I recognized. It’s a NASM-certified trainer who has a huge social media presence (100k followers on Instagram) and has also worked with a friend of mine. I immediately contacted the friend and between what she told me and what I had learned in my call, I was completely dumbfounded. Horrified. Disgusted. She has had multiple letters sent to her by an eating disorder advocacy group pleading with her to stop treating anorexic clients. This trainer herself claims on her website to have overcome anorexia with macro counting and fitness therefore “it works” ….. And her client base is young – late teens and early 20s women who are all over social media posting their starved bodies along with how she is “saving them.”
But I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt of “not knowing any better.” So I contacted her. This is what I said:
My name is Jennifer Campbell. I blog at Mama Lion Strong. I consider myself a body-positive health, fitness and lifestyle blogger. I work hard at helping women realize they are amazing just the way they are. I try to provide hope in a somewhat hopeless industry.
I focus on HEALTH of the body and the mind before anything else. I consider myself a “fitness industry” survivor so to speak, having been the recipient of some terrible and unhealthy advice in my late teens and early 20s. That advice spun me into almost a decade of dealing with disordered eating and body dysmorphia issues. Unfortunately for me those who introduced me to “fitness” and were influential to me at that time of my life were very poor coaches. I would like to get this industry turned around. Those coaches should not exist anymore… But they do.
I want to make you aware of private conversations that are being had about your coaching style. You have a chance to turn this around and make things right, and I believe you are the kind of woman that will.
I have heard that you are taking on clients with clear and obvious eating disorders. I have checked out your Facebook page and Instagram account and I imagine that many of your clients find you through your #edsoldier type hashtags. I’m not sure if you’re purposely marketing yourself to that crowd or not. But you must know by using those eating disorder related hashtags you are attracting very sick and desperate people to your page. I also read in your bio that you are a recovered anorexic. That’s all I can see. I don’t know if you ever had any professional treatment. That’s none of my business. My concern is for the welfare of your clients. You are not qualified to help girls and women recover from eating disorders just because you, yourself, have recovered. Selling macro plans and/or coaching them with daily workouts is not only unethical, it’s dangerous to their recovery. I repeat: people with eating disorders do not recover by being put on a macro plan. They need professional, psychological help. When starving women come to you they are very unhealthy. They need to be under the supervision of medical professionals so they can put on weight as well as make up nutrient deficiencies. Again: macro plans will not do this!
I’m sure you feel you are helping these girls in some way, because you are helping them to gain weight. But in reality they are transferring their obsession from one area to another – macro counting. They will remain vulnerable to anorexia relapses until they’re treated. Brittany, you are not helping these women long term. You are actually HURTING them long term. The longer they feel YOU have helped them recover, the longer they are avoiding getting REAL treatment. Anorexia has the highest mortality of any mental illness. This is a very serious.
You need to stop coaching these women and refer them to eating disorder experts. Here are a few websites that you can contact for more information on how to help them:
I also seriously question how you are marketing yourself to this vulnerable group of people. It makes me very uneasy to see how you are targeting followers. I cannot help but question your own personal recovery by some of your posts. But again, that’s between you and your family and (hopefully) your psychologist.
I’m not the only one who has taken notice of this. I hate to see you be called out publicly because unethical coaching styles are an embarrassment to all of us. However with no recourse for reporting this kind of coaching, more and more coaches are being named publicly. You do not want to be “that coach” that someone looks back at in a decade and blames for stealing ten years of their life.
Your professional reputation and integrity are at risk right now. Please do the right thing, whether it wipes out your whole client base or not. These women’s lives matter. They aren’t just a pay check.
I never heard back from her but a man she works with in the fitness industry responded the next morning. It may be a coincidence, or it may have been a message to me. I don’t know. A summary of his response was this: it is up to the individual to decide how to treat their eating disorder, not me or you or a doctor…. And it is hypocritical to say that a personal trainer alone cannot treat someone with an eating disorder. The full version found here.
Then some other people in her network started talking about how she’s doing God’s work. Aaaaaand that’s when I was done.
Since I sent that letter I have remained observant but stressed. Frankly, one start’s feeling responsible for the welfare of these girls once they discover what a colleague is doing to them. I contacted NASM and heard nothing back. I reached out to some respected professionals in the fitness industry and they encouraged me to go public. With the lack of regulations in the fitness industry, this seems to be the only way to get these trainers to cease and desist.
And This Is Where I Tell You Who It Is
Brittany Dawn is a NASM personal trainer who is selling people with eating disorders macronutrient plans and workouts (that prescribe upwards of 2+ hours of working out per day, 5-6 days per week). I have also seen specific macro plans that were 1300 calories and her denying underweight women cheat meals. It’s all out there on social media, and when NASM is ready to crack down on this trainer representing their organization, all the evidence they need is right there on her social media accounts. I am currently encouraging a past client of hers to come forward.
Why have I named her? Because Brittany is a loose cannon ignoring all private warnings (I have since learned I am not the first to reach out to her) and she is hurting young women, maybe permanently. Some may disagree with what I have done here, but they are not the ones tossing and turning all night wondering how to help these women. They are not the ones who sent a letter then watched in the following weeks as Brittany’s behaviour seemed to get worse (she took on a client who was under 100lbs). This is what I’ve chosen to do and if it saves even ONE woman from falling under Brittany’s spell then I have chosen well.
This is an industry where professionals can become highly respected and admired, almost to celebrity status. Egos and narcissism are rampant. The potential to make huge dollars and gain fame and recognition are taking away from what being a personal trainer really is: a health care profession.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. If you care about people and our communities, if you care about the integrity of the fitness industry, you will join the voices of other fitness professionals calling for change. Because Brittany is not the only one doing this. And if she stops, another will step up to take her place.
It cannot go on any longer. Do not be a mouse. Be a lion. We can lead this industry out of the darkness together.
Please show Work of Hart your support. They have already begun the revolution in the fitness industry.
Update 1: I have closed comments on this post. This is why.
Update 2: Monday March 2nd, 2015 NASM would like me to add this:
Thank you again for bringing this to our attention! We have looked into this and verified that she is not currently one of our trainers. Unfortunately, because she is not affiliated with us there is nothing that we can do at this point.