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Gym Culture and Body Image: A toxic mix for men

TRIGGER WARNING: This article describes personal experiences surrounding disordered eating and exercise.

A guest piece by a good friend of mine. Thank you for sharing your story.

It’s 2016. I head to the gym at 10pm after a 12 hour day at work because no matter how tired I am, I feel I can’t miss it; I had a seafood laksa which was heavy on cream so I had to go, otherwise, I’m afraid it’ll show in the mirror. I worked on abs and cardio to burn it off and I feel better about myself now.

I look in the fridge for dinner and disappointment washes over me. All I have is chicken and rice (again). Everyone says I should be having it to compliment my training, but I can’t think of anything less appetizing right now.

Fast forward ?

It’s 2019. We had training tonight and worked on weight distribution when we were boxing which was challenging and fun. I feel like my function and performance is improving.

Looking in the fridge there’s leftover pumpkin curry – yum! I make sure I put some yoghurt in there for some extra creaminess and to take off the heat. Some custard for dessert and I’m satisfied and ready to study.

Three years on and my mindset about food and exercise could not be further apart. When I was younger, I was influenced by diet culture and felt like my personal worth was measured by my fitness and if I had a 6 pack. I developed a horrible addiction to exercise, sometimes going to the gym at midnight on a weeknight so I could keep momentum in my training. I created so many negative connections with food and restricted my diet to what I thought would help my muscularity; this caused body dysmorphia and when I ‘broke’ my diet I would spiral mentally.

In mid 2018 I transitioned to intuitive eating to improve my relationship with food and exercise. I can now accept if I miss a training session (and have rediscovered enjoyment in performance rather than look). I can now also eat without fear or restriction.

Intuitive eating allows food to be enjoyable again and removes the morality from eating – not good food or bad food, not low carb, not macros and no labels.

I would like people to know that negative body image and disordered eating can affect anyone. If you or a friend is struggling with these thoughts I would encourage you to reach out, as a peaceful relationship with food and body is possible.

If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, disordered exercise or body image concerns please reach out.

If you want to talk to someone right now

Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) and Lifeline (13 11 14) have trained counsellors available 24/7 if you want to contact someone immediately.

National Services

The Butterfly Foundation

Butterfly’s National Support Line, 1800 ED HOPE, provides confidential support for:

  • people with eating disorders
  • people with body image issues
  • family members
  • friends
  • anyone with a question about eating disorders or negative body image.

The Butterfly Foundation’s counsellors are professionally trained, compassionate and experienced in discussing eating disorders. Butterfly provides personalised coping strategies and support, and information to help increase your understanding of your, or your loved one’s, illness. They also offer guidance on treatment options and connections with other services and specialists.

Support services (available Monday–Friday):
Telephone: 1800 33 4673 (8 am – 9 pm)
Text-based chat via the website (8 am – 9 pm) or
Email: at any time.

National Eating Disorder Collaboration

The National Eating Disorder Collaboration is a great resource for up-to-date information and research on eating disorders. It also provides a list of state-by-state treatment services for inpatient, outpatient and community support programs in their ‘Services and Support Organisations’ section.


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Mali Unahi - Dietitian