A trainer said compliments on his ‘shredded’ physique damaged his mental health as he recovered from severe illness that left him bedridden for a year

Ben Carpenter
Ben Carpenter is a personal trainer with Crohn’s disease. Martin Irvine
  • Personal trainer Ben Carpenter said he lost 50 pounds (23kg) when he was severely ill with Crohn’s disease.
  • He told Insider he could barely walk and was bedridden for a year.
  • When he began recovery, he was complimented on his physique, despite being weak and feeling unwell.

Personal trainer Ben Carpenter said he has always been lean, because a chronic illness makes it hard for him to gain weight.

Carpenter has Crohn’s, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and during his worst flare-up in his early 20s, he lost 50 pounds (23kg), could barely walk on his own, and was in bed for a year.

When he was recovered enough to be in public, Carpenter told Insider he received compliments on his physique, despite his look being a side effect of severe illness.

Carpenter was too weak to walk unassisted

Carpenter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 19, right at the start of his personal training career.

“Over the course of a few weeks I went from being strong, fit, and healthy to not being able to walk,” he said. “My mum would have to help me go to the bathroom. Even getting out of bed would take me 10 minutes because I was in so much pain.”

He was off work for a year and lost 50 pounds (23kg).

Carpenter recalls one night where he collapsed while walking down stairs and was too weak to stand up even with a hand rail, so he had to call out for his brother who came to carry him down.

“It was pretty dark,” Carpenter said.

He said he spent six nights hospitalized on an IV drip and was given medication. He gradually recovered and went back to personal training.

Carpenter had another serious bout of illness nine months later, and was in bed for nearly a year again, but he said he has been largely healthy for the 11 years since. However, he lives with the knowledge that at any point it could happen again.

Carpenter was complimented on his lean physique, despite being ill

When Carpenter went back into the gym after being ill, he said someone came up to him and told him how “shredded” he looked.

“I’d only been out of the hospital for two months,” he said. “I was so self-conscious about how thin I was, and I knew I didn’t feel healthy. I felt awful.”

Ben Carpenter in the gym.
Carpenter finds it hard to put on weight due to Crohn’s disease. Martin Irvine

Carpenter continued to receive compliments for his leanness, which he said was damaging for him mentally. In his early 20s, he said he developed an unhealthy relationship with training, dieting, and fitness modeling.

“I was really hyper-conscious of how I looked,” he said.

Carpenter thinks the idea that leanness equals health is the biggest misconception in fitness.

“It’s not a good focal point for the fitness industry to even associate that as being the pinnacle of what fitness should be,” he said. “It’s bad for physical health, it’s bad for mental health or could be bad for both.”

Carpenter’s illness taught him empathy

Carpenter said his severe periods of sickness taught him valuable lessons, including how much of his identity and confidence was tied up in fitness.

It also taught him empathy.

“I was a very militant trainer before that, no excuses,” he said. “And then I went through a period where I couldn’t go to the gym even if I wanted to.”