Eating Disorders in Athletics

Athletics NI recognise that eating disorders are a complex, serious and multi-faceted medical condition which may affect a number of athletes.

Whilst most athletes follow a training regime and eat well to support health and performance, some struggle with disordered eating. Those who excessively restrict calories or avoid certain food groups are at risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Whether or not eating disorders occur in a sporting context, they will seriously compromise the health of the sufferer and indeed can be life-threatening. Complex problems seldom have simple solutions or explanations.

Nonetheless, measures can be incorporated into the support that athletes receive that will reduce the risk of problems developing. Download the 'Eating Disorders in Sport' guidelines from UK Sport here.

Although this has been written for athletes and coaches at the High Performance level, the content is relevant for coaches working at all levels of the pathway. Alert coaches are in a position to detect possible eating problems at an early stage – perhaps before a full-blown clinical syndrome has evolved. All coaches should familiarise themselves with the key features of eating disorder syndromes and what to look for. This resource describes measures that can be put in place to support athletes and reduce the risk of problems developing.

British Athletics hosted a Panel discussion during Eating Disorders (ED) Awareness Week. The discussion explores the topics of support mechanisms, triggers, EDs in men, advice for anyone who may be suffering from an ED, and how to support someone who you may be concerned has an ED. You can view the discussion here

It is hosted by ‘Keep Smiling’ Podcast and YouTube creator Lara Rebecca whose podcast primarily focuses upon mental health and eating disorder awareness. Lara uses her previous experiences of suffering from anorexia nervosa, anxiety and depression to create raw, insightful content, promoting the priority of psychological wellbeing and encouraging individuals to live a healthy, happy lifestyle. She is joined by

  • Bobby Clay – Former junior 1500m European champion, now balancing rehab and a Master’s in business psychology at Loughborough University. Through injury and experience, now passionate about changing perceptions around periods and attitudes towards body image in elite sport from both a male and female perspective.
  • George Mycock – Founder of MyoMinds, with lived experiences of multiple eating disorders that stemmed from a rugby injury. George now teaches coaches, sports staff, and medical professionals across the UK about athlete/exerciser mental health, and works with universities to improve knowledge around this subject area, through research.
  • Jayne Nisbet – Commonwealth Games 2014 finalist in the high jump, competing for Scotland and author of “Free-Ed” a book on her battles with bulimia and freeing yourself from self-sabotage.
  • Kadeena Cox – Two times Paralympics Champion in athletics and cycling, competing in 400m on the track. She has struggled with disordered eating for a very long time but opened up about it in 2019 and started to get help to recover.
  • Pippa Woolven – Cross country runner and steeplechaser, who balances athletics with a part-time Masters in Positive Psychology and working for the National Trust. Pippa has won 4 BUCS gold medals in cross-country, duathlon and athletics and her career highlight was finishing 8th in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Pippa now acts as a mentor for other athletes and recently created a resource for athletes struggling with RED-S.
  • Rhiannon Linington-Payne – Current Welsh International 400m athlete, Head of Competition at Welsh Athletics and National-level hockey player.

For more information about the Athlete Support Pathway and Self Referral visit the Athlete Support Pathway