Understanding athlete disordered eating

Critical gender comparisons

Authored by: Anthony Papathomas

Routledge International Handbook of Sport Psychology

Print publication date:  February  2016
Online publication date:  February  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138022423
eBook ISBN: 9781315777054
Adobe ISBN: 9781317692324


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Disordered eating can be considered an umbrella term that describes a range of disturbed eating attitudes and behaviors, from unhealthy dieting to clinical conditions such as anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) (Shisslak, Crago, & Estes, 1995). Although numerous idiosyncratic variants of disordered eating exist, most are underpinned by a negative body image, an overwhelming fear of weight gain and an obsessive preoccupation with food (APA, 2013). Sport represents a cultural domain that many scholars argue precipitates disordered eating among athletes (Atkinson, 2011). Pressures to lose weight for performance gains, particularly in sports where weight and/or aesthetics are considered central to success, can lead to a variety of unhealthy eating practices. For some athletes, the consequences can be devastating and include extreme self-starvation (Papathomas & Lavallee, 2012b), depression (Papathomas & Lavallee, 2014) and identity loss (Papathomas & Lavallee, 2010). This severe impact on athlete health, both physical and mental, has ensured disordered eating is now a priority topic within sport and exercise psychology. Yet despite a burgeoning number of academic papers in the area, a lack of methodological sophistication has ensured that there remains much that is unknown (Papathomas & Petrie, 2014).

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