Eating problems in athletes

Improving sports professional’s recognition and management of disordered eating

Disordered eating and clinical eating disorders are more common among athletes than non-athletes – about 20% of athletes, compared to 1-2% of the general population.

Although they can seriously compromise an athlete’s health and performance, sports professionals are often not well equipped to identify and address eating problems, and worry about how to go about doing this.

During the past decade, we have developed resources and training for sports professionals to help them successfully identify and manage them. Our online training programme Disordered Eating in Athletes - funded by Midlands Innovation's MICRA - was launched in 2018 and is available nationwide.

Our impact

Our coach training

  • More than 150 people have participated in our training, including key professionals within nationwide sporting organisations such as Sport England and Sport Wales.
  • It has been incorporated into the continuing professional development of several sporting organisations, and is endorsed by UK Coaching.
  • Mental health charitable organisations – including Mind – signpost to our online training.
  • Collaborative content has been delivered with the Child Protection in Sport Unit at the NSPCC and is now freely available.

Screening tools

  • Our screening tools have been widely shared with sport governing bodies and professionals, and published in practitioner handbooks including the Clinical Handbook of Complex and Atypical Eating Disorders and Sport Psychiatry.

The research

Our early research established a clear link between compulsive exercise and eating disorders across the athlete population – and underpins the Compulsive Exercise Test.

We refined this work, creating a screening tool and training specifically for coaches and other sports professionals to help them detect and support at-risk athletes.

Participants have reported improved knowledge and confidence around identifying disordered eating, and in understanding the negative impact on performance and health. They feel better equipped to intervene and support athletes effectively.

The training has also helped to reduce stigma around mental health issues among sports professionals, helping them to nurture positive and inclusive training environments.

This course is excellent. I would advise anyone working with athletes to take it.

Coach Commenting on the DEIA training programme

Meet the experts

Photograph of Carolyn Plateau

Dr Carolyn Plateau

Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Photograph of Caroline Meyer

Professor Caroline Meyer

Professor of Applied Psychology (2008-14)

Photograph of Jon Arcelus

Professor Jon Arcelus

Visiting Professor (2011-15)