Athlete experiences of disordered eating in sport

Anthony Papathomas*, David Lavallee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


To date, research into disordered eating in sport has focused on the prevalence and the identification of putative risk factors. Findings suggest that elite female athletes participating in sports with a focus on leanness or aesthetics are at greatest risk. A paucity of research remains as to the period after onset and how existing sufferers manage their illness over time. In line with the principles of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), this study ‘gives voice’ to four athletes who have experienced disordered eating, documenting their personal accounts and interpreting these accounts from a psychological perspective. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted and verbatim transcripts were analysed according to the procedures of IPA. Three superordinate themes emerged from the data: the struggle to disclose, social support needs and identity challenges. Athletes’ stories provided rich descriptions of their subjective disordered eating experiences. Their accounts give critical insight into the impact of eating disturbance on the lives of athletes. Future research should continue to identify athletes with existing eating problems in order to improve understanding as to how such individuals can best be helped.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-370
Number of pages17
JournalQualitative Research in Sport and Exercise
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Disordered eating
  • Sport
  • Interpretivism
  • Athletic identity


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