Self-starvation and the performance narrative in competitive sport

Anthony Papathomas*, David Lavallee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
224 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives: To provide an alternative to medical understanding of disordered eating in sport through an emphasis on personal perspectives.

Design: This study draws on narrative theory to interpretively analyse the life of Holly, a female athlete who engages in severe self-starvation.

Methods: More than 7 hours of life history data was gathered over a period of 8 months through unstructured interviews. Holly's story was analyzed through principles of narrative analysis, with attention afforded to both narrative content and structure.

Results: Holly's life is characterized by a struggle to align her life experiences with a culturally specified "performance narrative" that lauds normative success. When neither her academic nor sporting endeavors are perceived to fulfil the achievement narrative, Holly is thrust into emotional turmoil and begins to conceive of self-starvation as a means to achieve.

Conclusions: The performance narrative spans both academic and sporting cultural domains and it can play a role in athlete disordered eating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)688-695
Number of pages8
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Narrative
  • Eating disorder
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Self-starvation
  • Sports physiology


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