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What is disordered eating?

Disordered eating refers to a wide range of abnormal eating behaviours and attitudes that are not severe or frequent enough to be considered a clinical eating disorder. This can include obsessive, irregular and chaotic eating behaviours. Around one in five female athletes and one in 12 male athletes meet the criteria for a clinical eating disorder; and nearly half of the athlete population engage in disordered eating practices. It is therefore important to minimise the risks and promote early detection.

Why is disordered eating so prevalent in athletes?

Sport participation can improve physical and psychological wellbeing and enhance academic and occupational achievements. However, success in competitive sport can take many years of dedication and single-mindedness.

Elite athletes need to be both physically and psychologically resilient to cope with the stress and pressures of competitive sport. For a small proportion of athletes, the stress of competitive sport can elicit mental health difficulties.

Achieving success in sport often requires a close attention to diet and weight.

Differentiating between what is 'normal' for an athlete in the context of their sport and identifying those with potentially disordered eating habits is challenging.

An emphasis on achieving a specific body shape and weight can promote disordered eating behaviours in some athletes.

How does this course address these issues?

Detecting the signs and symptoms of disordered eating at an early stage is therefore of critical importance to protect athlete health, wellbeing and performance.

Research conducted at Loughborough University has demonstrated that coaches are in an ideal position to identify some of the early warning signs of disordered eating, but that they face significant challenges in doing so due to a lack of awareness and uncertainty about what to do.

This evidence based CPD course has been developed by experts at Loughborough University to tackle these issues. It is designed to improve coach knowledge and confidence in identifying disordered eating and related conditions among athletes. It aims to equip coaches with the strategies to detect disordered eating habits and to provide them with tools on how to approach and support athletes who may be struggling with eating concerns.