top of page

Eating Disorders.

One thing a lot of people don't realise is that two of our coaches, Begbie and Sean are doing Open University degrees. We thought it may be interesting to share some of our relevant assignments.

The aim of this assignment is to examine the main causes of eating disorders in sport and exercise settings. This report will look at the distinction between eating disorders and disordered eating. The main causes of eating disorders in a sport and exercise setting this essay will explore are; weight restrictions and standards, judging criteria and sociocultural factors and influences. Finally, the research will look into two different sports in which eating disorders are common and what are the driving causes behind the disorders. The two primary eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Anorexia is related to severely strict diets, sometimes partnered with excessive exercise whilst bulimia is related to someone binge eating or purging to avoid weight gain (cited in Lingam-Willgoss, 2022).

Before we continue exploring the main causes of eating disorders within sport and exercise settings, it is important to note the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating. Lingam-Willgoss (2022) notes that someone is considered to have a clinically diagnosed eating disorder (anorexia or bulimia) if they satisfy the below criteria;


- The maintenance of a minimal bodyweight being refused

- The fear of being overweight even if they are underweight

- The bodyweight, size or shape causing one to experience disturbance

- Primary or secondary amenorrhea in females


- Binge eating episodes being repeated

- Lack of control whilst binging

- Various ways of avoiding weight gain including; self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, dieting or vigorous exercise

- Two binge eating episodes a week for a minimum of 3 months

- Constant concern with bodyweight and shape

However, it is possible for a person not to have a clinically diagnosed eating disorder and still present unhealthy behaviours and attitudes towards food. This may be referred to disordered eating instead of an eating disorder, but they are still at risk of serious health issues and should seek help.

Weight restrictions and standards:

Evidence suggests as much as 62% of competitors in sport will be experiencing some kind of eating disorder (cited in Lingam-Willgoss, 2022). People that participate in sports that are commonly associated with thinness or making a specific weight have a higher chance of developing an eating order. Examples of these sports include boxing, weightlifting, horseback riding, swimming, running or gymnastics. Boxing and weightlifting for example are two sports that sometimes require the athlete to make a certain weight so they can compete in a lower weight classification. This can cause the individuals competing to lose a severe amount of weight quickly before they are weighed in. Methods to help remove the weight quickly include fasting, fluid restriction, use of laxatives or purging (cited in Lingam-Willgoss, 2022). These factors make it more likely for an athlete to develop an eating disorder. As previously stated, anorexia nervosa is characterised by severe weight loss that is achieved by extreme dietary restrictions and excessive exercise. Both characterisations are common in the sports named above.

Sociocultural factors:

Lingam-Willgoss (2022) research states sociocultural factors show the emphasis on thinness within a sporting culture, which may have caused someone to have widespread body dissatisfaction and is more common in women. If a competitive advantage can be offered as a result of leanness then eating disorders may have a higher likelihood.

Judging criteria:

Lingam-Willgoss (2022) establishes that physical attractiveness is considered important for success in sport. This may be relevant in gymnastics where there is a chance of judges having an element of bias towards certain body types. This can put unhealthy pressure on the athlete to aim for an unrealistic body shape if they think it can increase their chances of success.

Sociocultural influences

Sociocultural influences are very powerful and originate from cultural body ideals, so images put forward by television, social media and other media as the ideal body type (cited in Lingam-Willgoss, 2022). These influences impact today’s society, they can have a big impact on how someone thinks they should look. Social media is currently a big driver in negative health behaviour, it can provide people with the ability to regularly engage in social comparisons to images they are seeing online. This can result in body image concerns, which can then cause someone to show symptoms of eating disorders in the chase of the ideal body image.


Boxing is a sport that it is well known for athletes to suffer from eating disorders. The World Boxing Council (2022) make clear that inappropriate methods and techniques are commonly used for weight management. Boxers often rapidly lose weight and prioritise weight loss over their health, using methods to do so without the use of a health professional. Due to this, the athlete is putting themselves in a dangerous position and a greater chance of developing a form of eating disorder. Behaviours often seen are in the lead up to a fight and in order to rapidly drop weight, the warning signs to look out for are stopping eating, becoming dehydrated, wrapping up in plastic to sweat, long spells in a sauna, overtraining and binge eating after weigh in (WBC, 2022). These behaviours can trigger disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Boxer Bradley Pryce is a perfect example of a career being ruined by bulimia as reported by Owens, N (2017). Pryce was a Commonwealth championship title holder with a fight upcoming, as a result of poor training he tried what he thought was a shortcut of making himself sick in order just to make the required weight so he could fight.


A UK sport review led by Anne Whyte QC co-commissioned an independent review into allegations of abuse in gymnastics. The review heard from gymnasts, parents and coaches. The review reported evidence of excessive weighing of the gymnast, particularly female gymnasts (Sport England, 2022). The athletes would be weighed daily despite the weigh in not providing useful body composition results that sports scientists say matter the most. The review states that the scales were coach-led and unnecessary, with athletes and parents led to believe it was necessary. The regular weigh ins are now presumed to have just been meeting aesthetic values that are understood to be part of the sport that tend to impress judges more. Anne Whyte explains she was told that coaches went to extreme lengths to control what gymnasts ate, even searching luggage and rooms for food. As a result, gymnasts took unhealthy decisions such as purging or dehydrating themselves to keep their weight low. Unfortunately this has caused some gymnasts to suffer from eating disorders.

These gymnasts who have developed an eating disorder are likely to have an image in their head of what their body looks like. This image is usually warped, they may see themselves as fat when in fact they are slim. This idea may have been developed because of the behaviour of coaches and judges. Gymnast athletes spend long hours with coaches, so these coaches play a huge role on their lives.

This assignments research has researched the main causes of eating disorders within sport and exercise settings. The evidence provided shows that the main causes of the disorders are weight restrictions and standards within certain sports, sociocultural factors such as the emphasis on thinness within some sporting cultures, judging criteria where there may be a bias from judges towards certain body types and sociocultural influences such as social media as people have the ability to regularly engage in images they see on social media platforms. The assignment provided two examples of sports in which eating disorders are prevalent; boxing and gymnastics. Boxer Bradley Pryce who suffered from bulimia and the independent review by Anne Whyte into gymnastics failings with their athletes highlight the danger both sports can bring.

BBC. (2017) ‘The boxer whose career was ruined by bulimia’. Available at (Accessed: 5 March 2023)

Lingam-Willgoss, C. (2022) ‘Physical activity, wellbeing and mental health’. E235: Sport and exercise psychology in action. Available at: (Accessed: 1 March 2023)

Lingam-Willgoss, C. (2022) ‘The issue of adherence: getting people active’. E235: Sport and exercise psychology in action. Available at: (Accessed: 2 March 2023)

Lingam-Willgoss, C. (2022) ‘When exercise goes bad part 1: exercise dependence and eating disorders’. E235: Sport and exercise psychology in action. Available at: 3 March 2023)

Lingam-Willgoss, C. (2022) ‘When exercise goes bad part 2: body image and substance abuse’. E235: Sport and exercise psychology in action. Available at: 4 March 2023)

Lox, L, C., Ginis, K, A, M., and Petruzzello, S, J. (2006) The Psychology of Exercise, 4th edn, London and New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, pp. 354-357.

World Boxing Council. (2022) ‘Can a boxer suffer from Eating Disorders?’. Available at (Accessed: 4 March 2023)

68 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Social media is stopping you being proud of yourself.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ I’m sure we’ve all heard this before. To be honest I change my mind every week on whether I agree or not. I think there is arguments for and against it. I agree with t


bottom of page