Athletes and Eating Disorders: It Takes a Village

Imagine being an athlete. You have the drive, dedication, and passion for being the best at your craft. You put in the time, energy, and work to grow stronger and perform better each day.

Now, imagine you get consumed with thoughts such as:

“What does my body look like?”

“Is my weight OK?”

“Do I look fit enough?”

“What should I eat? What can’t I eat?”

“What do others think of my body when they look at me?”

It can be exhausting and dangerous to handle being an athlete AND having an eating disorder. The psychological, physical, cognitive, and social consequences begin to mount over time, and functioning becomes impaired. Early detection and intervention are critical. Studies demonstrate that a multidisciplinary treatment team approach best supports athletes with eating disorders (Conviser et al., 2018; see figure below); it truly takes a village.

Below are research-backed recommendations for the “village members” who can make a difference in preventing and treating disordered eating and eating disorders in athletes.

For the Athlete

  • Educate yourself about symptoms of disordered eating and eating disorders:
  • Ask for help. You do not have to go through this alone. Talk to someone you trust who can support you through this journey.
  • Reach out to professionals. Get connected with professionals who understand disordered eating and eating disorders. Myths and stereotypes about eating disorders often interfere with individuals seeking treatment. Individuals may feel they are not “sick enough.” If you are struggling, get the help you deserve.
  • Get nourished! A malnourished body and brain will let the eating disorder take over and make you think it is impossible to recover. Feed your body and mind to help you fight back.
  • Avoid social media posts that encourage thinness, dieting, and pursuit of the “ideal body.”
  • Follow accounts that support mental health and eating disorder recovery.

Ask friends and teammates not to talk about weight, shape, calories, etc., around you, as these conversations can fuel the disorder and increase distress.

For Family/Teammates

  • Educate yourself about symptoms of disordered eating and eating disorders:
  • Avoid comparing bodies and weight with your teammates or family members.
  • Be aware of any concerning eating and/or exercise behaviors in yourself or with teammates and address them as soon as possible.
  • Be positively supportive. Use a 5:1 ratio of praise to criticism.
  • Validate the valid. Show your teammate/family member that you understand the pain they are going through.

For Coaches

  • Educate yourself about symptoms of disordered eating and eating disorders:
  • Avoid associating low body weight and thinness with enhanced performance.
  • Speak to the importance of adequate energy intake to sustain the rigor of being an athlete.
  • Avoid public weighing and comparing the body types of your team members.
  • Redirect any body-related conversations and comments within your team that are not constructive.
  • Stay within your expertise. Ask professionals to speak on nutrition, mental health, and other areas outside of your scope.

Have resources and referrals available for professionals that have expertise with disordered eating and eating disorders.

For Dietitians/Trainers/Medical Staff

  • Educate yourself about the symptoms and complications of disordered eating and eating disorders:
  • Develop an understanding of all types of eating disorders as explained in research and in the DSM-V-TR.
  • Recognize that around 95% of individuals with an eating disorder are NOT underweight.
  • Be aware that more and more boys and men are impacted by disordered eating and eating disorders; avoid associating eating disorders with girls and women only.
  • Avoid commenting on weight and body size in ways that are not constructive to the presenting concern.


Do not prescribe restrictive diets as dieting may increase the risk of an eating disorder and is likely to lead to higher weight status and weight cycling over time.

Many components come into play when discussing disordered eating and eating disorders. Having an eating disorder can be very lonely and isolating, which is why it is so important to open up about the difficulties you are experiencing. Eating disorders can cause much damage to an individual on multiple levels, which makes it so much more important to create and build your village of support. There is help. You are not alone.

Below are some more resources that will provide information and education:

Written by Igor Kowal, MA

(Former EDI practicum student)


Conviser, J. H., Schlitzer Tierney, A., & Nickols, R. (2018). Essentials for best practice: Treatment approaches for athletes with eating disorders. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 12(4), 495–507

Hines, J. C., Wendorf, W. L., Hennen, A. N., Hauser, K. L., Mitchell, M. M., & Homa, J. M. (2019). How do lean and non-lean female collegiate athletes view the eating disorder education they receive from their coaches? International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 14(2), 169–178

Torres-McGehee, T. M., Emerson, D. M., Pritchett, K., Moore, E. M., Smith, A. B., & Uriegas, N. A. (2021). Energy availability with or without eating disorder risk in collegiate female athletes and performing artists. Journal of Athletic Training (Allen Press), 56(9), 993–1002.

Walter, N., Heinen, T., & Elbe, A. M. (2022). Factors associated with disordered eating and eating disorder symptoms in adolescent elite athletes. Sports Psychiatry: Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychiatry.