Important Spotlight on Disordered Eating in Sport

Paul Prudhoe2020 Archive

On Monday 7th September 2020, The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) launched a call to action around awareness of poor self-image and poor body image among high-performance athletes, with the release of the AIS-NEDC Disordered Eating in High Performance Sport position statement and supporting resources. The position statement assists sporting organisations to address this serious, but often misunderstood area, enabling them to recognise that disordered eating can occur in any athlete, in any sport, at any time.

There is a spectrum of eating behaviours in sport that spans from optimised nutrition through disordered eating to clinically diagnosed eating disorders.


AIS & NEDC, 2020 (retrieved from

Everyone in the sport system has a role to play in recognition and early intervention, and anyone can refer athletes to, and/or consult with, any member of the core multidisciplinary team (doctor, sports dietitian and psychologist) for further assessment and support. Rapport between the athlete and his or her support network (coach, training partners or teammates, service providers) is important in recognising and evaluating disordered eating and eating disorders.

The AIS and NDEC have developed a number of useful resources for managing disordered eating in both High Performance Sport and Community Sport. In keeping with everyone involved with sport having a role to play, specific resources have been targeted at health professionals, sport professionals and volunteers (e.g. coaches) and members of the general community (sport participants, their peers and families).

Orienteering Australia encourages all orienteering participants to explore the AIS website, but some of the key takeaways are:

  • Disordered eating can be associated with behavioural, psychological and physical warning signs. Some warning signs can occur early (e.g. behaviour change), while others such as weight change may occur later in an individual’s trajectory of disordered eating.
  • Disordered eating and low energy availability can occur together, or in isolation. Identification of one necessitates the investigation of the other. Low Energy Availability occurs when there is a mismatch between energy intake and exercise load, leaving insufficient energy to cover the body’s other needs. This may lead to a decrease in metabolic rate and reduction in activity of many body systems.
  • Three categories of sports: aesthetically judged, gravitational and weight class sports, are consistently identified as high risk for the development of disordered eating or an eating disorder. Being a gravitational sport, orienteering fits into the high-risk category, due to successful performance being related to low body mass, leanness and high power to weight ratio.
  • Individual athletes can move back and forth along the spectrum of eating behaviour at any point in time over their career and within different stages of a training cycle (e.g. during the off-season, pre-season, when injured).
  • There are health and performance implications regardless of where an athlete falls along the spectrum, where risk of these implications increases when disordered eating worsens into a diagnosable eating disorder. In addition to the direct impairment of physiological and psychological function, disordered eating can increase the risk of illness and injury, compromise training quality and consistency and indirectly interfere with competition goals.

OA thanks Brodie Nankervis for this article.