Background: The incidence of eating psychopathology in athletes is considerably higher than in the general population. Facilitating the early identification and successful management of eating problems in this group is therefore essential.
Objectives: The thesis aimed to improve our empirical understanding of the identification and management of eating problems in athletes. Three areas were investigated. First, a measure of compulsive exercise was evaluated as a method of identification of eating psychopathology in athletes. Second, the thesis explored coach methods of identification and management of eating problems among their athletes. Finally, athlete experiences of disclosing and seeking treatment for eating disorders were explored.
Main findings: The Compulsive Exercise Test was found to be a useful measure in screening for eating psychopathology in athletes. Track and field coaches relied heavily on the physical symptoms of disordered eating when identifying potential eating problems in athletes. Coaches described difficulties in identifying eating psychopathology in athletes, and in signposting athletes to appropriate support. Individual differences in the perceived value of disclosing an eating disorder were discovered among athletes currently seeking treatment. Lastly, athletes described struggling to engage with their eating disorder treatment programme, particularly where exercise was restricted or reduced.
Implications: The findings suggest a need for greater support, education and resources for coaches and sports professionals in identifying and facilitating treatment access among their athletes. The Compulsive Exercise Test may be one way to assist sports professionals in identifying athletes with elevated levels of eating psychopathology. Athletes may be more willing to engage with treatment programmes when they are closely involved in goal setting and their exercise and sporting commitments are incorporated where possible.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.