DisguisED – A fundraiser raising awareness of eating disorders sport and fitness, 11 May 2018

Guest post by Eleni Psillakis, BrazenGrowth; Image source: Pixabay

Australia has a great reputation as a sporting nation where people either participate, spectate, coach, bet on and ensure our children are registered in some sporting activity. In addition to organised sport,  fitness/gym activities the second most participated type of sport and recreation that Australians engage in. These two often overlap, with the requirement to have sport-specific fitness in order to excel.

Whether it be participating in fitness for recreation or to improve sports performance, people are often admired and held in esteem for their dedication. This dedication is praised by thousands of ‘likes’ and comments of encouragement on ‘insta’ posts and images of progress, which are often sexualised. The fitness industry is thriving on ‘body transformation’ as PT after PT draws upon the desire for men and women to improve their body weight and shape. The #fitspo has over 52 million posts and growing. It can seem that health, physical, mental and social health, has taken a backseat to body appearance.

And here lies the problem. Not everyone who participates in sport and fitness will develop a problem with disordered eating, excessive exercise or develop an eating disorder. Yet for those whose seemingly healthy behaviours become a means for dealing with other issues that may be going on in their lives or for an underlying sense of low self-worth, the motivation for participation becomes unhealthy. When this line is crossed, there are many negative consequences for mental, physical and social health, and body shape is not often the indicator. Does this initially healthy motivation for sport participation change for many reasons or is the initial motivation for participation unhealthy and be a disguise of an underlying problem?

Research has shown that:

  • The prevalence of eating disorders, having met diagnostic criteria for subclinical and clinical ED’s are higher amongst elite athletes (13.5%) than of control groups (4.6%). These are met more by female athletes (20%) than males (8%). 1.
  • 4%of male athletes in Australia have an eating disorder, however this study did not include athletes in all weight class sports (only lightweight rowing)1.
  • In sports like gymnastics, figure skating, dance, aerobics, diving, jockeys and rowers, participants report experiencing pressure to reduce weight to perform well and this can increase the risk of developing an ED.1
  • The prevalence of ED’s of female athletes in ball sports increased from 11%in 1990 to 16% in 1997. 1
  • 24% of endurance athletes have an ED 1.
  • 18.3% of athlete’s reported binge eating at least once per week and 15.2% had done so for more than months. 1.
  • Female athletes reported exercising 2 hours per day on top of their sporting commitments purely to burn calories. 2.
  • 15.69% female athletes reported they fasted or went on strict diets at least 2 times in the past year. 2.
  • 3% vomited at least 2 – 3 times a month, and 1% use laxatives 1-2 times per week.2

In regards to the fitness industry, females aged 18-24 have the highest participation rates of fitness/gym activities in Australia (32.3%) and males in this age bracket have the second highest participation rate (25.5%). Interestingly, these age and gender groups exactly correspond for the age and gender of highest risk for the development of an eating disorder. Together these pose a significant challenge to the fitness industry.

Sports coaches and trainers need to be aware of signs and symptoms other than body shape to identify these problems and know how to effectively communicate with athletes and clients. The purpose is to assist the person to seek appropriate professional help and to work alongside a team of health professionals, just as they would when a person presents with a physical injury or chronic physical illness.

Join us for DisguisED – A fundraiser raising awareness of eating disorders sport and fitness. May 11, 2018, Mebourne.

DisguisED is aimed at growing awareness of these issues in the sport and fitness industry, where Australian athletes will share their experience. Amongst these is Australian cricket star Sarah Coyte, who suffered anorexia, Dr. Sarah Maguire from the Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders will be speaking and funds raised will go towards the research and work of this organisation. The event has been organised by two women , Jacqueline Cripps and Eleni Psillakis, both with a lived experience and a passion to make a difference. Jacqueline is an author and speaker and Eleni was awarded the Inspiration Award at Filex 2016, for her efforts in raising awareness of eating disorders in the fitness industry and has written a workshop approved for professional development by Fitness Australia, called “Identifying and Managing Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry”. She has also worked voluntarily alongside Dr Sarah Maguire, Professor Jonathon Mond and a small team of Australia’s leading fitness experts in reviewing guidelines for the fitness industry which will be released soon.

Tickets are available here.




  1. Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Elite Athletes Is Higher Than in the General Population

Sundgot-Borgen, Jorunn PhD*†; Torstveit, Monica Klungland MS*

Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine:  January 2004 – Volume 14 – Issue 1 – pp 25-32


  1. Christy Greenleaf PhD , Trent A. Petrie PhD , Jennifer Carter PhD & Justine J. Reel PhD (2009) Female Collegiate Athletes: Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating Behaviors, Journal of American College Health, 57:5, 489-496, DOI: 10.3200/ JACH.57.5.489-496


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