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BBC elite British sportswomen study 2024: Impact of disordered eating and body image on athletes

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athlete holding a mirror

Warning: this article contains discussion of body image and eating disorders

“I never looked ill, I just looked like an athlete.”

This elite sportswoman says she “became a bit obsessive with counting calories and weighing things” until she realised she had become “dangerously light”.

More than a third of 143 respondents to a BBC questionnaire sent to elite British sportswomen said they have experienced disordered eating.

Some who filled it out anonymously said they had restricted food because of social media abuse about the way they look and others because they need to meet weight categories for their sports.

Others said it was because they felt they did not meet expectations of what an athlete was ‘supposed to’ look like.

According to eating disorder charity Beat, disordered eating is about abnormal behaviours or attitudes that may not yet “meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder but are still having a significant impact on someone’s life”.

What is an athlete ‘supposed to’ look like?

Kitesurfer Maddy Anderson told BBC Sport she has always “struggled” with believing that she “looked like an athlete”.

It was a common theme among the responses to the questionnaire, which found more than a third of respondents felt negative or very negative about their body image.

While Anderson says she never experienced any disordered eating, that was not the case for others.

“My sport has never pressured me to look a certain way but I always felt that as an athlete I ‘should’ look a certain way, which has impacted how I see my body and my relationship with food,” wrote one, adding as a result she had “struggled with binge eating and bulimia”.

Another athlete went through a phase of “overthinking” everything that she ate because she thought she did not look like others in her sport.

“The norm in [my sport] is to be tall and pretty lean. I never felt like I fit that narrative,” the athlete said. “It didn’t affect me at all until I started receiving quite a lot of hate on social media.

“That’s when I started to get a bit obsessed over how I looked. I was almost eating just what I thought would fuel me for [my sport]. A lot of the time I was eating before, so I tried to feel good [while competing], then not eating for big periods after.

“It felt rubbish. I didn’t feel good, I wasn’t moving well, I felt lethargic, I was snappy. Luckily it was a phase I transitioned out of pretty quickly.”

Another says she only discovered she was “underweight” when she came off the contraceptive pill and realised her periods had stopped.

“I think it’s just that energy consumption you’re using as an athlete, it then goes into recovery rather than having a menstrual cycle,” she said.

‘They read out our weights in front of everyone’

One athlete described “the really horrible experience” of public weighing sessions in her sport.

“They used to read out our weights in front of everyone – we were mixed males and females,” she said. “I was a 16-year-old – at that age females tend to develop a bit earlier so they do get a bit heavier than males.”

As a result, she said, she became “obsessive over the number on the scale”.

Umairah Malik, a clinical advice co-ordinator at Beat, told BBC Sport these type of weighing sessions – even if not in front of other people – could be “triggering” for someone with an eating disorder or who is developing one and “cause an even bigger fixation on food and weight”.

She said it was important that such weighing be done by a trained professional “in a safe and supportive environment” away from other athletes, with the option to not hear their weight if they are finding that difficult.

While it has no figures for disordered eating, which unlike eating disorders is not clinically diagnosed, Beat believes approximately 1.25m people in the UK have an eating disorder and around 75% of those affected are female.

It says research has shown that compared to non-athletes, both female and male athletes are at higher risk of developing an eating disorder and this was “especially true for athletes participating in sports where low body weight or leanness confers a competitive advantage”.

‘Fat pig’, ‘man beast’ – the trolling

While Beat says social media does not cause eating disorders, it says it can make them worse and contribute to them developing in someone who is already vulnerable.

One athlete said she “took it pretty badly” when she faced online insults like being called “a fat pig”.

Another recalls being called a “man beast” at school.

“[It was] because I was muscly and I hated that,” she wrote. “I was anxious and worried about eating too much food and about eating chocolate and sweet treats, and would feel guilty even if I ate a square of chocolate.

“It has taken me a long time though to be happy with my body image and to enjoy eating food.”

According to the BBC study, more than a third of respondents (56 of 143) said they had been trolled on social media. Trolling is when one user tries to provoke or offend another.

While not directly comparable to the 2024 study, a BBC survey in 2020 found 30% of elite British sportswomen said they had been trolled on social media.

‘Bingeing and starving’ – making weight categories in sport

In some sports, for example boxing, you simply have to be a certain weight to compete in a category. If an athlete is over in the run-up to a weigh-in they will try lose pounds quickly or they may need to put on weight to reach their category too.

“When making weight I’d have massive periods of binging excessively followed by practically starving for a few weeks,” one athlete wrote in the questionnaire.

Another said: “I think lots of athletes’ mental health can be impacted as a result of making weight for a long period of time”, but another saw their disordered eating as “just a part of the job”.

Beat urged sporting organisations “to dedicate the time and resources to learning about eating disorders, understand the science and that they are recognising the signs and the symptoms” and pass that information on to athletes.

When asked about body image, kitefoil racer Lily Young described a cycle she goes through when having to get to 80kg, bulking up and then losing weight to “feel good”.

But she said that being in a room full of athletes from different sports had served as a powerful reminder that there is no such thing as how an athlete is ‘supposed to look’.

“When I went to Sports Personality, it was so nice to be surrounded by all athletes,” she said. “You don’t feel out of place at all. There were people who were really tiny from gymnastics, there were netball girls that were so tall and so beautiful with these long legs.

“It was really refreshing to be in a room full of sports people who all look different.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story you can visit BBC Action Line.



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Barcelona 1-4 Paris St-Germain (Agg: 4-6): Kylian Mbappe scores twice as PSG reach last four

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PSG players celebrate
Paris St-Germain are into their first Champions League semi-final in three years

Kylian Mbappe scored twice as Paris St-Germain thrashed Barcelona to turn around a first-leg deficit and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

PSG had trailed 3-2 after the first leg in France but took advantage of an early Barcelona sending off to secure their place in the last four for the first time since 2021.

Luis Enrique’s side face a semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, who beat Atletico Madrid 5-4 on aggregate in a thrilling encounter in Germany.

The semi-final first leg takes place on 30 April with the second leg on 7 May.

More to follow.

helpHow to play

Rate players out of 10 throughout or after the game. The rater will close 30 minutes after the final whistle.

Rating range key1 = Give it up10 = Pure perfection

Barcelona

  1. Squad number1Player nameter Stegen

  2. Squad number23Player nameKoundé

  3. Squad number4Player nameAraujo

  4. Squad number33Player nameCubarsí

  5. Squad number2Player nameJoão Cancelo

  6. Squad number8Player namePedri

  7. Squad number22Player nameGündogan

  8. Squad number21Player nameF de Jong

  9. Squad number27Player nameYamal

  10. Squad number9Player nameLewandowski

  11. Squad number11Player nameRaphinha

  1. Squad number5Player nameMartínez

  2. Squad number7Player nameF Torres

  3. Squad number14Player nameJoão Félix

  4. Squad number32Player nameLópez

Paris Saint Germain

  1. Squad number99Player nameG Donnarumma

  2. Squad number2Player nameHakimi

  3. Squad number5Player nameMarquinhos

  4. Squad number21Player nameHernández

  5. Squad number25Player nameNuno Mendes

  6. Squad number33Player nameZaïre-Emery

  7. Squad number17Player nameVitinha

  8. Squad number8Player nameRuiz

  9. Squad number10Player nameDembélé

  10. Squad number7Player nameMbappé

  11. Squad number29Player nameBarcola

  1. Squad number4Player nameUgarte

  2. Squad number11Player nameAsensio

  3. Squad number19Player nameLee Kang-in

  4. Squad number23Player nameKolo Muani

Line-ups

Barcelona

Formation 4-3-3

  • 1ter Stegen
  • 23Koundé
  • 4AraujoBooked at 29mins
  • 33Cubarsí
  • 2CanceloSubstituted forJoão Félixat 82′minutes
  • 8PedriSubstituted forF Torresat 62′minutes
  • 22GündoganBooked at 64mins
  • 21F de JongSubstituted forLópezat 82′minutesBooked at 90mins
  • 27YamalSubstituted forMartínezat 34′minutesBooked at 40mins
  • 9LewandowskiBooked at 50mins
  • 11RaphinhaBooked at 90mins

Substitutes

  • 5Martínez
  • 7F Torres
  • 13Peña Sotorres
  • 14João Félix
  • 17Alonso
  • 18Romeu
  • 19Roque Ferreira
  • 26Astralaga
  • 30Casadó
  • 32López
  • 38Guiu
  • 39Fort

PSG

Formation 4-3-3

  • 99G DonnarummaBooked at 87mins
  • 2Hakimi
  • 5MarquinhosBooked at 62mins
  • 21Hernández
  • 25Nuno Mendes
  • 33Zaïre-EmerySubstituted forUgarteat 80′minutes
  • 17Vitinha
  • 8RuizBooked at 45minsSubstituted forAsensioat 77′minutes
  • 10DembéléSubstituted forKolo Muaniat 88′minutes
  • 7MbappéBooked at 40mins
  • 29BarcolaSubstituted forLee Kang-inat 77′minutes

Substitutes

  • 1Navas
  • 4Ugarte
  • 9Gonçalo Ramos
  • 11Asensio
  • 15Danilo
  • 19Lee Kang-in
  • 23Kolo Muani
  • 26Mukiele
  • 28Soler
  • 35Lopes Beraldo
  • 37Skriniar
  • 80Tenas

Referee:
István Kovács

Live Text





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Magnitude 2.8 earthquake reported in View Park-Windsor Hills

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A magnitude 2.8 earthquake was reported Tuesday at 8:19 a.m. Pacific time in Los Angeles’ View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake‘s epicenter was 7.1 miles beneath the intersection of Overland Drive and Northridge Drive, near Windsor Hills Elementary School. .

In the last 10 days, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

An average of 59 earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.0 and 3.0 occur per year in the Greater Los Angeles area, according to a recent three-year data sample.

Did you feel this earthquake? Consider reporting what you felt to the USGS.

Are you ready for when the Big One hits? Get ready for the next big earthquake by signing up for our Unshaken newsletter, which breaks down emergency preparedness into bite-sized steps over six weeks. Learn more about earthquake kits, which apps you need, Lucy Jones’ most important advice and more at latimes.com/Unshaken.

This story was automatically generated by Quakebot, a computer application that monitors the latest earthquakes detected by the USGS. A Times editor reviewed the post before it was published. If you’re interested in learning more about the system, visit our list of frequently asked questions.



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Justice Thomas returns to Supreme Court after 1-day absence

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is back on the bench after an unexplained one-day absence.

Thomas, 75, was in his usual seat, to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts as the court met to hear arguments in a case about the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Thomas has ignored calls from some progressive groups to step aside from cases involving Jan. 6 because his wife, Ginni, attended then-President Donald Trump‘s rally near the White House before protesters descended on the Capitol. Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, also texted senior Trump administration officials in the weeks after the election offering support and reiterating her belief that there was widespread fraud in the election.

On Monday, Roberts announced Thomas’ absence, without providing an explanation. Justices sometimes miss court, but participate remotely. Thomas did not take part in Monday’s arguments.

He was hospitalized two years ago with an infection, causing him to miss several court sessions. He took part in the cases then, too.

Thomas is the longest serving of the current justices, joining the Supreme Court in 1991.



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