Earlier this week, I interviewed Jayne Nisbet, a former Scottish international high-jumper who has released a book about her battle during the course of her career with an eating disorder and her subsequent recovery.

Her tale, in which she describes contemplating ending everything, was shocking, but sadly it was not particularly surprising. 

Eating disorders are thought to be roughly twice as prevalent in elite athletes as they are in the general population, meaning it is estimated that around one fifth of elite athletes suffer from this issue at some point during their career.

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It is a remarkably high figure and while it is primarily female athletes who suffer, male athletes can also be susceptible. 

The issue of eating disorders within elite sport is a delicate one but the fact that so many suffer from such problems means that there has to be more awareness than there currently is.

Slowly, but surely, more athletes are going public about having suffered but it remains something of a closeted issue.

Nisbet’s bravery in telling her story must be applauded and it is likely that in opening up about the disorder, she will make it easier for other athletes to broach the subject. 

However, it is debatable whether it should only be the athletes who are targeted when it comes to addressing eating disorders within sport.

Nisbet suggests that the priority should be educating coaches as to how to speak to their athletes in order to prevent triggering the start of an eating disorder, and how to approach the subject should they suspect there is a problem. 

The majority of coaches in elite sport are male and while it is too much of a generalisation to suggest that male coaches as a whole struggle to communicate effectively with female athletes, there are many examples of insensitivity, to say the least, that I have been subject to and witnessed.

Some of these comments, said to the wrong person, could be hugely damaging and could, potentially, plant the seed that may lead to an eating disorder. 

Elite athletes, as a general rule, are perfectionists. They are also, often, extremely driven to the point that their behaviour can become obsessive. Discipline is a quality that is essential in elite sport but it is also one that can allow athletes to take things too far.

Elite athletes are constantly looking for something that can give them the edge over their opponents, as are their coaches. 

Elite sport is a brutal world and more often than not, coaches need to tell their athletes hard truths. The recent stories alleging bullying by coaches towards their athletes are tricky because where is the line between constructive criticism and bullying? 

Telling an athlete that they need to lose weight is not, in itself, unacceptable behaviour by a coach. If a couple of extra kilos are holding an athlete back then suggesting they make an effort to shed that extra weight is not only sensible advice, it is necessary. 

Yet time and time again, athletes who have revealed that they have had an eating disorder believe that it was triggered by a comment from a coach. In top-level sport, where every percentage point matters, being told by your coach, someone whom invariably you trust, that your weight is an issue, can become a focal point and can become the thing that an obsession is based around. 

It is arguable whether there is enough support available to athletes who are suffering from eating disorders. However, it cannot be entirely up to the athlete to admit to having an issue. Coaches have to be trained to spot problems early because, as Nisbet highlights, athletes are often loath to open up about concerns they may be having for fear of appearing weak. 

There remains a perception within sport, and elite sport in particular, that any kind of mental health issue is a form of weakness. Until this attitude is overcome, athletes will remain reluctant to address problems such as eating disorders they may be suffering from.

When it is estimated that 20% of elite athletes are affected, this is not good enough. Nisbet’s book will certainly help. But we need more than just a few people talking about these issues before elite sport becomes an arena where eating disorders are discussed with the openness they need to be.