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"I felt alone": Rafferty shares experience of struggling with eating disorder

Claire Rafferty

Former England international footballer Claire Rafferty has called for the routine weighing of players to be abolished, claiming that it led to her developing an eating disorder.

Rafferty, who retired in 2019, won 18 caps for England and played domestically for Millwall Lionesses, Chelsea and West Ham, winning two Women's Super League titles and two FA Cup trophies with Chelsea. She also represented England in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, winning a bronze medal in 2015.

In an interview with the BBC's Sports Desk Podcast, Rafferty said that being weighed frequently from as young as 15 years old, as well as participating in extra training sessions that players called "fat club", led to her developing an eating disorder.

She said: "I would remove weighing, I don't think it's necessary. I don't think it's healthy to anyone. I would remove that straight away."

Rafferty added that as a teenager, she was involved in England's youth teams, where regular weighing took place: "I think the day-to-day life of an athlete revolves around food. Days are planned out around the mealtimes. Feeling good, getting most out of your performances from what you eat, but also on the downside of that from a very young age being weighed every morning."

The former defender cited her time with the international team, where the weighing came into focus. While she believes that it was carried out for physiological and performance purposes, she feels that players should have been educated as to the reasons why it was done.

Being weighed was not Rafferty's only concern when she joined the camp. If players had not run a certain amount in a session or if it was deemed a player’s body fat was "higher than they thought it should be", players would have to do extra sessions which were dubbed "fat club".

She explained: "I can't remember the staff calling them fat clubs but the players would call it fat club. [We did that] to make light of it because actually it's quite shaming to have to do extra sessions on top of a full-time training schedule, so you had to make a joke out of it.”

Rafferty had spoken previously about her eating disorder in a previous interview with Women in Football (WiF).

The former Lioness described how after suffering ACL injuries, she turned to binge eating as a coping mechanism and found herself in a ‘horrible cycle’ of gaining weight and being hypercritical of herself: "When I had my ACL injuries I turned to binge eating as a sort of coping mechanism. Again, it was that control thing. I couldn’t exercise and there were occasions when I felt really low and turned to my eating disorder. I was unable to do what I wanted and the binge eating still didn’t give me that high so it became this horrible cycle and I beat myself up a lot."

Then, when Rafferty stopped playing football, she found herself in a ‘dark place’ and turned to food for comfort: "I was left to my own thoughts and again I turned to food for that comfort and dopamine rush. I was binge eating more because I was searching for external pleasure so as a consequence, I was doing secret training to compensate. It all added to the secretive side of everything and was a lot to bottle up.”

Rafferty acknowledged that it took her around two years after she retired to reach out and seek help, saying that she was ‘terrified’ of being judged. But she said that the support of the PFA and finding a therapist to talk to has helped her learn "how to have control in my life again."

Contact the PFA

If you are a PFA member and have been affected by an eating disorder or are struggling with any other issue, please get in touch via our 24/7 helpline 07500 000 777 or at

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