Five-time Olympic medallist Alicia Coutts says she doubts Swimming Australia’s (SA) new guidelines on disordered eating will be effective unless the organisation is fully committed to their implementation.

Coutts has previously spoken publicly about body image and shaming within the Australian swimming community and its impact on the mental health of athletes.

SA released its Disordered Eating Prevention and Management Guidelines earlier this week.

In a statement published on SA’s website, its president Michelle Gallen said the “guidelines had been developed in the interests of the entire swimming community”.

Coutts said she was concerned the guidelines would fail to have any impact.

“I’ve actually looked at these released guidelines and I really don’t see much change happening to be honest,” she told ABC Sport.

ABC Sport approached SA to comment but it declined the invitation.

Alicia Coutts holds a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Coutts enjoyed a decorated international career as a member of the Australian swimming team.(Getty Images: Tony Marshall)

Coutts — who won five medals at the 2012 London Olympics — said other swimmers shared her view.

“They’re actually mortified about this and they feel like it’s a massive slap in the face to anyone who has submitted to the integrity panel of Swimming Australia and they’re just really upset about it,” she said.

Coutts said she hoped SA would make a genuine effort to implement the guidelines.

“I honestly hope that they can make things better for them and that Swimming Australia can stand up and say that they have made mistakes in the past and some of their staff have,” she said.

“Because unless that happens, there is going to be no change.”

‘Something needs to be done about it’

Coutts said she was speaking publicly because she felt body image and shaming had been ignored as an issue in Australian swimming.

“The reason that I have been so outspoken about it is because it needs to change, something needs to be done about it,” she said.

“It’s one thing to say that, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to fix it,’ but how are you going to fix it? What processes are you putting in place to fix it?

“How are you stopping these young girls from becoming anorexic and getting eating disorders, and being told by their nutritionist that they’re overweight, or they can’t eat certain foods, or they can’t drink certain things?”

Coutts said it was difficult to speak about these issues during her swimming career.

“We just did what we were told because we were scared,” she said.

“We were scared you would get into trouble. You were scared you would lose your scholarship, or there would be some kind of repercussions for you standing up for yourself.”

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Coutts, 35, has recently returned to swimming as a recreational pursuit and to help raise money for charity.

She said it was a “big mental challenge”, but she enjoyed being back in the pool.

“I spent my whole career as an athlete being judged on what my appearance was like and what my body was like and just not feeling confident in the way that I looked,” Coutts said.

“If you had asked me … [in] October when I was at my worst, you would have never had caught me dead in a pool.

“But I’ve so far lost eight kilos, I’m feeling a lot more confident in myself and after losing that bit of weight, I feel like I’m not embarrassed to put my swimmers on and I’m not embarrassed to get into the pool.

“It’s put a lot of confidence back into me.”