The present study investigated the contribution of a contextual body image perspective to understanding disordered eating in high performance women athletes. Because existing questionnaires were not suitable for measuring body image in the contexts of sport and daily life, we developed the 'Contextual Body Image Questionnaire for Athletes' (CBIQA) in which body image is divided into 'appearance', 'muscularity', 'thin-fat self-evaluations' and 'thin-fat perceived opinions of others', in both contexts. In Study 1, the internal validity and reliability of this questionnaire was established in a general, heterogeneous sample of female sport participants and exercisers. In Study 2, the external validity was determined in a sample of 52 high performance women athletes who mainly participated in aesthetic or endurance sports, 19 of which were classified with and 33 without disordered eating. The results of Study 2 showed that both 'thin-fat self' and 'thin-fat opinions of others' in sport made significant unique contributions to explaining eating disorder variance, indicating the important role of athletic body image. In conclusion, the contextual body image approach seems to be a promising framework for a better understanding of athletes' disordered eating. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.