Andrew Flintoff opens up about battle with bulimia in new BBC documentary

Andrew Flintoff has opened up about his ongoing battle with bulimia in a new documentary.

The former England cricketer and now Top Gear presenter revealed in 2014 that he had suffered with the eating disorder during his playing career.

In Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia, which airs on Monday evening, he asks whether he needs professional help for the first time.

“I don't want to be a statistic,” he said. “I don't want it to be read that something has happened to me.”

Experts estimate that at least 1.5 million people in the UK have an eating disorder like bulimia and of that figure around 25% are estimated to be male.

Read more: Teenage girls suffering from anxiety could be at a greater risk of developing eating disorder

Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff has opened up about his battle with bulimia in a new BBC documentary, pictured October 2018. (Getty Images)
Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff has opened up about his battle with bulimia in a new BBC documentary, pictured October 2018. (Getty Images)

According to eating disorder charity BEAT, the stigma surrounding eating disorders means that many men may go undiagnosed.

And while it has been suggested that more men could be developing eating disorders, BEAT says this is not necessarily the case.

“Some services have said that they are admitting more men, but this may mean that more men are seeking help, or more men are recognised as having eating disorders, rather than that more men are developing the illness,” the charity explains.

In the documentary Flintoff describes how his struggle with bulimia began when focus was put on his weight during the early part of his international cricket career.

“I became known as a fat cricketer,” Flintoff tells BBC. “That was horrible. That was when I started doing it.

“That was when I started being sick after meals. Then things started happening for me as a player.”

He also describes making himself sick during the 2005 Ashes series against Australia, which saw his contribution earn him BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award.

“Everyone was happy with me,” he said. “My weight was coming down. It was like: 'I'm bossing this.' It just carried on and I was doing it all the time.”

Read more: Bristol University bans ‘fatphobic’ language used by sports clubs and fitness instructors

Ahead of his new documentary, Flintoff spoke to Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain, about the condition.

“The stats of men suffering from eating disorders is high… I nearly asked for help in my early 20s. We had a dietician come in to speak to the team.

“I was at that point where I was about to say I have a problem here. She signed off by saying that she worked with a lot of women… and she wouldn’t imagine there was anyone with an eating disorder in the room, because we were a group of lads, obviously.

“I didn’t feel like I could speak or say anything. Being a bloke, 6ft 4in and from Preston, I’m not meant to have an eating disorder by rights.

“So, you keep it hidden away and you don’t want to speak about it.”

Watch: Can an obsession with ‘healthy eating’ trigger an eating disorder?

What is bulimia?

BEAT describes bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) as a serious mental illness, which can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background.

People with bulimia, the site advises, are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively (called purging).

“Bulimia is a mental health condition and a serious eating disorder; it is definitely not a coping mechanism,” explains Alexia Dempsey, specialist eating disorder dietician at Priory's Roehampton Hospital.

“As well as effects on the body, eating disorders like bulimia have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, and can have a huge effect on their social and emotional wellbeing.

“It can strain relationships with friends and family. Things like daily activities, meals out, ‘chill out’ time with friends, all these can be impacted.”

Dempsey says the secrecy of these illnesses, particularly in men, can leave the sufferer feeling isolated and disconnected.

“Seeking help quickly from a GP is vital, because bulimia can be a vicious, and endless, cycle of binging and purging.

“This can cause physical health problems including heart problems, kidney damage, bowel problems from excessive laxative use, cramps, muscle aches, dehydration, and digestive and throat problems.

“Early help really does give you the best chance of recovery,” she adds.

The stigma surrounding male eating disorders can mean men stay silent about their struggles. (Posed by model, Getty Images)
The stigma surrounding male eating disorders can mean men stay silent about their struggles. (Posed by model, Getty Images)

What to do if you’re worried you may be suffering from bulimia

According to Dempsey it can be really hard to admit you have a problem, but if you are bulimic, the most important thing you have to do is accept help.

“Be open with the people you are closest to,” she suggests. “You will need to accept help from family, friends and professionals, all of whom want to see you get better. Surrounding yourself with these sorts of positive influences can help you stay on track.”

As a first port of call Dempsey suggests contacting your GP or an eating disorder charity like BEAT for advice.

“Even though bulimia can be a secretive disorder, you really don’t have to struggle alone,” she says.

Read more: Male suicide rate highest for 20 years: How to help if someone is struggling

How to spot if someone might be struggling with bulimia

Unlike some other eating disorders, Dempsey says bulimia doesn’t necessarily cause significant changes in weight, as the cycles can balance this out.

Additionally, she says, people with bulimia often go to extreme lengths to try and hide their behaviours.

“These factors mean that bulimia can sometimes be very difficult to spot. But an expert will help to identify the causes, and underlying triggers, address unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours, and help the sufferer develop a healthy relationship with food.

“Treatment involves looking at the psychological causes and its physical effects,” she adds.

For more information and advice about eating disorders visit the support services offered by BEAT.

Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia airs September 28 on BBC One.