Viewers watching BBC documentary Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia, which recounts the cricketing hero’s 20-year battle with an eating disorder, say they were ‘left in tears’ by the Top Gear presenter’s ‘raw’ honesty.
Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, 42, talked candidly about how painful the process of making himself sick is in an eye-opening BBC documentary about the illness, which aired last night on BBC One at 9pm.
The unflinching account of the father-of-four’s illness saw him talking to other men who suffer with disordered eating and detailing his own episodes of vomiting in graphic detail – including how the physical ‘wrenching’ of his body leaves him with ‘bloodshot’ and ‘gone’ eyes.
At one point, Freddie tells viewers he’s ‘done it this year’ and says he ‘can’t say’ that was the last time it’ll happen.
Viewers took to social media to praise the cricket star’s bravery in speaking out, saying it will encourage other sufferers to seek help.
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‘I still do it, I’ve done it this year’: Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia, which aired on BBC One on Monday at 9pm, saw the cricket star offer an unflinching account of his 20-year battle with bulimia
The father-of-four offered a graphic account of what his body goes through when he purges following a ‘pre-planned’ binge – admitting he’s ‘done it this year’ and saying he ‘can’t say’ it was the last time it’ll happen
Viewers of the hard-to-watch documentary, which saw the Top Gear presenter speak to other men with the illness, praised Freddie for his bravery in speaking out about his experiences
After the show aired, social media was awash with comments about the programme.
One viewer said: ‘Such an incredibly brave thing to do, the world needs more people to speak out about mental ill-health. I know this will be tough to watch, but hopefully will help so many.’
Another added: ‘Freddie Flintoff speaking out about his bulimia is so so important. So raw. So heart wrenching.
‘Eating disorders are the biggest killers out of all mental illnesses. They wreak havoc on your body, your mind, your person. Accepted, glorified, all consuming and deadly.’
A third added: ‘Massive respect for Flintoff for admitting to everything he’s been going through for so long.’
Describing how he would make himself sick in a bid to lose weight, the former England cricket captain revealed that 20 years after he first began suffering from bulimia, he still, on occasion, makes himself vomit after meals.
He said: ‘I’ve had periods where I’ve not done it for a long time and I’ve had periods when I’ve done it. I’ve done it this year. It’s not right, is it? I know it’s not right but I can’t say for certain when it’s going to stop.’
Although he says he does not suffer with bulimia as much as before, Freddie – who trains most days at the gym – admitted he had purged the same year as the documentary was filmed and said he can never be certain if it will stop
In the new documentary, Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia, the TV presenter (pictured) became emotional when speaking to other men suffering from the eating disorder
Andrew Flintoff (pictured) spoke openly about his battles with bulimia, which began around 20 years ago when he was a professional cricketer. Former England captain explained in detail what the experience of purging is like
In the programme, Freddie explained that the issue began around 20 years ago when he faced criticism in the press about his size.
Freddie became emotional when he met several other men suffering from the condition and spoke to them about their experiences – something he told the programme he had never done before.
In addition, the 42-year-old father was introduced to the mother and brother of one man who died from a heart attack at the age of 24 due to his life-altering eating disorder.
Freddie spoke about the origins of his eating disorder, starting when he received comments about being ‘fat’ during his cricketing career, bringing into question his fitness and capability.
Not realising he had put on weight, he was surprised to find out after a weigh in that he was in fact 19 stone.
Others said watching the programme was ‘heart wrenching’ and suggested the programme was an important step in encouraging people to open up about their own experiences
The now TV presenter soon began to develop unhealthy thoughts about his body and would make himself sick after meals.
He said: ‘That’s when I started, that’s when I became aware I put this weight on. I was in decent nick and I put a little bit of size on, I just didn’t see it coming.
‘Something changed in my mind where I was acutely aware of it but worse than everyone else was aware of it. I became known as a fat cricketer really, that was horrible.’
The 42-year-old father (above) was also introduced to the mother and brother of a man called Laurence, who died from a heart attack at the age of 24 due to his life-altering eating disorder
Freddie said his problems with his weight and eating disorder began when he was ‘hammered’ in the press for his size after his fitness was called into question. Pictured, looking at shots of himself in the Lancashire cricket team over the years
The bulimia ramped up when his career began to take off and he was becoming more successful – linking his success to the eating disorder.
After losing three stone, he said he started to think ‘I’m bossing this’ and the bulimia continued. He explained one of the hardest parts was keeping it hidden from everyone around him, including his team mates.
Speaking candidly about how it dictated his life, he said he would pre-plan how and where he would purge to ensure he was not caught.
Despite telling his now wife Rachael, 42, about his condition, the father-of-four never revealed how bad his bulimia had become and would lie when she asked him how often it was happening.
The bulimia ramped up when his career began to take off and he lost three stone. He started linking his success to the eating disorder said he thought ‘I’m bossing this’. Pictured, Freddie at Lords Cricket Ground
Freddie (above) explained one of the hardest parts was keeping it hidden from everyone around him, including his team mates and his wife
Freddie spoke in excruciating detail about how painful the process of making himself sick is: ‘Your eyes are just bloodshot, your eyes have gone. If I didn’t do it, I didn’t feel any good about myself – it wasn’t about my weight it was just how it made me feel.’
According to the documentary, over 1.5million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia and experts estimate 1 in 4 sufferers are male.
Freddie also opened up about how he felt small as a youngster and took longer to look bigger and more muscly.
To this day he still suffers with body issues, stating during the documentary that he will always be overweight – much to the documentary makers shock.
He said: ‘Shape is something I’m heavily aware off. Having been big before I never want to experience it again. I will always be overweight – it’s not in my mind, I will.
‘I am not the optimum weight for my size, that is fact. I know how I feel when I put weight on and I don’t want it, I don’t want to feel like that.’
Freddie (pictured above) spoke in excruciating detail about how painful the process of making himself sick is
To this day he still suffers with body issues, stating during the documentary that he will always be overweight, despite training in the gym for at least an hour most days
Instead, the former professional cricketer trains in the gym several days a week for an hour at a time.
During the documentary, his personal trainer explains that Freddie pushes himself extremely far in the gym and at times he has struggled to keep up with the TV presenter.
But, during an uncomfortable discussion with dietitian Renee McGregor, Freddie reveals that he does not see his heavy reliance on the gym as a bad thing as it does not negatively affect anyone around him.
He explained he has never sought out professional help or treatment for his disorder and that the only time that he considered speaking to someone about it was during a visit from a dietitian for the England cricket team.
But he never went through with it, after she told the room: ‘I work with female Olympians and gymnasts “but there will be none of that in this room will there”, so I carried on.’
In an emotional interview, Freddie visited Pam Nugent, and her son Chris, who told him about her son Laurence who suffered from bulimia – purging after everything he ate
Her son’s bulimia spiralled out of control and in 2009 he had a heart attack and died as a result of the eating disorder – aged just 24 years old. Pictured, Pam and son Chris explaining they hoped they could ‘fix him’
It was while filming another documentary about training to be a boxer in 2012 that Freddie first revealed he had bulimia.
WHAT IS BULIMIA?
BEAT eating disorders explains the condition:
- Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by binge eating and purging [by self-induced vomiting and laxative abuse]
- Symptoms may also include fear of putting on weight, fasting, mood changes, anxiety, tiredness, a sore throat, tummy pain and self-harming
- Treatments can include therapy and medication
- The condition typically develops during adolescence or early adulthood
- Bulimia makes up 40 per cent of eating disorders in the UK
- 75 per cent of those affected by eating disorders are female
In the documentary, he spoke to Pam Nugent, and her son Chris, about the death of her other son Laurence.
After his bulimia spiralled out of control, unable to eat a single meal without purging, the young man died in 2009 from a heart attack – aged just 24 years old.
Pam told Freddie that her son had been turned away by doctors when he finally plucked up the courage to visit and said his family always hoped they would be able to ‘fix him’.
Freddie said hearing from the mother made him ‘question how I deal with my eating disorder’.
He added: ‘It’s that thing where you think it’s never going to happen to you.
‘I don’t want to be a statistic, I don’t want to be something that’s read about in years to come, that something’s happened to me’.
The mother even put Freddie on the spot, asking him where he is in the battle with his own eating disorder.
‘Every time I eat I feel some kind of guilt but I think I’m dictating the terms to the eating disorder as opposed to the other way round. I still feel the compulsion but I can control that.’
When asked if he thought he would have bulimia in 20 years time, he admitted he thinks he will.
The much-loved presenter also spoke to Simon, who visits the Oxford Annex, an NHS eating disorder service in Preston, who revealed he would eat as much as a whole loaf of bread or a jar of peanut butter before making himself sick.
He explained his heartbreaking backstory, where his mother had killed herself when he was just two years old and his brother also did the same years later.
The much-loved presenter also spoke to Simon, who visit the Oxford Annex, an NHS eating disorder service in Preston, who revealed he would eat as much as a whole loaf of bread or a jar of peanut butter before purging
A fellow former boxer, Aiden, also spoke about overcoming bulimia which took over his life in his 20s – driving into the countryside to avoid being caught purging
Simon said: ‘There’s no enjoyment, I know the consequences will be negative. I think it’s a way of self harming by eating that much.’
A fellow former boxer, Aiden, also spoke about overcoming bulimia which took over his life in his 20s.
He told Freddie how he would ‘drive out into the sticks’ before binging and purging so he did not get caught.
As a side effect of the bulimia, he explained to Freddie that on occasions he would pass out while purging and experience chest pains.
It was not until he went to see the GP that he was able to recover from the disorder and described it as feeling ‘like a pressure was released’.
At the end of the documentary, Freddie reveals he has decided to seek help for his eating disorder and speaks about ‘the shame’ he feels.
Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia is available on BBC iPlayer