Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia – a powerful and unflinching documentary
Updated: Jan 29
Last autumn there was a documentary which aired on BBC One featuring Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff who bravely discussed his 20-year battle with the eating disorder bulimia nervosa.
The former England cricketer described how destructive comments about his weight in the press and online prompted the onset of the illness, causing him to become obsessed with body image and losing weight.
More commonly associated with women, bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by binge eating followed by purging. This is normally done through vomiting but can also include taking laxatives, stimulants, diuretics and using excessive exercise in an attempt to get rid of consumed food.
I watched the programme again recently having seen Freddie looking dangerously thin while presenting a recent episode of Top Gear. He openly admits that he still hasn’t conquered the illness although he does feel as though he now has some more control over it.
It is so important that men start to open up more about their battles with mental illness because there’s still so much stigma and shame associated with speaking out and admitting a problem.
This is why I’m so honest and open about my battle with depression and bipolar disorder because I don’t want others to have to go through the humiliation and misunderstanding that I’ve been subjected to over the last 20 years.
Although I’ve never had an eating disorder per se, I have lost a huge amount of weight through each of my depressive episodes.
After the disastrous ketamine infusions which left me in a catastrophic mixed state, I lost over two stone in weight. The stress of the condition didn’t help, but with depression came nothing but apathy with zero interest in anything, including food because who needs to eat when you have no regard for yourself or even the desire to live?
Depression and eating disorders commonly present together and either one can initiate the other. Men are not immune to all of this, and it is estimated that out of the 1.5 million people living with an eating disorder in the U.K a quarter of them are male. That equates to about 375,000 men which is a significant and rather worrying number.
Because of the perceived shame and stigma associated with eating disorders, men are much less likely to seek help, the result of which can be utterly devastating.
In the programme Freddie meets a mother and brother whose lives have been ruined by the catastrophic effects of bulimia.
In a heart-rending interview Pam Nugent explains how her son Laurence lost his life to the eating disorder at the age of only 24 after suffering a fatal heart attack.
Laurence tried to get help but when the G.P he saw failed to understand or appreciate the serious of the situation he resisted and refused to seek help again. This is a huge problem because G.P’s are not trained to cope with the vulnerable, and often suicidal people that they encounter on an almost daily basis.
Very often there’s that one chance to help someone and if they say the wrong thing (or fail to answer the phone as I’ve been mentioning recently) the opportunity to intervene and support that person is very often lost, the consequences of which can be fatal.
This is why we need better services because G.P’s are very often the first contact for the patient but they can’t be expected to deal with the huge range of disorders, ailments and illnesses both physical and mental that they are consistently presented with.
A friend told me the other day that in a medical degree the student has only four hours devoted to eating disorders learning, so how can they be expected to diagnose and help people effectively? I realise that there must be more training for those that specialise, but in light of the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders isn’t this a massive oversight?
As I’ve said before, I don’t really blame individuals for any of this but as I know from my own experience, there is a huge disparity between individual doctor’s levels of empathy and understanding when it comes to mental health problems.
The same thing applies to therapists and psychologists; some people are a better fit than others and unfortunately it really is a case of trial and error until you find the right person to support you.
This is highlighted in the documentary with Freddie discussing his bulimia with several different professionals before deciding on one particular individual to help him.
Talking is obviously a good thing, but it takes so much more than that to overcome a serious mental health problem which is something I don’t think people really appreciate. There’s a notion that if you talk then everything will be fine, but these illnesses don’t simply vanish just because you are open about it!!
However, according to research people who do seek help for an eating disorder are nine times more likely to recover, so opening up about it does obviously play an essential role in getting better.
I really hope that therapy will help Freddie to overcome some of the intrusive thoughts that so often plague him, because breaking free of mental anguish (and the system if I’m completely honest) is so liberating as I am now finally finding out!
I really want this for everyone else, so will continue to write and share my story until I help as many people as is humanly possible!
If you would like to watch the documentary ‘Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia’ then you can find it on BBC iPlayer which I have attached a link to here.
There is also a clip of the programme which I have added to the home page.
If you would like more information or are concerned for yourself, a friend or family member then you can find resources and support through the charity ‘Beat’ whose website can be found here.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,