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Freddie Flintoff discusses living with bulimia, coping mechanisms and stereotypes

Freddie Flintoff discusses living with bulimia, coping mechanisms and stereotypes
Freddie Flintoff discusses living with bulimia, coping mechanisms and stereotypes

BBC Radio 5 Live’s Nihal Arthanayke spoke to former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff ahead of his upcoming BBC documentary Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia, which airs on BBC One at 9pm on Monday.

The England cricketing legend spoke openly with Nihal about his struggle with bulimia. In a very open interview, Flintoff addressed how his media portrayal was a catalyst for his eating disorder, whilst also discussing the extent of his bulimia and the coping mechanisms he has since found.

Freddie Flintoff discusses his bulimia openly, revealing that it started after receiving criticism from the press for gaining weight:

That started when I was in my 20’s, I put a bit of weight on and had a bit of a kicking from the press and I started making myself sick at that point. Before that I was a skinny kid that used to wear t-shirts under his shirt to try and make myself look bigger, so I went from one extreme to another.”

“I went from doing it if I’d had a drink or eaten something I didn’t want to eat, to then doing it with most meals. That’s when it started controlling me. I was probably in a little bit of denial at that point and the way that I’ve come to terms with it in my own head after the last few years is that: I’m so lucky in so many areas of my life, I play cricket, I have an amazing family. I think: ‘ if this is the one thing I’ve got to deal with, if this is the bad thing I’ll take it, I can handle it’, but I don’t feel I need to anymore and I don’t want to because it does become draining. Every time you want to go for a meal or eat, you’ve got that anxiety about what you’re going to have. Maybe now is time to address it properly instead of making excuses, because I think about food and my weight far more than I should do. Through the documentary, I learnt that I don’t have to live this way and make excuses.”

On the negative impact press reports about his weight had on him at the time:

“At the time it was horrible, all of it broke in the newspapers a day or two before I was playing my first game for England at my home ground of old Trafford, which was meant to be the best day ever. I’d been playing there since I was 9 and even now when I drive into the games at Lancashire I still get excited when I see the red rose. This was meant to be my day where I was playing an international game on my home ground and instead of that I got an absolute rinsing about my weight. I got man of the match that day and it said something like ‘not bad for a fat lad’. After that, life changed for me.”

On coping mechanisms and accepting his eating disorder:

“I feel vulnerable quite a lot but I have coping mechanisms; especially when I play cricket. For me going out on a cricket field is brilliant, the best thing I ever did. It was escapism; I could go out on that field and become whoever I wanted to be. When I played I gave this impression of being bulletproof, confident and being able to take everything on, inside I didn’t feel that way. I found how I could do that; it was overcompensating a lot of the time, and through this documentary I had all the feelings of vulnerability where you chat to people, you tell them your story. Even going out now I’m feeling quite vulnerable about it; it’s not a place that I like to be in, but I’m finding as I get older I can drop the pretence. I’m more accepting of who I am; my failings and strengths. Keeping up with that act for so long was exhausting and I felt at times I wasn’t being true to myself or people around me.”

“The boxing was an interesting one. I never wanted to be a boxer. The initial programme was only to wrestle, I just wanted to wrestle! I went to America with the WWE and I broke three ribs just after the second day. Then I came home and they said you can’t do the doc because you’ll give the secrets away, but join us if you want. I thought ‘I don’t really want to run around America in my underpants wrestling people’ so then the chance of boxing came up. I am a boxing fan but I’ve never had a hankering to be a boxer, but it covered a lot of things I wanted to address. One, first and foremost was weight, I’d always wanted to be ripped with abs and definition so it was an opportunity to do that. I remember a night before the fight I stood facing the mirror in my hotel room and I thought I’d have everything I ever wanted in the abs and the body, and I thought, ‘is that it, what’s next?’ that played on my mind a little bit. Also at school as well, I got bullied a little bit. I never really thought back but I think the boxing was a way to address that. I thought it was doing but it obviously didn’t because I still carried all of those feelings when I left the ring and since, although I have got help in other areas of my life, the bulimia is one where I’ve actually not sat down with a specialist and talked about but I’m getting closer to that.”

On not fitting the stereotype of a bulimia sufferer:

“You’re a bloke; you’re not meant to do this. You hear stories of people who suffer from eating disorders, and it’s not 6’4 blokes from Preston. You identify it with models or whoever it may be. You have the shame of illness, the shame of being sick and hiding it and not telling anyone. You also feel guilty for feeling guilty. It’s this vicious circle.”

On the importance of being open with loved ones:

“I think your relationship changes with your friends when you start speaking out about stuff. My friends now feel we can talk about things that we never would have been able to in the past. From an eating disorder point of view, some of the messages I’ve had from people I thought had no idea about it feel that they can talk about it.”

He admits that he’s always been quite hard on himself and has struggled to love himself:

“Apart from my kids and my family, I can’t remember ever thinking I’ve done really well there, which I think spurs me on to improve all the time because you never sit still; you focus on the future instead of looking back, but in other ways its tiring. When will be enough? When will I be happy with myself? It’s hard.”

“I hope it does change me, I do want to change. I’ve opened myself up now and I’ve opened myself up to the possibility that I don’t have to live in the way in which I’m living. But to change that I’m going to have to do something about it myself, which is the hardest step.”

Credit: BBC Radio 5 Live’s Nihal Arthanayke