John Whaite health: The star’s disorder has been ‘very difficult to overcome’ – what is it

John Whaite health: The star’s disorder has been ‘very difficult to overcome’ – what is it

Strictly: John Whaite shares 'unglamorous' side of training

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The star baker who became Bake Off champ in 2012 – dazzled Paul Hollywood and then judge Mary Berry with his culinary skills, yet behind closed doors the star had struggled with his body image since his teens. Previously the star has opened up about his “serious” mental health struggle with bouts of depression, but appearing on Steph’s Packed Lunch on Channel 4 he also wanted to raise awareness of eating disorders.

The 32-year-old spoke candidly about his struggles with bulimia in a hope that others would also speak out.

He said: “My body image as I grew up was very difficult… I was so conscious of being fat. But one thing I was aware of as being problematic for 12, 14 years was overeating and then purging. The painful forcing down of food and then that instant need to get that out of me.

“If I was making a batch of muffins and something went wrong in my life that day, or around that time, I would sit there and I would eat all 12 of the muffins and then I’d run to the bathroom and I’d make myself sick.”

Around one million people are estimated to be suffering from an eating disorder in the UK, one in four of which are men.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by binge eating followed by purging, which can include vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting or exercising excessively.

The chef, who still struggles about his condition said: “One of the things I feel very shameful about is that… we talk about kids who have very little to eat at the minute in the UK, so to think that I throw up my food every now and again, I feel very guilty for that. But it isn’t something I can control.

“I’ve only really accepted it as an eating disorder in the past 18 months, two years and it’s been very, very raw.”

The guilt that the chef unnecessarily feels about his condition is emphasised by his chosen career path.

“It’s been very, very difficult to overcome and I think that is down to the stigma of an eating disorder,” John added.

“Especially as a chef, I didn’t really want to talk about it because I felt like it kind of undermined my entire career.

“How can a chef who writes recipes books and cooks on TV, how can he realistically have bulimia?”

When first noticing the symptoms, John did not realise that it was a huge problem. Instead, thinking it was a way of coping with overeating. However, if individuals suffer with the condition for an extended period of time it can become life-threatening.

The NHS lists multiple health risks that can occur due to the persistent vomiting or overusing laxatives.

Possible complications include:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Dental problems – caused by stomach acid from persistent vomiting can damage tooth enamel
  • Bad breath, a sore throat, or even tears in the lining of the throat – also caused by stomach Acid
  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Brittle fingernails
  • Swollen glands
  • Fits and muscle spasms
  • Heart, kidney or bowel problems, including permanent constipation
  • Bone problems – you may be more likely to develop problems such as osteoporosis, particularly if you have had symptoms of both bulimia and anorexia.

Before an eating disorder becomes a life-threatening condition, there are general warning signs to look out for, on yourself and on close friends and family.

These can be emotional and behavioural as well as physical.

Emotional and behavioural warning signs include things such as unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area, hides or steals food, uses excessive mouthwash, mints or gum, extreme mood swings.

Physical symptoms include things such as fainting, muscle weakness, noticeable weight fluctuations and difficulties concentrating.

Treatment for the condition is often offered in the form of a guided self-help programme. It involves working with a healthcare professional such as a therapist who will enable you to overcome the condition and understand why you have these behaviours.

You can talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.

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