Our member Ruth Micallef hopes that by opening up about his bulimia, Ashes hero Andrew Flintoff will give other people “permission” to seek help for their eating disorders.
Former England cricket captain Flintoff discussed his bulimia in the BBC documentary Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia, which was broadcast on Monday evening (28 September).
Ruth said: “Imagine a line of dominoes. After the first falls, the next finds the momentum to do the same in its own way.
“We’re much the same. Stories like Andrew Flintoff's give others the permission they often feel they need to take the next steps to finding support.
“Andrew’s story feels particularly poignant as, though men make up at least 25% of all eating disorders, many professionals report they arrive less frequently through our doors.
“I can only hope his story will be the domino they need to allow themselves the compassion or permission they were seeking to move forward.”
Flintoff was a member of the England team that won the iconic 2005 Ashes series. He now hosts Top Gear and is a captain on the comedy panel show A League Of Their Own.
How do eating disorders develop?
He said that how the media scrutinised his weight in the early days of his cricket career played a part in him developing the condition.
Ruth, who is based in Edinburgh, said that eating disorders “aren’t really about food” and “don’t discriminate”.
“The pathway to an eating disorder varies from person to person but generally has themes in these key areas; our temperament and traits, the culture we live in, our childhood experiences, genetics and epigenetics, our bodies and how we feel within them, and our traumas,” she said.
“Part of the mystery that shrouds eating disorders is the fact they’re incredibly broad, and many hard to define with a standardised label.
What is bulimia?
“Bulimia nervosa in practice is when one binges a quantity of food, then compensates – sometimes called purging – by making themselves sick, using laxatives, by fasting and restricting, or by excessive exercise.
“But behind that clinical description is something much deeper. My clients have described this cycle in several ways; routine, punishment, reward, cathartic, and releasing to name a few.
“Some clients seek the fullness binging brings, how it allows an endorphin rush, or temporarily fills a void they feel – the compensatory behaviours are a way to emotionally and physically cope with the binge itself.
“For others, it's the compensatory behaviours that are the goal, the feelings they get directly after the purge – the feeling of release or emptiness.
“Though its impacts may not be seen initially, the long-term repercussions of unsupported bulimia nervosa are significant and detrimental.
“Eating disorders can dominate one's life completely, and unlike the relatively small proportion of those who develop anorexia – roughly only 9% of cases – and its telling physical signs, bulimia in someone you know or love can be much harder to spot.”
How do I recognise an eating disorder?
Ruth said a measure of recognising an eating disorder was by asking “does food control or dominate my life?”.
“When I struggled with body dysmorphia and orthorexia throughout my teens and into my early twenties, I was the ‘picture of health’ to our body-obsessed society,” she said.
“But the reality was significantly different. I was struggling every day with unprocessed trauma, significant unmet childhood needs, stress, anxiety, and a clouded vision of how I truly looked.
“It wasn't until I felt safe enough with a trusted professional and allowed them to look under the shiny veneer that my truly damaging eating disorder finally came to light.”
Where can I get support?
Ruth’s advice for anyone who recognises they have an eating disorder is to show themselves “compassion”.
“A great place to start reading up a little on what you may be experiencing, and to find support is the Beat website."
She added: “I remind anyone struggling as Andrew has done throughout his life, you’re not bad, wrong, or defective. All eating disorders are a way of coping, and you’re completely worthy of support and compassion.”
To find a counsellor who can help you with an eating disorder, visit our therapist directory.
What are eating disorders? How do you know if you, or a loved one, have an eating disorder. BACP member Susie Pinchin explains how counselling can help if you have problems with food or abnormal eating habits.
How to find a therapist
How to use the BACP Register and our online therapist directory to find the right counsellor or psychotherapist for you.
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