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Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite opens up about eating disorder battle

The 32-year-old says his career as a TV chef made him feel even more "ashamed" of suffering from bulimia.

2021-02-10

Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite has opened up about his battle with an eating disorder for the first time, urging other men to "to talk to somebody" if they are struggling with issues relating food. 

The TV chef, who won the third series of The Great British Bake Off in 2012, has revealed that he suffers from bulimia, an eating disorder characterised by binge eating and purging.

Appearing on Steph McGovern's Channel 4 daytime show Steph’s Packed Lunch, where he regularly hosts cooking segments, John explained how he struggled with disordered eating for years, but only accepted that he had an eating disorder in the last couple of years.

"I’ve been an advocate for mental health since being on Bake Off and when I’ve talked to my psychotherapist about this, I didn’t really realise I had an eating disorder until about two years ago when she said ‘this is bulimia’," John told McGovern. 

"Until that point, I just thought it was a slight way of coping with overeating, I didn’t think it was a huge problem.”

The 32-year-old former Attitude cover star continued: “I’ve been very vocal in the past about my mental health issues… but one thing I haven’t really spoken about is my eating disorder.

“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.”

John added: “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.”

John, who has released five cookery books since his GBBO win and previously fronted cooking segments on ITV's Lorraine, explained that being a food expert in the public eye made him even more "ashamed" of his bulimia.

“I’ve only really accepted it as an eating disorder in the past 18 months, two years and it’s been very very raw. It’s been very very difficult to overcome and I think that is down to the stigma of an eating disorder", he said.

“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?”

John went on: “I feel a weight has been lifted in a way… I did feel very ashamed of it because not only am I a chef and it sort of undermines that side of my career…

John Whaite (left) appeared on the cover of the Attitude 'Love & Marriage' special in 2014 alongside his partner Paul Atkins

"But one of the things I feel very shameful about is that a lot of the time on the show 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…”

John, who also filmed a special report featuring a young man who had struggled with the eating disorder anorexia, told McGovern that he that he's receiving help from a psychotherapist and now wants to help others who may be struggling with disordered eating.

“A lot of people struggle, whether you’re a man, woman, non-binary… but I think men, in particular, are conditioned from a very early age not to talk about how they feel, not to cry, not to ask for help", he said.

"We hear a lot about this phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ but I think the real poison in manhood is silence… If men don’t speak it starts to erode them from the inside out.

“I just want to say to men, it doesn’t matter if you’re straight, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, asexual, whatever you are, you have to speak, you have to talk, you have to find the help that you need, the help is there…

“When you share a problem and get a problem out of you, the toxic is diluted, the poison is diluted. I just want men to understand that, even if you’re the burliest bloke and you’re a builder, whatever you are, you need to talk to somebody.”

If you're struggling with an eating disorder or have been affected by the issues raised in this article, visit Beat or call their helpline on 0808 801 0677.

Steph’s Packed Lunch airs weekdays at 12.30pm on Channel 4.