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Strictly’s John Whaite opens up about bulimia struggle and ‘Muscle Mary’ criticism

The former GBBO champion is in a "better place" having struggled with an eating disorder since he was a child.

By Thomas Stichbury

Words: Thomas Stichbury; Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid

Strictly’s John Whaite says that “every single day is a battle” as he opens up about his experience of bulimia and ongoing body image issues.

In an in-depth interview in the Attitude December issue, out now to download and to order globally, John pinpoints that his issues with food and his weight began when he was a child.  

Johannes wears tank top by Sunspel, jeans by Lee; John wears tank top by Rufskin, jeans by Calvin Klein, necklace by Pawnshop London for the Attitude December issue (Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid; Fashion director: Joseph Kocharian)

“Well, I always wanted to be skinny. I grew up with two sisters and a mum who were always on SlimFast, always on Weight Watchers, always on the Atkins. So, from the age of 12, I was on the Atkins diet. I used to cut carbs out, which for a growing boy, a child, was a very dangerous thing.”

He continues: “I am bulimic, you know, I still struggle with that. Even though I go through moments of – not strength, because that’s implying that bulimia isn’t strength, but I go through moments where it doesn’t affect me.

“[But] every single day is a battle with an eating disorder because it takes over how you see yourself in the morning, it takes over how many times you feel you should go to the gym, what you can or can’t eat. I purposely have certain foods that I’ve restricted still.”

The former Great British Bake Off winner has come a long way, but he acknowledges that his gymming routine and “excessive exercise” are connected to his eating disorder.

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A post shared by John Whaite (@john_whaite)

“I’ve realised I’m six foot two and I’m nearly 16 stone and that’s amazing. I always say that I used to shrink away from the world, but now I want to take up my space in the world because I deserve to take up that space,” he stresses.

“Physically, I want to be bigger and stronger, and I know that, that is probably… excessive exercise is also a disorder, you know, let’s face it, I’m under no illusion that I’m, kind of, in a completely better place, but I feel like in a place where I’m in control.”

Having changed body shape since his “Twink Bake Off John” days, John, 32, reveals that he has been shamed for his more muscular physique, by those within the gay community no less.

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A post shared by John Whaite (@john_whaite)

“Since I’ve started working out more, the amount of gay people I’ve had saying to me, ‘You’ve just become a Muscle Mary.’ One guy said to me, ‘Oh, what a shame you’ve become another gay white gym bunny.’ I’ve always been gay, I always have been white as well, and I’ve always been interested in the gym, but I’ve just started paying more attention to the nutrition,” he sighs.

“I’m not saying that I’m the perfect figure, [that] if anyone’s chunky or too skinny, it’s bad. That’s what people think I’m saying by being muscular, they think I’m doing this because I want to look good on Instagram, basically. I’m doing this because I’ve battled with an eating disorder for 14, 15 years and I’ve finally come to a position where I’m happy being bigger.

“Support me or don’t, but don’t come at me just for making choices for me. These choices are for me, they’re not for anybody else.”

John adds: “Twink Bake Off John is who people want me to be now, but I’m not, I’m a different person, it’s 10 years on. I’ve been to the gym and changed my shape, so what?”

If you, a friend or a family member are struggling with an eating disorder, UK charity Beat are on hand to provide help and support:

Read John’s full interview in the Attitude December issue, out now.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £1 each, or digitally for just over £1.50 per issue.