Deputy Sport Editor Charlotte Cohen discusses a new revealing documentary in which one of England's most famous cricketers, Freddie Flintoff, speaks openly about living with bulimia.
On the 27th of September 2020, ex-England cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff sent a tweet to his almost two-million strong following the information for his documentary that aired on the BBC at the end of September. No prior mention of the documentary had even been hinted at, so it really seemed to come out of the blue ー and it was incredibly hard-hitting.
The title just about says it all ー Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia. The hour-long documentary follows Flintoff’s journey into discovering more about the illness he has been struggling with for almost half of his life. It starts with him talking incredibly openly about his struggles with bulimia, revealing that much of it stemmed from the negative press he received during his time playing cricket for England. Questions arose in the papers about his weight gain, and whether it would negatively impact his performance for England. He recalls being known as a ‘fat cricketer’ and how horrible it was. At one point in the documentary, Flintoff meets with a nutritionist who works with a number of athletes, both male and female, who struggle with eating disorders. She tells Flintoff that with new clients she usually asks them to bring in a photo of themself that they don’t like. Flintoff proceeds to pull out his phone to show her a picture of him from when he was 20, at the point the negative press began to flood in, showing that to find the picture all he had to do was Google ‘fat Flintoff’ for hundreds of results to appear.
Eating disorders among men are rife but rarely spoken about, especially among men in sport. Flintoff talks about this in depth, as well as the idea that men – like Flintoff himself, who was seen as a young, strong, successful cricketer – are supposed to be able to deal with it or try to overcome it themselves is pervasive in society.
As part of his journey to learn more about bulimia and eating disorders among men, Flintoff speaks to several doctors, nutritionists and other male sufferers. The men he speaks to all talk of the same issues as him – feeling like their disorder wasn’t serious enough to warrant help, or that, as men, they should have been able to overcome it on their own.
Whilst looking back on the point in his life when his eating disorder was at its worst, he recalls the praise he received from teammates and family members. His performance in cricket began to improve – his starring role in the 2005 Ashes series against Australia being a prime example – and it felt, to him, like what he was doing was working. However, later in the programme, Flintoff discusses the possibility that the negative effects of his eating disorder may have been what caused his career to be ended early. A niggling knee injury saw Flintoff play his last test for England at just 31 years of age. After speaking to medical professionals who detailed the potential side effects an eating disorder can have, Flintoff admits that his eating disorder may have played a role in this, something he had never considered before.
Those who have followed Flintoff’s career will know that after retiring from his England cricket duties, Flintoff tried his hand at professional boxing. A move that, from the outside, appeared slightly unconventional – cricket to boxing doesn’t seem the most natural of career paths. But for Flintoff, it was more than a simple career change. He opened up about moving to boxing to force himself to lose weight and how he was achieving this but never felt any happier in himself and eventually quit boxing to pursue his career as a TV presenter, something he loved, and is still doing to this day.
The ending isn’t the happiest, such is the reality with many sufferers. On a positive note, despite thinking that he has his eating disorder ‘under control’, Flintoff eventually seeks help from one of the medical professionals he spoke with earlier in the programme and plans to start treatment. However he candidly admits to the camera that, although he really wants, and even plans, to start the treatment he doesn’t want to lie and say that he will. And that is where the documentary leaves off. We can only hope that Freddie has been able to get the help he needs and begin his recovery journey, but there are many sufferers who aren’t so fortunate. So I encourage you to watch this documentary – it’s not the easiest watch but it is enlightening, informative and truly eye-opening.
For information and support regarding eating disorders, visit: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2DRkg4JC7SLT3B7hlrn6DKN/information-and-support-eating-disorders
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