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John Whaite shares Strictly bulimia battle: 'I was making myself sick four or five times a day'

The Bake Off winner, who reached the final of last year's Strictly Come Dancing, was speaking in a panel on body image at National Student Pride.

2022-04-10

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Dean Ryan McDaid

John Whaite may have made the final two of Strictly Come Dancing last year, but the former Bake Off champion has revealed that his battle with the eating disorder bulimia became more difficult during his time in the competition.

The TV chef, 32, was speaking as part of Attitude's Body Image panel at National Student Pride on Saturday 9 April alongside TikTok star, Ben Wardle, author Charlie Craggs, comedian Sophie Duker, and model Aliss Bonython. 

John, who has opened up about living with bulimia before, told the panel that the stress of taking part in Strictly - in which he competed with professional dancer Johannes Radebe - led to him making himself sick "four or five times a day."

"It's something I'm working on"

Asked by panel host and Attitude Editor-in-Chief Cliff Joannou about the impact of Strictly, Whaite replied: "It enabled me to see that if you fuel your body you can do beautiful, creative things and you need to have that fuel.

"But at the same time, it was such a stressful situation that I was making myself sick four or five times a day during Strictly."

The Steph's Packed Lunch star continued: "The thing with bulimia is it doesn't go away. You have to have talking therapy to manage it, there's no magical pill as with any body issue. So, it's something I'm working on but I think when you start to like who you are as a person then it makes it easier to combat that side of you."

John added that talking about it dilutes the shame surrounding bulimia, which he first realised he was experiencing aged 15. Before this, he'd been on calorie-restrictive diets since he was 12. 

Discussing his struggle with bulimia, John said: "It enabled me to binge eat when I wanted to and then kind of forgive myself for it. That purging was cathartic. I just thought it was a physiological transaction, whereas what was actually happening was a very emotional kind of expression of trauma, of low self-esteem."

Whaite explained that he only realised the behaviour he was exhibiting was bulimina three or four years ago after seeing a therapist.

Reflecting on growing up surrounded by family members on various diets, John also said it's important to protect vulnerable people and children from diet culture and the notion of 'the perfect body'. 

"My mum, my sisters were all on Atkins diet, Weight Watchers, Slimming World," he said. "They were completely obsessed with it because that's what diet culture does to you. It completely possesses you and it makes you hate yourself and only think about one thing.

"And I think for a child to be brought up in that environment, especially a child like me who was questioning his sexuality, coming to terms with the fact that I am gay, which is a hard thing to realise.

"I think it's really important to protect children from seeing the images that are all over social media right now."

Speaking to Attitude last year while appearing on the cover alongside his Strictly dance partner, Johannes Radebe, John shared: "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."

He also revealed how he had been shamed after working out.

"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 added. "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."

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.

Attitude's new-look March/April issue is out now.