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Nigel Owens Reveals How He Suffered From Bulimia Before The Biggest Game Of His Career

Nigel Owens Reveals How He Suffered From Bulimia Before The Biggest Game Of His Career
James Carroll
By James Carroll
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Legendary rugby referee Nigel Owens has revealed his ongoing battle with bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder.

Bulimia is generally characterised as an emotional disorder about body image, which manifests itself in bouts of overeating followed by purposeful vomiting.

His battle with the disorder will be the subject of  a BBC Panorama programme on Monday night. In a brilliant column on bbc.com today, Owens wrote about his ongoing battle, that still crops up from time to time, 27 years after he first dealt with it.

Speaking about his depression which was related to coming to terms with his sexuality, Owens discussed the eating disorder which cropped up when he was just in his teens.

Owens talks about how he tried to suppress his sexuality and became severely depressed.

Add to the burden the fact that I was overweight, about 16.5 stone (105 kg).

In my eyes I was obese and thought "no-one who I find attractive was ever going find me attractive while I'm fat".

So, I started making myself sick.

I loved food then as much as I do now. I'd eat all I wanted then go the loo and make myself sick.

I suffered from mild colitis, a bowel condition, so would use that as an ideal excuse to friends when I had to slip off to the toilet all the time. I was lying and being sly which only exacerbated my depression.

Before long I was bringing up every meal I ate.

Over a period of four months, I'd lost five stone.

No-one suspected a thing. I was running and training a lot and my friends and family could see me scoffing food every mealtime, so as far as they were concerned I was eating well. I was training hard so outwardly I looked fit and healthy.


Owens went from there to thinking he was now too skinny, and started taking steroids to bulk up.

In my eyes, I was now too thin and now thought "no-one I find attractive is ever going to find me attractive while I'm skinny".

So I went to the gym and began using steroids. I became hooked on them for the next seven, eight years.

Mental health issues, depression over my sexuality, bulimia and steroids - my life was an unrelenting nightmare.

I was broken.

After a suicide attempt at the age of 26, Owens turned his life around and got healthy, but revealed today that the dangers associated with the disorder have never gone away, and it reared its head again before the biggest event of his professional career.


In 2015, he was awarded the World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia, the ultimate honour for someone in his field. However, in the run up to the World Cup, his bulimia returned because he was under pressure to reach certain fitness levels.

In the run up to the Rugby World Cup, I'd been under huge pressure to reach certain fitness levels - you have to reach an advanced level on the Yo-Yo Endurance Test (a variation on the bleep test used to measure physical fitness).

Fitness expectations are extremely high, particularly for somebody who was 44 years of age. Bear in mind international athletes in their prime, in their 20s, are expected to reach that level and I was expected to do the same.

I was training hard but knew that if I could only shed four to five kilos my chances of passing the fitness test would improve - I'd be carrying less weight and my body would take longer to get tired.

I remember looking at the mirror and thinking: "Damn. I could get rid of this quite quickly."

And so the bulimia returned.

Owens is an incredibly compelling person, not only because of his excellent communication skills and great sense of humour on the field, but also in his openness in being one of the first people in professional rugby to come out as gay, talking about his depression and suicide attempts, and now revealing his ongoing issues with an eating disorder. It's great that someone in his position is able to discuss his problems with the world and hopefully help others who suffer in similar ways.

The Panorama documentary, which should be well worth a watch, will be broadcast on BBC One at 8:30PM tomorrow night, in which the Welshman will discuss his disorder and mental health problems.

The full BBC.com column can be found here

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