Rugby referee Nigel Owens has opened up about his continued struggle with an eating disorder and the impact the Rugby World Cup had on his physical and mental well-being.
In a piece penned for the BBC, Owens reveals that his battle with bulimia was one that re-surfaced during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
As the first person in the rugby industry to come out publicly as gay, Owens, in the past, has used his profile to reach out to others who may be dealing with mental health issues.
“I’m speaking openly about it because I know that men and boys can view it as a sign of weakness by admitting there’s a problem that you can’t sort out yourself.”
He says that this, in fact, is a sign of strength and urges others to open up about their experiences with eating disorders and to reach out for help.
Revealing that disordered eating has been something he has battled since he was 18-years-old, as a young person growing up in a small town in Wales, he says adding to his struggles was a realisation that his attraction to men made him different to his friends.
“I had no idea what being gay was, I’d never even met a gay person before,” he wrote.
“Desperate not to become this person, I struggled to suppress him. I felt I was lying to my parents, the people that mattered the most to me, which went against everything I’d been taught.
“I became very 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.”
He says during this time there wasn’t a lot of public awareness of eating disorders, particularly in men.
It was following a suicide attempt – which Owens has previously opened up about – that he began to address his eating disorder and body image issues.
“I tried to come to terms with who I was, I stopped taking the steroids and tried to fight against the bulimia.
“After years of struggling with an eating disorder, it was when my beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live that I finally vowed to stop. I was 36 then. It stopped for a few years.”
He continues, “In 2015 I reached the pinnacle of my career – I refereed a World Cup Final – in a memorable match between New Zealand and Australia.
“I’m known for being a steely, authoritative and, I hope, fair referee. As I walked onto the pitch that day, no-one would have believed that I was battling the creeping return of my bulimia.”
Owens takes the opportunity in his piece to reach out to others who may be going through something similar.
“For those who are caught up in eating disorders and say there’s nothing they can do about it, I understand what they are saying because it takes you over and you feel there is nothing you can do.
“But I would urge anyone suffering to do something – seek professional advice, tell people about it, don’t hide it, don’t lie about it, that’s a great first step.
“…the more men do open up and talk about eating disorders, then the easier it’s going be to bust the stigma that this is only a female problem and, more importantly, raise awareness of the help needed to tackle this and ensure the funding is in place to provide it.”
If you, or someone you know, would like to reach out for help regarding disordered eating, there are a range of services available. Visit the Edanz website for a full list of contact details.
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
OUTLine NZ – 0800 688 5463 provides confidential telephone support for sexuality and gender diverse communities