Gary Barlow health: Take That star on his ’10 year’ recovery from bulimia – symptoms

Gary Barlow teases new music and a tour from Take That

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The pop group who formed in 1990 shot to fame with singles like Back For Good, and have continued their success with more recent releases like Greatest Day. Across the years the band have achieved 56 number one singles internationally, and even after Robbie Williams left the band in 1995, the quartet kept succeeding. But back in 2018, the lead singer and songwriter opened up about the eating disorder he developed during the band’s nine-year break.

Talking on ITV’s Lorraine, Barlow said that his battle with bulimia – an eating disorder where individuals go through periods of bingeing and then making themselves sick – developed as he wanted to “kill off the popstar,” he was once known as.

Having received minimal support for his second album back in 1999, Barlow quit singing altogether. The tough change in his career led him to start piling on weight, in a bid to make sure fans couldn’t recognise him in public.

“Not being recognised felt wonderful. The more weight I put on, the easier life became. Fat, I was invisible,” he said in a past interview where he recalled the start of his health condition.

From there, binge eating became a serious problem for Barlow, who would gorge on a whole host of foods including baked potatoes, pasta, cereal as well as a whopping 19 cups of coffee and cola a day.

In a bit to hide his eating disorder from his family, Barlow would then make himself sick in the toilet of his recording studio.

“I’d go back to bed and lie awake… my heart racing, sore throat, worrying and overstimulated. I can never sleep after I’ve done it,” he added

Continuing to say that he had grown to “hate himself” during this time, he added: “The first time I did it, it took me 15 minutes to get the job done – now it takes me 30 seconds.

“With every day and every binge, I am eating the pop star to death.”

Due to his disorder, Barlow rocketed in weight and at his heaviest weighed 17 stone. In his autobiography, A Better Me which was released in 2018, Barlow spoke openly about his struggles with bulimia, confessing: “Some people self-medicate with drink or drugs; I just eat and eat and eat.”

As well as eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time (bingeing), symptoms of bulimia can include the following:

  • Making yourself vomit, using laxatives, or doing an extreme amount of exercise after a binge to avoid putting on weight – this is called purging
  • Fear of putting on weight
  • Being very critical about your weight and body shape
  • Mood changes – for example, feeling very tense or anxious.

The Mayo Clinic explains that although most individuals with bulimia appear to be a “normal weight,” they may suffer from other concerning symptoms that happen as a result of the disorder. These can include damaged teeth or gums, swelling in the hands and feet, facial and cheek swelling, sores on their knuckles or hands.

Getting help and support for bulimia as soon as possible is critical for the best chance of recovery from the condition, something that can take a lengthy period of time.

Speaking about his own recovery, Barlow added: “2003 – it was the day when I just went, ‘No, I’m not having this anymore, I’m going to change. I want to change and I’m determined that this is not who I’ve become’.

“It only took a few years to get that low, but it took me years to get back to who I wanted to be. 10 years probably.”

More recently in 2021, Barlow spoke again about his complex relationship with food and the dietary changes he made to lose unwanted weight. Speaking with James Corden he said: “I had a rough period with food that I’m not proud of, where I really lost control of myself.

“I remember one particular day just thinking: ‘How have I got here?’ I was just so disappointed with myself. I turned my brain on to sorting out what I ate. The trouble is the food I love – Chinese, chips, crisps. They were giving me a couple of minutes of a food coma, taking me out of the real world. It’s just not good, that.”

In order to cut out his bad habits, Barlow decided to keep a food diary, a tip he recommends for anyone else who is trying to control their weight.

Recovery for bulimia is different for every individual and can involve both therapy and antidepressant medication. The first, psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or involves discussing your bulimia and related issues with a mental health professional in order to help improve symptoms.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular talking therapies and helps individuals to normalise their eating patterns and identify “unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviours to replace them with healthy positive ones,” according to The Mayo Clinic.

In addition to this, individuals can be supported through nutritional education. This often involves creating an eating plan to help individuals eat healthier and how best to avoid hunger or cravings.

For more support on eating disorders, contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 (England only) or email: help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk

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