John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, was praised by health experts yesterday after revealing that he had fought a secret battle for years against an eating disorder usually associated with young women.
In a frank admission that he struggles with bulimia, Mr Prescott, 69, said doctors blamed the stress of his political career for exacerbating his troubled relationship with food.
"I'm sure it was to do with stress. I wasn't doing it all the time, and there would be gaps of weeks and months, but during those years when we first got into power, I let things get on top of me and took refuge in stuffing my face," he said.
"It became my main pleasure, having access to my comfort food. So what I did was stuff my face with anything around, any old rubbish: burgers, chocolate, crisps, fish and chips, loads of it, till I felt sick – but at least I'd had the pleasure of feeling really full. Then there would be a weird kind of pleasure in vomiting and feeling relieved."
Other people might have taken to drink, said Mr Prescott. But he would "scoff" a whole packet of digestives. "I could sup a whole tin of Carnation Condensed Milk just for the taste... Marks and Spencer's trifles... I can eat them forever. Whenever I go to Mr Chu's in Hull, my favourite Chinese restaurant... I could eat my way through the entire menu."
He admitted he had occasionally binged on official buffets, but had made himself sick afterwards. "I'd go to the toilet after guzzling, put a finger down my throat and make it all come up," he said. The revelation, in a Sunday newspaper that is serialising his memoirs, came as a surprise to former cabinet colleagues but was known to a small circle of his friends.
"I've never confessed it before. Out of shame, I suppose, or embarrassment, or because it's such a strange thing for someone like me to confess to," he said. "People normally associate it with young women – anorexic girls, models trying to keep their weight down, or women in stressful situations like Princess Diana."
Mr Prescott, who resigned last June and is retiring as an MP at the next election, said people would not have suspected he was bulimic because he put on weight nonetheless.
"But of course that wasn't the main reason it started," he added. "It was at its worst during the years when we first came to power and I was running a very big department but had already begun some years earlier. I was working too hard, putting in long days... [up to] 18 hours of solid work." Eventually his wife, Pauline, persuaded him to seek help from a doctor, who put him in touch with a specialist.
Eating disorder experts praised Mr Prescott's bravery. A consultant psychiatrist, Dr Ty Glover, said Mr Prescott's confession would help other men with eating disorders. "It's hard enough for a young girl to confess to, but for a high-profile male politician approaching 70, it's especially impressive," he said.