SHAME and anxiety issues plague women who suffer from eating disorders – and actor Christopher Eccleston has revealed he has been haunted by the same demons.
Showing how men can also fall victim to anorexia, the former Doctor Who star has laid bare the brutal struggle that took him to the brink of suicide and left him hospitalised.
Christopher Eccleston has laid bare his brutal anorexia struggle[/caption]
He says in his new autobiography: “Many times I’ve wanted to reveal that I’m a lifelong anorexic.
“I never have. I always thought of it as a filthy secret, because I’m northern, because I’m male and because I’m working class.”
During his successful career, Christopher has won an Emmy for his role in Jimmy McGovern’s BBC courtroom drama Accused and appeared in Hollywood films including Thor: The Dark World.
But the 55-year-old actor — also known for roles in Our Friends In The North, Clocking Off and Shallow Grave — can trace his body issues back to a time long before he was famous.
The former Doctor Who star was left hospitalised due to the condition[/caption]
At just six, he would look in the mirror and see only his “pot belly and knobbly knees”.
Growing up in Salford, Gtr Manchester, he felt inferior to his twin brothers, Alan and Keith. He thought the siblings, who were eight years older, were better looking than him.
It was around this time that he stopped eating properly — partly as an act of rebellion against his domineering dad Ronnie, who died of dementia in 2012.
In his book, Christopher also talks about mum Elsie as well as his relationship with his father — and says he now recognises Ronnie had mental health issues of his own.
I hated my physical appearance, because no matter what I did, I was still fat and ugly
As he got older, Christopher’s body dysmorphia worsened.
By the time he was accepted into drama school in 1983, he was convinced he did not look like an actor and lost a stone and a half in preparation — even though he was a perfectly normal weight.
Feeling out of place at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, he would look in the mirror and see just fat despite being skeletal.
He writes in his book I Love The Bones Of You: “I hated my physical appearance, because no matter what I did, I was still fat and ugly.”
Christopher would run ten miles, seven days a week[/caption]
So he would eat two bread rolls with hummus in the morning then nothing else for the rest of the day.
One day he skipped breakfast and was so ravenously hungry by the evening that he devoured a slice of Ryvita too quickly and almost choked to death.
Around this time, he started dating a woman with similar issues with food and they became “co-dependent”.
Embarrassed Christopher felt “emasculated to be suffering from what I felt at the time to be a female condition” and would not seek help for it.
He struggled for two years to find acting work after leaving drama school. Despite his body issues, he did some naked modelling for extra cash.
Then, in 1991, his career took off with the lead role in British true-crime movie Let Him Have It — but he remained in the grip of anorexia.
Surviving on just a couple of sandwiches a day, he would run ten miles, seven days a week.
At the same time he was smoking and drinking heavily, explaining: “I didn’t care how many calories. I loved getting drunk.
My life was a ten-mile run, a tiny meal, then two bottles of red wine
“Alcohol, sex and performing all offered a release from the torment of the rest of the day.”
Unable to eat in front of others, he became increasingly isolated.
He revealed: “My life was a ten-mile run, a tiny meal, then two bottles of red wine. Wake up and repeat.”
Even when he landed Doctor Who’s lead role in 2005 — becoming the ninth incarnation of the Time Lord and making a hit of the BBC’s reboot of the show — Christopher admits: “I was very ill. But the reward for that illness was the part.”
Christopher starred in the BBC’s Our Friends In The North[/caption]
He left after only one series and fell out with the Beeb, later claiming: “They put me on a blacklist.”
A crisis point came in 2015 following a traumatic split from Mischka, his wife of four years.
Living in hotels and afraid he had lost touch with son Albert and daughter Esme — now seven and six — he developed “extreme anxiety, convinced I was either going to die or kill myself.”
His situation became so desperate that he rang a London psychiatric hospital one night and ran there in the rain at 1am.
Christopher out with his children Albert and Esme[/caption]
But he lasted only one night inside as he was convinced he needed to return to the set of 2016 BBC drama The A Word, which he was shooting at the time.
After filming finished, he went back to the hospital, where he was put on 24-hour watch when staff realised he was writing his will.
Doctors asked if he had ever made plans to commit suicide and he said no, although a month previously he had been at a railway station and momentarily considered jumping in front of a train. Throughout all this, a new TV job was looming.
The second series of ITV crime drama Safe House was set to start filming in the Lake District and producers were concerned as to whether Christopher would make it.
Knowing his reputation was at stake, Christopher hoped he would be ready, but on the way to a pre-filming engagement he had a breakdown which left him “reduced to an animal state”.
After that, he checked into The Priory in Altrincham, Gtr Manchester, where he was finally given a proper diagnosis. The doctor told him he had severe clinical depression — but that he would get better. And after an extended stay and heavy medication, Christopher recovered.
He recalls bursting into tears after being reunited with his two kids after six months.
Eating disorder charity Beat praised Eccleston for helping to “combat the stigma” surrounding men and boys who suffer from anorexia and bulimia. Males are believed to make up 25 per cent of sufferers — but only 14 per cent of those who seek help.
What is anorexia nervosa and what are the signs and symptoms?
Anorexia nervosa, often known as just anorexia, is a very serious mental health condition which causes the person to restrict the amount they eat.
The sufferer of the eating disorder aims to keep their body weight as low as possible by avoiding food, vomiting or exercising excessively.
The condition usually affects girls and women, however, recently it has started affecting more boys and usually it develops at around 16 or 17 years old.
Despite being less common than some other conditions, anorexia is one of the leading causes of mental health-related deaths – as a result of malnutrition or suicide.
Usually, a sufferer will go to great lengths to disguise the fact they are not eating or pretending they have eaten already.
But if you suspect someone is battling the condition there are a few signs to look out for, according to the NHS. These include:
- Missing meals, eating very little or avoiding eating any fatty foods
- Obsessively counting calories in food
- Leaving the table immediately after eating so they can vomit
- Taking appetite suppressants, laxatives, or diuretics (a type of medication that helps remove fluid from the body)
- Repeatedly weighing themselves or checking their body in the mirror
- Physical problems, such as feeling lightheaded or dizzy, hair loss, or dry skin.
Around 50 per cent of people with anorexia will continue to have some level of eating problems, even after treatment.
For more information, or to seek help, please visit eating disorder charity Beat’s website.
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Today, Christopher is still on the antidepressants he says saved his life, although he hopes to come off them eventually.
He says: “I would like to attempt slowly to reduce the dose. And yet, interestingly, I have received some of the best reviews of my life since I started taking them.” But he has learned to look at his breakdown as a source of strength.
He says: “I wouldn’t wish clinical depression on my worst enemy, but it launched me into a new, positive and different life.”
- I Love The Bones Of You by Christopher Eccleston, is out Wednesday (Simon & Schuster, £20)
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