Former British deputy PM struggled with bulimia

Britain's former deputy prime minister John Prescott says he has secretly struggled with the eating disorder bulimia for decades.

Britain's former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who was known for his tough guy image, said on Sunday that he has secretly struggled with the eating disorder bulimia for decades.   

Prescott wrote in the Sunday Times newspaper that he used to gorge on vast amounts of food and then force himself to vomit.

Speaking on Sunday, the 69-year-old said he had never admitted to having bulimia out of "shame and embarrassment" and that "I found it difficult as a man like me, to admit that I suffered from bulimia."

Outside of Britain, former prime minister Tony Blair's deputy is perhaps best known for hitting a heckler in the jaw after being struck by an egg during the 2001 election campaign.

Images of the punch were broadcast around the world.   

Prescott, who stepped down as deputy prime minister in June, made the admission before the publication of his memoirs next month.

He said he first struggled with the eating disorder in the early 1980s when he became a front-line opposition politician.

Binge eating became a tactic for coping with stress from overwork.

Political journalist Nicholas Jones recalled he would always see Prescott eating.

"I can remember interviewing him and you would go to his hotel bedroom before a speech, there would be all his pages laid out on the bed, and a great stack of sandwiches. So yes, he was a compulsive eater but the thought that he was somehow eating because it was a disorder and then being sick afterwards, I never ever got the slightest indication," said Jones.

Although 90 per cent of bulimia sufferers are women, experts say growing numbers of men are contacting support groups for help.

Bulimia nervosa literally means "the nervous hunger of an ox" and is characterized by binge eating, often immediately followed by vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise.

Psychiatrist Ty Glover commented on the news of Prescott's condition, saying, "I have never seen a man of his age present in my outpatient clinic. I have seen younger men present in clinic and they fall in about 10 per cent of the population, but not a man of his age."

Prescott's wife finally persuaded him to seek help in 1991, but he was still struggling with the condition when he became deputy prime minister in 1997.

Since resigning as deputy Labour party leader last year he said he has not had bulimia-related problems.

Eating disorder experts praised Prescott's bravery for speaking openly about his problem.

Prescott is still a member of Parliament, but does not plan to run in the next election.