Nigel Owens Opens About His Battle With Illness
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Welsh referee Nigel Owens has revealed he has been battling a devastating eating disorder for almost three decades.
The former World Referee of the Year has suffered with bulimia nervosa since the age of 18. The condition even affected him during England’s tour of Argentina last month, when he estimates he made himself sick “three to four times” during the two-week tour.
Owens will tell his story on BBC’s Panorama programme on Monday night, explaining that his battle began when he was trying to come to terms with his sexuality.
I was overweight, about 16.5 stone (105 kg).” Owens said
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.
I loved food then as much as I do now. I’d eat all I wanted then go the loo and make myself sick. I suffered from mild colitis, a bowel condition, so would use that as an ideal excuse to friends when I had to slip off to the toilet all the time. I was lying and being sly which only exacerbated my depression.
Before long I was bringing up every meal I ate. Over a period of four months, I’d lost five stone.
No-one suspected a thing. I was running and training a lot and my friends and family could see me scoffing food every mealtime, so as far as they were concerned I was eating well. I was training hard so outwardly I looked fit and healthy.
Before long, Owens then thought he was too skinny and resorted to using steroids.
In my eyes, I was now too thin and now thought “no-one I find attractive is ever going to find me attractive while I’m skinny”.
So I went to the gym and began using steroids. I became hooked on them for the next seven, eight years.
Mental health issues, depression over my sexuality, bulimia and steroids – my life was an unrelenting nightmare.
I was broken.
In 2015 the illness returned, ahead of the biggest day of his professional life.
In the run up to the Rugby World Cup, I’d been under huge pressure to reach certain fitness levels – you have to reach an advanced level on the Yo-Yo Endurance Test (a variation on the bleep test used to measure physical fitness).
Fitness expectations are extremely high, particularly for somebody who was 44 years of age. Bear in mind international athletes in their prime, in their 20s, are expected to reach that level and I was expected to do the same.
I was training hard but knew that if I could only shed four to five kilos my chances of passing the fitness test would improve – I’d be carrying less weight and my body would take longer to get tired.
I remember looking at the mirror and thinking: “Damn. I could get rid of this quite quickly.”
And so the bulimia returned.
The Panorama documentary will be broadcast on BBC One at 8:30pm tomorrow night. A must watch.