LONDON – Britain's former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who was known for his tough guy image, said Sunday that he has secretly struggled with bulimia for decades.
Prescott, 69, wrote in The Sunday Times that he used to gorge on vast amounts of food and then force himself to vomit.
"It's such a strange thing for someone like me to confess to," Prescott wrote. "People normally associate it with young women, anorexic girls, models trying to keep their weight down, or women in stressful situations, like Princess Diana."
Outside of Britain, former Prime Minister Tony Blair's deputy is perhaps best known for socking a heckler in the jaw after being hit by an egg during the 2001 election campaign. Images of the punch were broadcast around the world.
Prescott, who stepped down 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 lawmaker. Binge eating became a tactic for coping with stress from overwork.
"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, til I felt sick," he said.
"Then there would be a weird kind of pleasure in vomiting and feeling relieved," he said.
Although 90 percent 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.
Prescott's wife finally persuaded him to seek help in 1991, but he was still struggling 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.
"It's hard enough for a young girl to confess to, but for a high profile male politician approaching 70, it's especially impressive," said Dr. Ty Glover, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders.
Prescott is still a member of parliament, but does not plan to run in the next election.