Andrew Flintoff has disclosed for the first time his battle with an eating disorder, recalling how he once lost almost 21/2 stone by repeatedly forcing himself to be sick.
In an emotional documentary to be broadcast next Thursday, the retired England all-rounder also explained that his controversial boxing match later this month against American Richard Dawson would help him to purge memories of childhood bullying.
The 34 year-old, who has been placed on a strict diet for the bout by trainer Barry McGuigan, admitted that his health struggle was born of a self-consciousness about his weight and that it coincided with his period of touring with England.
"I would stick my fingers down my throat to make myself sick," Flintoff said. "Even after I had gone to good restaurants I would do it. I ended up losing about 15kg (33lb). It became a very difficult habit to shake myself out of."
A spokesperson for the National Centre for Eating Disorders said: "It is well known that men get eating disorders, too - look at John Prescott. This is a condition more likely to occur in someone who has poor body image or shaky self-esteem."
Flintoff has had to be disciplined with his diet in readiness for the fight. "Once I would have dipped into my kids' meals for fish fingers, chips and beans," he said. "Now I have to make myself eat steak at 6am."
Flintoff, in a move condemned by boxing promoter Frank Maloney as "dangerous nonsense", has been granted a professional licence to fight Dawson, an undefeated heavyweight from Oklahoma, at the Manchester Evening News Arena on Nov 30.
Denying that the occasion was a stunt, Flintoff claimed instead that he wanted to bury the trauma of being bullied during his school days.
"I had a very rough time at school," he said, in the Sky One programme Flintoff: From Lord's to the Ring. "I wanted to play cricket and I frequently got knocked around because of it. I really wanted to retaliate but for some reason I couldn't make myself. So I want to put that side of my life to bed a little bit."
At a preview screening yesterday at London's Soho Theatre, he said: "If I was going to do a stunt, I would have picked something a lot easier. I'm just getting my head down and doing the best I can."
McGuigan, whose contacts have allowed Flintoff to receive instruction from Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard, also disputed Maloney's contention that the fight with Dawson would "cheapen" the sport. "It's the direct opposite," he argued. "Freddie is promoting boxing. We could have chosen to do amateur, white-collar stuff, but that isn't real. This is."
Flintoff also uses the programme to make a veiled broadside at former England team-mates who have since taken up careers in cricket commentating. He said: "I could have taken the easy option, saying 'Coming into bat for England at No?3' But no, I go and get my head kicked in instead." The documentary marks the latest stage in his emotional unburdening, after he presented a BBC special earlier this year about his ordeal with depression.
Of the transition to boxing, he admitted: "I have always loved the sport, from when I followed Tyson and Frank Bruno in the Eighties. But I never expected it to be this hard."
The portents for success in Flintoff's fight with Dawson are uncertain. In 2007, Olympian James Cracknell faced Kiwi cricketer Kerry Walmsley in a charity match and was knocked out after 45 seconds.