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Joe Wicks shocked fans last week when he posted a picture confessing he’s an emotional EATER’

The picture was, well, more than a little startling. When the nation’s PE teacher Joe Wicks posted a photo to Instagram last week revealing to his 4.3 million followers a podgy belly and flabby ‘bingo wings’, shocked headlines swiftly followed. ‘Body coach Joe has let himself go!’ 

Just as his new book, Feel Good Food: Over 100 Healthy Family Recipes, is riding high in the UK book charts, he admitted to a rather different — if occasional — diet of his own. Chocolate cake and biscuits. Three bacon sandwiches at breakfast. Hash browns and beans. ‘It’s not very good when I’m the Body Coach, is it?’ he posted. 

The nation’s favourite PE teacher Joe Wicks (pictured) startled his followers with a post about his recent weight gain. He says that it is normal to put on weight and he is not super human

You can’t help wondering if his publishers gulped. Feel Good Food features recipes such as Roasted Spiced Apples With Oats and Strawberry Cauliflower Smoothie. There are photos of Joe with sculpted abs and glowing skin, preparing healthy dishes with wife Rosie, 31, an ex-model, daughter Indie, three, and son, Marley, two. (There’s also a new baby on the way.) 

In fact, many of us found it refreshing that the celebrity coach, who received an MBE for his services to fitness and charity at Windsor Castle last Wednesday, also battles with body image. Frankly, the nation loves him so much — one million of us tuned in to his daily fitness YouTube sessions during the pandemic and he raised £580,000 for the NHS during the first lockdown — he’d have to do something a lot worse than eat a few bacon sarnies before we switched off. 

‘I’m not perfect,’ he tells me. ‘I have days when I do emotional eating and sit on the sofa. Especially if I watch something painful on the news, or something triggers me and makes me feel really stressed and anxious. 

 In lockdown, I felt a bit down at points and I was just eating all the time

‘I tell myself: “Right, I’m going upstairs to the gym to release that energy.” But then I can also say: “You know what, I can’t face it, I’m going to make six slices of toast and eat four crumpets and two bowls of cereal.” 

‘And then I do it — because I think we turn to food in an emotional time. In lockdown, I felt a bit down at points and I was just eating all the time.’ 

Talking to me, he is surprisingly honest about falling off the wagon, admitting: ‘Last night, I had a bit of a blowout again. But rather than dwell on it, I’ll make a joke of it on social media and say: “I’m in the cupboard like a little weasel, trying to find some snacks.” I share it, and I’m really honest. 

‘But then at 6am the next day, bang the alarm goes and I’ll do a workout, get back into the mindset,’ he insists. 

So often it’s women who talk about their weight battles in public, but Joe thinks it’s important to hear about disordered eating from a male perspective. 

‘So many people can be affected by these things. It’s not just your typical female, overweight person; it could be a young, fit guy who’s also having that emotional reaction to stress, in terms of food.’ 

Joe says that he doesn't feel guilty if he has a day off his strict regime. He tells his followers that his self-worth isn't linked to his Instagram but to his family

Joe says that he doesn’t feel guilty if he has a day off his strict regime. He tells his followers that his self-worth isn’t linked to his Instagram but to his family

Recently, he watched Freddie Flintoff’s documentary about his own eating disorder. 

‘I love that guy. I met him and we’re all eating dinner together and having a drink. I would never look at him and think: “He’s got bulimia — he makes himself vomit after he eats.” 

‘But what an amazingly honest documentary to share. He was bullied by the media for his size, and it’s terrible that he was going through that when he was the best cricket player in the world.’ 

Although Joe is now the king of quinoa and sweet potatoes, he grew up on a limited diet. He’s been very open about his father’s battles with drug addiction, while his mother suffered from OCD and had an eating disorder. 

She was 17 when she had his brother, Nikki, and 19 when she had Joe. The family lived on an Epsom council estate. ‘I was born in 1985,’ he says. ‘My mum and dad were on benefits and the cupboards were full of junk food. 

‘There was very little fruit or vegetables. I remember eating cereal for dinner for years. 

‘There was a lot of shouting and dysfunction. Today, for my own kids, I want to create a very calm environment.’ 

Later, when his friends were boozing, Joe was at the gym. He did a degree in Sports Science and became a personal trainer. 

He also began educating himself about food, whipping up healthy meals on Instagram, where he dubbed broccoli ‘baby trees’. He has a good relationship with his father now but has acknowledged his dad will always be an addict. 

‘He relapses all the time.’ 

And you sense Joe sometimes falls back on old eating habits, waking up with a ‘food hangover’. 

 People want to feel good — it’s not enough just to lose weight

‘If I eat a tub of ice cream, which I love and can do quite easily, I wake up in the middle of the night with cramps. My body cannot digest that much sugar, cream and fat in one go.’ 

He feels no guilt about letting his strict regime slip. ‘If I think: “Right, I’m going to have a blowout tonight,” I accept I’ll come in for a bit of discomfort in the evening. It’s very rare, but when I do it, I’m so glad that I don’t have to feel that every day. 

‘A lot of people go through their lives never really knowing what it’s like to feel good — or energised — from food. Maybe they don’t know how to cook and aren’t that confident in the kitchen.’ 

If you’re eating junk, processed foods every day, drinking alcohol every day and not putting good nutrition in your body, then you’re ‘just coasting through life’, he adds. ‘With my book, I’m trying to change the narrative a bit.’ 

In recent videos, we see Joe is back at his HIIT workouts. He can snap into incredible shape in a matter of months. He no longer sees exercise as a physical thing but as a vital tool for mental health. 

And he’s had a 360-degree shift about dieting. ‘In the early days, it was all about fat loss and body transformation. But I’ve realised now the thing that keeps people coming back is the mental health benefits of exercise and food — how it can help their relationships and how they feel about themselves. 

‘People want to feel good: it’s not enough just to want to lose weight any more.’ Joe can lose the toned look on occasion, but he’s never been overweight because he’s so active. Even so, he says it’s important for him to show he’s not some superhuman, perfect eater every day. 

Toned or flabby, Joe’s mantra is to be honest. ‘My self-worth isn’t linked to my Instagram followers. If I lost my car, my motorbike and my guitar, it would suck, but intrinsically I’m anchored to my wife, my kids and Mum and Dad. 

‘If you can focus on that and not be bound to material things, you’re always going to be OK because your family will be there for you.’

  • Feel Good Food by Joe Wicks (£20, HarperCollins) is out now.