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  • hannahhickinbotham

#DumpTheScales Eating Disorder March

I want people to be able to receive the treatment they deserve without things getting worse before they can get better.

I was diagnosed with anorexia in 2021. However, I had struggled with my relationship with food and my body for a while before this. In 2018, I was referred to the eating disorder service. I was told that I didn’t have an eating disorder, but it was just a way of coping, and I would need to live with it. At this time, I had managed to reach a “healthy” weight (according to BMI), and I feel like that contributed to my eating disorder being dismissed.

3 years later, in 2021, I was referred again. The only difference between these 2 referrals was my eating disorder's impact on my physical health. Mentally, things were the same for both assessments, but the second time around my weight was much lower than before. I can’t help but wonder if I had the help and support 3 years earlier, would it have benefited me and my recovery now?

The first-ever eating disorder march in the UK was organised by Hope Virgo and held on May 20th. As soon as I heard the march was happening, I knew I would have to participate. As someone in recovery from anorexia, I know how challenging it can be to receive the appropriate support when an eating disorder develops, and I wanted to contribute to helping others have access to this timely support.

The march itself

The experience was a roller coaster ride of emotions. It was incredible to see such a large turnout and the support everyone received. Eating disorders can be extremely isolating and lonely. However, being able to meet so many incredible people and being around people who just get it, made me realise what an encouraging community I am part of. It was so wonderful to share stories and conversations with everyone and to hold onto the hope that recovery really is 100% possible.

It's also very critical to recognise the people who couldn’t be there with us at the march as they had been let down by the system which was supposed to care for them. This was a heartbreaking realisation and made me realise how much this change needs to happen.

The sense of community and togetherness was so strong, and you could feel our commitment to keep fighting for those who were no longer here and for future generations. Together, I know we will be heard because this community is so full of strength and dedication.

Why was the march significant?

It is so important to change awareness and stigma around eating disorders. No matter how much you weigh, everyone should have access to support and care if food and body cause distress in their lives.

The battle someone faces with an eating disorder occurs in the minds of those suffering, and this pain cannot be seen. Individuals will express this pain in several ways, and weight should not be the single deciding factor for whether someone deserves support or not.

Weight restoration will be required for some people, and regular eating patterns are required for all, but this is just a subsection of recovery. Just because someone has reached a “weight restored” BMI, doesn't mean they are recovered. For some people, an underweight BMI may have never been an aspect of recovery, so how could you suggest a weight-restored BMI highlights a recovered individual? Recovery from an eating disorder takes mental effort. The things that need to be addressed in someone’s recovery vary, highlighting the necessity for individualised training. The body recovers faster than the mind itself.

I believe that the march was incredibly meaningful because eating disorders are deadly, regardless of whether you are underweight or not. Weight shouldn’t be a factor when determining if someone receives support or not for a mental illness. People certainly shouldn’t die from an eating disorder in 2023! Eating disorders are treatable illnesses and we are losing far too many people to eating disorders because the system has given up hope and doesn’t have enough resources to support these individuals.

Hopes for the future and our community

My hope for the future is that by sharing my recovery journey, including all the ups and downs, I will show people that recovery is possible. I hope one day I can say I am recovered and show people what recovery means. Going forward, I will use my experience to grow as an individual. I will use my Instagram page to keep making noise, raising awareness, and making a difference by bringing change to the eating disorder community.

To find out more about Gemma Cook, you can follow her on Instagram & Twitter @gemfightsback.

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