Happy Volunteers Week!

Without a doubt, First Steps ED has played a huge role in my journey to recovery. 

From attending my first support group five years ago to today, I have so much to thank them for and can’t imagine where my path would have led without their help. 

I’m not quite where I need to be yet, but I’ve come a long way and First Steps has changed my perspective for the better whilst showing immense compassion. 

I owe them such a lot.

It’s this unwavering patience and constant support that inspires me to give something back. It’s hard to thank an organisation that have helped you turn your life around and at times nothing I could think of seemed enough. 

What I do know though, is that First Steps really values their volunteers and the contribution that they make, so giving my time to support such a worthy cause feels like a fitting way to say ‘thank you’. 

It’s not only them that benefits, volunteering has a hugely positive impact on me too in various ways…

It’s so rewarding 

I’ve had several jobs over the years but none have been as fulfilling and rewarding as the voluntary work I’ve done for First Steps. It makes me feel a sense of pride that I’ve spent my time improving peoples’ lives or educating them about eating disorders and the associated mental health difficulties. Not many of my paid roles have offered this same level of satisfaction and left me feeling like I’ve made a difference. 

I’ve made lifelong friends

My voluntary work has brought me into contact with so many fantastic, likeminded people, many of whom I now consider my closest friends. Most of First Steps’ volunteers have lived experience of an eating disorder or caring for somebody with one meaning we share a strong common bond that’s quite unique. I’ve enjoyed countless coffee dates, nights out and even a baby shower and wedding with my fellow volunteers and feel confident that we’ll all be friends for a very long time. 

I can do something I’m passionate about

Volunteering for First Steps has really ignited a passion in me to work in mental health and I doubt I would have realised it without them. When your life is touched by something for such a long time it helps you realise what truly matters to you and for me, it’s improving the lives of fellow sufferers. I love that my work with First Steps allows me to do this and when I can see the impact my efforts are making, it’s incredible. 

It’s a positive distraction

Volunteering to help others is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your own wellbeing. Studies have found that when you stop thinking about your own problems and focus on someone other than yourself, your stress levels start to decrease. I really believe that helping to empower people who may be less fortunate than myself is a great way to calm my busy mind. 

It’s given me great opportunities 

I have no doubt that without First Steps I would never have been offered the amazing opportunities I have. I’ve been entrusted to facilitate my own support groups, input into new services, write blogs and educational materials, be interviewed on the radio and speak to room-fulls of university students, mental health trainees and medical professionals. It’s been remarkable to not only experience these wonderful things but gain confidence and skills from them that will benefit me in both my career and personal life.  

If you’ve been inspired, why not consider volunteering for a charity or community group close to your heart!

G x

It’s OK not to be OK…

Today. Tomorrow. Any day.

This week may be mental health awareness week but that doesn’t mean we should stop speaking out when it ends.

The louder the conversations, the more likely we can incite positive change and make mental health services more accessible to the many not the few.

Keep talking and spreading the word.

G x

The very unglamorous and expensive side of eating disorders…

It’s not easy having an eating disorder.

For many of us sufferers we lack certain nutrients that we don’t get from food so supplements are the best way to keep as healthy as possible.

I’ve lost count of the different types I’ve tried over the years and this photo is just a snapshot of what I’ve got on the go at the moment.

There are vitamin drinks, calcium and magnesium tablets and probiotics to help keep levels high.

Digestion can commonly be all over the place too so having high fibre supplements and colon cleansers is essential. Oh the joy!

If that’s not fun enough, there are tablets and soothers for tummy cramps and bloating and some hormone regulation meds too. Not to mention the classic Fortijuices which are pretty unpleasant tasting high calorie drinks to help with meal replacement.

I dread to think how much I’ve spent on stuff like this over the years. I know it’s for the best to get in the key nutrients I don’t always get from food but not ideal or particularly sustainable.

Great motivation to get better though!

My first Eating Disorders lecture

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I want to spend my time doing things that help people and make a difference. Things that are more worthwhile.

This week I got the opportunity to present to a group of Child and Youth Studies students at the University of Derby about eating disorders in young people.

It was brilliant!

I used all of my own experience and resources from the charity I work with and put a presentation together to help the group understand these complex conditions better. I learnt a lot of new facts along the way too.

We covered the visible and less common signs that someone might be struggling as well as misconceptions and created a toolkit of skills to support a young person.

The class was so engaged, asking thoughtful and insightful questions. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

It was such a rewarding experience and the feedback was really positive. Everyone learnt something from my time with them and I really felt like I had made an impact.

I love days like this!

G x

Why we should all #DumpTheScales!

Imagine being told that your leg wasn’t broken enough to warrant treatment, despite you being unable to walk.

Or that you weren’t yet deaf enough to require hearing aids even though you could no longer make out what people were saying to you.

Eating disorders are not just about weight loss and low BMI yet people across the UK are being refused treatment for not meeting the criteria, forcing them to get worse to access much needed help.

It’s not right and action is needed!

When my problems with food started, I distinctly remember my GP saying that usually you have to join long waiting lists for therapy but given that my weight was low they might be able to see me faster.

I wasn’t yet at crisis point but I was underweight, and I had a six month gap between my initial assessment and my first appointment.

Fast forward to the present day when I sadly relapsed and went down that all too familiar path of food restriction and over-exercise, my friends were telling me to get some help quick.

“There’s no such thing.” I said, “it’s all based on your BMI and mine won’t be low enough to qualify.”

Well sadly I was both wrong and right – patients do have to meet an incredibly low BMI criteria and unfortunately I now had, allowing me to access some much needed support in a very short space of time.

Whilst there’s no doubt that the help I am now getting has been invaluable in stopping my difficulties worsening and slowly turning my thoughts and behaviours around, no-one should have to be that thin and unwell before they are taken seriously.

I know people that have long battled their eating disorders in secret and finally plucked up the courage to speak out only to be told their BMI is too high to be eligible for therapy.

Such news often leaves them with no alternative but to lose even more weight, putting their health at further risk and causing potentially irreversible damage.

Thankfully there are third sector organisations that don’t discriminate and help anyone facing difficulties with their ability to eat, body image and exercise levels. They do invaluable work and bridge the gap that NHS services commonly leave.

It goes without saying that physical health is hugely important, and when patients are either at, or fast approaching, a very low weight they clearly need urgent care. But the treatment of eating disorders should not be solely based on someone’s BMI as it so often is at the moment.

Anorexia sufferer and campaigner Hope Virgo has long fought for fairer treatment for those experiencing eating disorders and commenced her ‘dump the scales’ petition three years ago in support of this.

She needs 150,000 signatures to encourage further debates in parliament, asking the government to ensure that nobody is turned away purely on the basis of their weight.

I fully support Hope’s endeavours and encourage others to do the same here.

Please consider signing her petition to make a difference to those suffering eating disorders.

G x

This week I was on the radio!

It’s not often you find yourself being interviewed on the radio – but not every week is dedicated to eating disorders awareness either!

Last Tuesday, I was privileged and honoured to be invited onto Derby Sounds radio station to talk about Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) and how the charity I work for is marking the occasion.

I’ll let you listen for yourselves, but I was asked all about the wonderful First Steps ED and the many services they offer as well as our campaign to highlight this year’s EDAW topic of binge eating disorder and how the community can get involved.

I really enjoyed the experience and was surprised by how quickly I forgot it was actually an interview not a general chit-chat! The presenter Jayne was lovely and so easy to talk to – she made it a pleasure of an experience.

If you’d like to hear the interview and find out more about First Steps ED then please click here to listen .