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Iona’s ‘Beads4Beat’

I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 2018, but issues with my relationship to my body have been a continual struggle since I was a child. I was very insecure about my weight whilst at Primary School; I remember losing sleep and crying over compulsory weighing school when I was ten. When I started University, my body image and eating habits got worse, but I was in denial. My self-esteem was low, and my perfectionism meant I never felt good enough.

When I first saw a doctor about my concerns about my relationship with food, I was dismissed based on weight. I was left to deteriorate before I received medical input. For me, Beat’s campaign on early intervention for eating disorders is crucial. I came up against a lot of unhelpful stigmas which left me feeling hopeless. During this interim, Beat helped me so much by giving me someone to talk to and helping me realise that I wasn’t as alone as anorexia made me feel.

Receiving help involved a lot of jumping through hoops, but I am grateful for the professionals who did help me. I was lucky that my university’s mental health services worked hard to keep me afloat and carry on with my studies. I found COVID difficult to navigate with an eating disorder, but I was lucky to have a doctor who advocated for me, continually checked in with how I was coping, and pushed to get me the support I needed. Not everyone is fortunate enough to receive this input, which is why it is so important to advocate for people with eating disorders.

It took me a while to open to people and be honest about my struggle with anorexia. The first time I brought it up to the people in my life, I wrote out a message and gave it to them and answered all their questions once they finished reading it. It felt easier to bring up my struggle with a message so that I didn’t overthink it and keep it a secret for any longer. It was a relief to behonest and open with people so that they could support me on my journey. It’s been a long and difficult journey, but it’s been so worth it. It’s an amazing feeling to be in active recovery and beginning to live a life without being in the grasp of anorexia.

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I started Beads 4 Beat during eating disorder awareness week in 2019. I’d been making bracelets for my friends and I as a way to keep myself occupied after mealtimes during my recovery. I found it therapeutic and before I knew it, I had enough bracelets to go up to my elbows! I didn’t want to stop making bracelets, so I decided to start fundraising. Initially I was only going to do it for the week with the aim of raising £100. Much to my surprise, I hit my target after two days. I decided that I’d keep going whilst people were interested. The project grew from there, and I’m so thankful for the support I’ve received; it’s truly wonderful to raise money for a charity that means so much to me whilst doing something I love.

Every order comes with bracelets and handmade postcards of positivity. The bracelets are customisable: you get to pick the words and colours. Some people like surprises, which is always fun! Some of my personal favourite designs are “be here to see it”, “I will beat it”, and “do it for you”. These messages speak to me on my own journey. I always keep the person who orders in mind and pick out a postcard which I feel suits their order. Someone once said to me that the cards felt like a message from the universe, and that’s the positivity and hope I want to spread. I write a personalised note to everyone who places an order to give them the hope and positivity that I wanted to hear when I was in the depths of anorexia. I want to spread some light in other people’s darkness and encourage them to keep fighting because it will get better.

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Order requests vary so much that it always keeps me on my toes. Whether orders are mental health related or something completely different and out there, I love making bracelets. Beads 4 Beat started at the beginning of my recovery journey and helped me grow and continue to commit to recovery. The messages of hope I give to others helps remind me why it’s worth it to keep challenging anorexia.

It’s important to raise awareness about eating disorders because there are so many misperceptions around the lived experience. Stereotypes are harmful to those who are struggling; it’s important to make people aware that eating disorders don’t discriminate - anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of gender, weight, race, and sexuality. Raising awareness about eating disorders helps challenge diet culture and draws attention to the damaging way diet culture impacts people’s relationships with food. Having an eating disorder can be such an isolating experience for both sufferers and their friends and family. Knowing that there are resources out there to provide help is crucial for those who may be feeling helpless. This awareness helps people realise they aren’t alone and proves that recovery is possible.

My big piece of advice for people who want to start fundraising is to take the leap and do it! Whether you’ve had an experience with an eating disorder, you know someone who has, or you just want to start raising money for a good cause — Beat is the perfect charity to fundraise for. The fundraising team are always on hand with advice to start your fundraising journey. There are so many ways to raise money and it’s a good idea to do something you enjoy. When your passion about your fundraising shines through, it inspires others to donate and starts the conversation around eating disorders.

Iona’s “Beads4Beat” have now raised £2,460. Check out her Just Giving page here.