Kamloops woman will ask city council to proclaim Feb. 1-7 as Eating Disorder Awareness Week

A Kamloops woman wants to fill council chambers next week.

Marlene Hibbs will be making a short presentation to city council, asking that Feb. 1 to 7 be proclaimed as Eating Disorder Awareness Week. (The city has made the proclamation in the past.)

“People who suspect they have (an eating disorder), know someone who has it or wants to advocate for mental health (are invited),” she tells KamloopsMatters.

Hibbs speaks from personal experience, having lived with an eating disorder for more than 21 years. She says it was only at the age of 26 she came to terms with her disorder and realized she needed to address it.

“I think it started when I had witnessed a lot of abuse in the home,” she says. “At 12, I remember wanting to kill myself. I was binge eating.”

Hibbs would eventually fall into exercise and diet, in an unhealthy way.

“I would limit my calories and I would do cabbage soup diets. And then when I couldn’t conform to those ideologies, body fascism is sort of what was happening in my mind. Whatever dictator suited the disease was where I would put my focus.”

That “body fascism” involved constant policing and supervising of her eating habits, adds Hibbs.

“It chips away at you. You lose your identity and you become the disease. It’s like a really slow and smart insidious virus,” she says. “When you (become) aware of what you’re doing, the disease adapts with you. It can hide for a long time. Some women don’t know they have it for 50 years, and they’re 70 years old and they’re just realizing they’ve lived a whole life that didn't represent who they are.”

Hibbs also got into figure competitions (the contests where women show off their physique in bikinis).

“When you start losing weight, people celebrate you,” she says. “It’s a virtue. Some people give you attention and that’s a positive reinforcement for something that’s so negative. When you start losing that, you’ll push it harder.”

While she loves body building, Hibbs says it became something she hurt herself with. Today, she speaks out against the sport, even though she became a competitor at the provincial level.

“You sacrifice everything about your life for four months, diet really hard and then you present yourself to judges who will look at you for maybe a minute, and it costs thousands of dollars. And then you’re completely shattered if you don’t win.”

When it comes to accessing mental health services in Kamloops, Hibbs says she’s run into barriers and has had to advocate for her own self-care.

“You don’t thrive, you just survive.”

She hopes by having the city proclaim an Eating Disorder Awareness Week, it will shed light on mental health and the stigma surrounding it.

“There’s not enough education. There are a lot of barriers to face in terms of getting a diagnosis. The diagnosis needs to change. I want to address the municipality’s responsibility to it, the provincial responsibility and the country’s responsibility.

“The biggest challenge is that it’s encouraged by culture. … because we’re dieting.”

Hibbs is aiming to get not only Kamloops onboard with the proclamation, but all B.C. cities. She says she’ll be reaching out to people in every community to encourage them to address their local council and make the same proclamation.

“I’m calling for a provincewide movement where everyone in the province who feels afflicted with this disease, from Feb. 1 to 7, get to their health-care provider and begin a conversation for care.”

Anyone who wishes to support Hibbs can attend the council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4. The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. City hall is located at 7 Victoria St. West.

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