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In Digital Discussion With: Zoe Burnett

Zoe Burnett, who had been ignored and mistreated by doctors for years, has found her own set point, and she’s the happiest and healthiest she’s ever been…

Zoe joined the TEDxBrayfordPool stage in September 2019, at our flagship event, talking about her experience with atypical anorexia and recovery. She’s now a proactive mental health advocate, having spoken on ITV News Calendar, having had words in the Metro and other publications. She calls herself the Barefoot Rebel and is a BEAT representative. Outside of her advocacy career she’s also a Early Childhood Practitioner for Action for Children!

I stand beside her making imaginary coffee at an imaginary TEDx event.

“Hello Zoe, who are you?”

“I am Zoe Burnett, a mental health advocate, author and international public speaker. I am better known as the “Barefoot Rebel” thanks to strange grounding techniques I use whilst speaking. I am a strong advocate for set point theory and encourage others to ditch the diets and respect their bodies. I was diagnosed with Atypical Anorexia Nervosa in 2018, however it should have been a lot sooner, I struggled needlessly for years, undiagnosed as I was deemed “not slim enough” to be suffering from an eating disorder. I was not living, simply existing in a whirlwind of self-hatred which I took out on my body. I nearly lost my life to this illness and now fight hard for others to seek help. Eating disorders do not discriminate; anyone can struggle at any size, gender and race. Everyone deserves help.”

“Awesome! I totally agree! What would you say first inspired you to give a TEDx Talk?”

“We used to watch TED talks whilst I was in treatment; there was a group session I had to attend three days a week. I remember all the talks we watched were focused on anorexia recovery; I felt I could not connect as it was not my diagnosis. Even though the struggles were the same, the label and weight stigma was not. I remember joking that one day I would change that and do a TEDx talk myself but focus on atypical anorexia. I joked, because I never saw myself doing it, however fate decided otherwise.”

“How has the experience helped you to develop professionally or personally?”

“I have a thriving career as a public speaker; I have appeared on TV, podcasts, radio and had published articles as well as been given the opportunity to write a book. It all started on that red dot. I am so much more confident and now I have found my voice, I will not stop using it. I have the confidence to be myself and learnt that I am enough; I do not need to try and be someone else, someone ‘better’. I am no longer a passive quiet mouse hiding in the background.”

”Like myself, you’ve been sickened by some of the policies and language used by the government recently to ‘tackle obesity’. Could you explain the situation for our readers and why they are harmful?”

“First of all there is nothing wrong with my body, I am overweight, and the need to "tackle" me sounds very threatening.”

Nodding fervently as I read this and blast out a quick agreement.

“The schemes they are creating assume a one size fits all approach, completely ignoring the fact that genetics play a role in weight, medications and illnesses also impact weight. Dieting is not the answer. And also 95 - 97% of these diets fail, with participants regaining the weight lost or more after two years. They are not sustainable in the long term. Simply putting calories on the menus will not be helpful either, everyone's bodies work differently and everyone needs different amounts a day. Saying X amount for men and X amount for woman is not a helpful approach. The conversations this will encourage around the dining table is scary, imagine your child sat there and hearing you talk about how you ‘shouldn't eat this’ or needing to ‘burn off’ everything you eat, we will create a generation obsessed with this style of thinking which will lead to eating disorders, which is already evident as they are on the rise.

For those in eating disorder recovery, it is normalising unhealthy behaviours. I have been in solid recovery for over two years, and I can not help but be drawn into some of these strategies, which for me could lead to life threatening complications. However I am currently overweight so being targeted by these schemes daily with no regard that actually, I am healthier at an overweight BMI then in my ideal range. A one size fits all approach will not work, and will only install negativity and shame in many who may already be vulnerable.”

”You mentioned that your TED Talk sprang you onto some pretty impressive achievements! How do you generally prepare for press opportunities?”

“Barefoot all the way. I ground myself by standing barefoot on a textured surface and taking some really deep breaths in, then when I exhale I plant my feet firmly on the ground feeling what's underneath me reminding myself here I am, in this present moment. What will be will be.”

”Okay quick fire! Three words to sum up the TEDx experience?”

“Disbelief, tearful and thrilled

(with a hint of, oh my goodness what have I just done!)”

“Favourite TEDx Talk?”

“I actually adore Thomas Dunning’s: The fight for survival in a war against yourself. I remember watching it when I was in the crisis house myself; I was in a very dark place fighting a war I thought I could not win, lost and I just did not recognise who I was. I remember watching it and I just felt grounded almost. It reminded me this war can be won, I may have lost this particular battle but that’s okay. His story gave me hope when I needed it the most. #fangirl

“What book or books have most inspired you?”

“The F**K It Diet by Caroline Dooner. It explains how I became trapped in the dieting circle and reminds me of the science as to why diets do not work. It helped me learn how to respect my body and taught me how to eat intuitively. It was a real aid in my recovery. Everyone should read this and learn the dangers behind dieting, and why we fall off that ‘diet wagon’ time after time. (Spoiler alert, it is not your fault!)”

”On a more lighthearted, topical note, what have you been listening to lately?”

“Well...... For some reason I have become obsessed with the Phantom of the Opera lately, so I have been belting out the soundtrack whilst driving.”

If she was actually here I’d say thank you but she isn’t.

You can watch Zoe’s talk here.


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