Private Party

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Private Party

Written By: Adrienne C. Moore, actress, known for Orange Is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtt and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Photos By: Anastasia Garcia

I’m having a private party
Ain’t nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin’
“Baby, look how far we’ve come, yeah”
I’m havin’ a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I’ve become, yeah

If you would have asked me when I moved to New York to pursue acting, what my journey would bring me, I would have said something about discovering my technique as an actor or honing my skill as a performer. Never, ever would I have thought this journey would bring me to confronting my body, how I felt about it and how I have come to learn to love and accept it each and every day.

When I was first asked to write this blog, I was filled with memories of stories that I wanted to share about my relationships with my body over the years. Where do I begin? What do I say? For example, do I share with you all about how I was constantly called “big girl” or “big nose” by the boys in school and how that made me hate my body. It was clear to me, even then, that the boys preferred the petite girls with long hair. Or do I tell you that by the time I was in high school I was in and out of weight loss centers – with grown women, discussing our emotional relationship with food. As a teenager – seeing these women struggle with the same issues as me, didn’t build my confidence in the outcome of my own weight loss journey. It made me feel as though I was beginning this never ending battle of trying to lose the weight I would eventually gain. Maybe I should tell you of my time as a dorm residential advisor at Northwestern University and how I found myself dealing with students who had eating disorders. It even drove me to try binging once. It felt awful and I felt awful for doing it. How am I supposed to help my residents if I’m repeating them? Moreover, how can I help them heal when I can’t even heal myself? Little did I know these experiences were setting the stage for the biggest battle of my life. The fight? Trying to love myself, while secretly hating my body at the same time.

I always felt awkward about my body. I was this tall, broad-shouldered black girl, who felt more at home on a basketball court, than I did discussing the latest fashion and beauty trends with my girlfriends. I was an athlete and dancer, so I thought of my body as a utility of sports – not as a function for beauty. And to be honest, I didn’t care that much about my beauty, however, a larger part of me did care because I felt I lived in a society that placed so much value on it. As a result I wanted to be considered an example of this beauty. When I would watch TV programs or open up magazines, I barely saw images of women that looked like me, being celebrated as beautiful. I would see advertising campaigns that would promise that if I tried this new beauty product, diet program or workout regiment, then I would be more attractive, sexier and thus happier. My own perception of my beauty – or lack thereof – prevailed even when someone told me that I was the version of beauty that women would want to emulate or that men would proudly wrap their arms around. I would politely thank them, but secretly tell myself that if they could only see the rolls on my stomach and back; the stretch marks spidering out in every direction or the dark spots between my thighs – years of them rubbing together, they too would see how “un-beautiful” I really was. I felt ashamed of my body, and I idealized the day when I could change it into something anyone would accept as beautiful. I convinced myself that once I took care of all the flaws – the extra weight or the rolls and stretch marks and when my thighs no longer chaffed, then I’d be beautiful. But not until then. I had psyched myself out of my own beauty.

At 26, I moved to New York City to pursue my dream of becoming an actress. One of my second year courses at the New School University was in stage combat. I didn’t anticipate this class would cause me to confront my body and how I felt about it. It seemed like a fun and safe class – where I would learn to engage in combat with other people, not myself. My professor, Rick Sordelet, would teach us combat sequences or instruct us to move about the classroom at different speeds and directions; always emphasizing the importance of knowing and being spatially aware of our bodies and those around us. One day, he sent us home with an assignment: stand in front of a mirror, naked and just take in your body. Look it over, head to toe. Look at the areas of your body that you don’t like, touch it and tell it something positive. Keep doing that until you feel that it’s the truth, until you believe it for yourself. “What is he talking about,” I thought? “He’s crazy. What does that have anything to do with stage combat? Stand in front of a mirror… naked! He wants me to come face to face with my naked body and all its flaws.” I did everything I possibly could to avoid that reality. And now I’m being asked to do it as an assignment. No way! Part of me wanted to dismiss the assignment altogether, lie about it and say that I’d done it. I went home that day, not knowing what I was going to do, but one thing was clear, this was not going to be fun.

I got home, turned on my music playlist, took off all my clothes and reluctantly stood in front of my bedroom mirror. At first I just stood there, looking at myself. I took in every inch of me: my big nose, my broad hips and shoulders, my stomach fat rolling over my pelvis. Everything that I hated about my body just seemed to jump right out at me and attack my self-esteem. It was if my body glared back at me – my back fat, thigh fat, arm fat, and dared me to say something positive about it. I grabbed my stomach and squeezed the rolls. I disgusted myself. With every squeeze, I grabbed harder and tighter. It was as if I was fighting the fat and hoping that if I squeezed hard enough, it would just come oozing out and disappear. I felt the years of mental abuse that plagued my mind – telling myself that I wasn’t beautiful or worthy and how I used food as my excuse to soothe the hurt. I thought about all the money I’d wasted on unused gym memberships and diet programs and I became overwhelmed with sadness. I wanted to end the exercise, walk away and go to my fridge to look for comfort food as I usually did. I knew this was going to happen. Standing in front of this mirror naked only caused me to remind myself of the the body I was trying to avoid.

I stepped away from the mirror and was just about to give up the exercise when India Arie’s Private Party flicked on from my playlist. I love this song. I started dancing as the lyrics floated through the speakers. Then I started listening and the lyrics nabbed me:

“I’m gonna take off all my clothes
Look at myself in the mirror
We’re gonna have a conversation
We’re gonna heal the disconnection
I don’t remember when it started
But this is where it’s gonna end
My body is beautiful and sacred
And I’m gonna celebrate it…”

For the first time, I heard the words clearly. I couldn’t believe that I had just been standing in front of my mirror, naked and trying to convince myself that I was beautiful. Suddenly it hit me: the battle wasn’t with my body or the foods I’d eaten that caused the weight gain or even with an industry that I feel doesn’t accept me as a definition of beauty. The battle was me and my own self perception. I’d allowed so many external influences to define my beauty or tell me how I should feel about my body, instead of defining it for myself. I realized then that if I was ever going to feel differently about my body, I had to think differently about it. I had to reprogram the years of negative self-talk I had done to myself. The only way to win this fight between me and body, was through loving every inch of it.

Standing in front of my mirror again, I began to have that long awaited conversation. I looked at my nose and I immediately saw that kid who was called big nose and I felt compassion for her. I told her, “so what your nose is big, you need those strong nostrils to suss out the fake people in this world.” I held my breasts in my hand, felt the weight of them and I thought about the number of times family members, friends or kids that I’d nannied had buried their heads in my chest for that good cry. Suddenly, I found this new appreciation for them. Yes, they’re big, point downwards towards the ground and aren’t perky, but they have comforted and nurtured so many people through difficult times. I held my stomach and paused. I couldn’t think of anything positive yet. I kept grabbing it hoping that – maybe if I squeezed hard enough, a compliment might pop out of the fat, but it didn’t. Honestly, it reminded me of the countless number of magazine covers and articles I’d read – featuring skinny women, discussing how to get those hot sexy abs in 15 minutes or the diets they promised would work or even how to look sexy to nab that man. Then I asked myself, “so Adrienne, until you have the flat abs or find success with that diet or look hot and sexy to nab that man (or woman, wink) then what? What does that “until” time look like? Are you just gonna be unhappy? Are you not going to feel attractive? Well that doesn’t make sense – to not be happy or feel sexy until you’ve attained their goals.” Between the me of right now and achieving that unattainable goal was not the weight of my body, but the weight of life. That’s when I realized that being sexy or beautiful is a mentality, not a physical trait. Happy is a feeling, just like feeling beautiful and sexy, and they should be determined by my own thoughts, not my physical traits and certainly not by someone else’s definition. Although social conditioning and an advertising industry have led us to believe that these feelings are predicated on physical attributes, they simply are not. They are states of being and I have the power to define what they are and look like. So, with that, holding my stomach, I said simply, “you ARE beautiful, Adrienne. You ARE sexy – even with this gut, and you deserve to be happy.” And for the first time, I could actually hold my stomach and believe it because this time I really understood that being and living those feelings had nothing to do with what I looked like. I had the power to set the narrative for me. That was the day I began the journey of healing myself. I now look at the stretch marks and dark spots between my thighs with new eyes. I don’t see them as imperfections, rather as casualties of war in the plight to love and accept me as I am. It became clear to me that day if I was ever going to love and honor myself then I must begin by accepting who and where I am presently. Furthermore, if I want to make changes to my body, then I must do it for my health, not to satisfy an industry that sets unrealistic and narrow minded views of what a beautiful body is.

I wish I could say that after that exercise I never had body image issues again, but I would be lying to you. My weight has continued to fluctuate over the years and I’ve often had to go back to the mirror and do that exercise over. I will say, however, that I’m not as hard on myself as before. Matter of fact, when I’ve gone through a period of weight loss and gained it back, I stop myself in the mirror, have a quick laugh and say, “oh snap, you back? Ok, let’s get to talking Adrienne.” And I get to talking. And I hold those areas on my body again and I love them and I tell myself over and over again that I’m beautiful and sexy and deserve happiness, despite what I may look like in the mirror or that I live in a society and work in an industry that tries to tell me otherwise. Full acceptance of my body is a journey: some days I win and some days I struggle. And I am ok with that.

If we begin self-acceptance at the individual level then together we can shape a society that accepts a broader definition, thus changing the culture around what is healthy and what is beautiful. Working in the entertainment industry, I have been asked to disrobe for a scene a few times and I admit I still struggle with doing that. The better part of me understands that if we are ever going to change the definition of beauty at every size, part of that starts with me – by setting the example. But the struggle I find is not with using my body as that vehicle for change, rather with a society that still chooses to judge me based on how I look. I wrestle with the thought of some high school kid, parent or individual making a mockery of a picture of me with GIFs or posting slanderous and judgmental comments about my body. I recall a time when a dress that I wore to an award show revealed some of my breasts and I received many comments about how ashamed I should be for revealing that much of my body. And that hurt. It still hurts.


It is my wish that as we move towards a healthier society, we look at health and beauty from an introspective place and not by what our bodies should look like or what we should or should not reveal about it. The truth is our bodies come in all shapes and sizes and we will always find flaws with it. But it’s the vessel that we’ve been given, so we might as well learn to embrace it, love it, change it if we can, but don’t be defined by it. How we choose to present our bodies should be in celebration of our own individual beauty, not the definition of it.

Private Party by India.Arie

I’m having a private party
Ain’t nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin’ 
“Baby, look how far we’ve come, yeah”
I’m havin’ a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I’ve become, yeah

I tried to call my mother, but
She didn’t get where I was going
I called my boyfriend, and he said
“Call me back a little later, baby.”
I hung up the phone, I felt so alone
Started to feel a little pity
That’s when I realized that I
Gotta find the joy inside of me

I’m having a private party
Ain’t nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin’ 
“Baby, look how far we’ve come, yeah”
I’m havin’ a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I’ve become, yeah

I’m gonna take off all my clothes
Look at myself in the mirror
We’re gonna have a conversation
We’re gonna heal the disconnection
I don’t remember when it started
But this is where it’s gonna end
My body is beautiful and sacred
And I’m gonna celebrate it

I’m having a private party
Ain’t nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin’ 
“Baby, look how far we’ve come, yeah”
I’m havin’ a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I’ve become, yeah

All my life (all my life)
I’ve been looking for (I’ve been looking for)
Somebody else (else)
To make me whole (oh)
But I had to learn the hard way (oh)
True love began with me (oh)
This is not ego or vanity (oh)
I’m just celebrating me

I’m having a private party
Ain’t nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin’ 
“Baby, look how far we’ve come, yeah”
I’m havin’ a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I’ve become, yeah

Sometimes I’m alone, but never lonely
That’s what I’ve come to realize
I’ve learned to love the quiet moments
The Sunday mornings of life
Where I can reach deep down inside
Or out into the universe
I can laugh until I cry
Or I can cry away the hurt

I’m having a private party
Ain’t nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin’ 
“Baby, look how far we’ve come, yeah”
I’m havin’ a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I’ve become, yeah

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to me (Happy birthday to me, ooo)
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday

I’m having a private party
Ain’t nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin’ 
“Baby, look how far we’ve come, yeah”
I’m havin’ a private party
Learning how to love me
Celebrating the woman I’ve become, yeah 


Me vs. My Body

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People who suffer from eating disorders, are at higher risk to develop autoimmune diseases, researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland suggest in a new study

Autoimmune diseases happen when your body’s immune system starts attacking its own organs, tissues, and cells.

Can you guess a symptom that many autoimmune diseases share? Weight changes.

“Almost everyone with an autoimmune disorder has it affect their weight one way or the other,” says Mark Engelman, MD, a clinical consultant for Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical lab specializing in functional immunology.²

Earlier this year, “Modern Family” actress Sarah Hyland took to social media to address the physical changes her illness has put her through, during which she stated, “My circumstances have put me in a place where I am not in control of what my body looks like” – and I couldn’t relate more!

It is important to note that I feel like I need to add a million disclaimers to this post! I went back and forth debating whether or not I would post this, but “we are only as sick as our secrets.” In recovery they tell you how being secretive is not beneficial, and for me I have found this true both in being honest with others and myself.

Weight is such a sensitive subject for so many people, so let me just say that I can’t know what it’s like for everyone else, but this is what it’s like for me. I am writing this blog because weight fluctuation in relationship to chronic illness isn’t something that gets talked about. Because there are others like me, living in bodies that have been changed by illness, who are tired of feeling like their bodies are on display.

I am writing this blog because I want to know: How should we chronically ill people deal with weight changes and people’s ignorance surrounding the topic?

Recently, I was diagnosed with a rare pancreatic condition with symptoms, including abdominal pain and fullness, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, anorexia, anemia, etc, etc.

Wait a second. Anorexia. A symptom?

But, I recovered from anorexia.

Eating disorders are an outward sign of an inward unrest. I didn’t choose to have an eating disorder. But I chose to recover from it.

Due to my recent illness, I’ve lost weight. Not by choice. And I hate it.

I am going on slight tangent here because I think this is important- I will go back to the above shortly . . .

A few months ago, after undergoing many tests, I sat in my doctors office and expressed my deepests concern. I brought up my weight loss. I told him I could “deal” with any other symptom, but you do not mess with my appetite. I have seen many, many doctors over the past few months. Some recommended special “diets,” etc that could help alleviate the pain. The one I spoke to about my concern said something so beautiful and yet so rare in our society today. He said, “Liana, eat what you want,.at what makes you happy.”

. . . Due to my recent illness, I’ve lost weight. Not by choice. And I hate it. I hate it because I do not feel healthy. Although, this is not a story about food, just like eating disorders are not about the food, I think it’s important to note. And just like my recent weight loss is not about the actual number on the scale, it’s about HEALTH.

Chronic illness can alter your body in ways that aren’t always easy to come to terms with. And while you’re working to accept changes like weight fluctuations and scars, other people may pepper you with questions and comments that make you feel even more self-conscious. But that isn’t fair — people with chronic illnesses have the right to feel confident and proud of their bodies and know they’re still beautiful, inside and out.

After a surgery or medical procedure, we are given medications and recovery plans. We are told how often to take those medications, when and how to eat, what our physical limitations will be. As someone who likes to have lists and know what comes next, I appreciate these instructions. I’m learning, however, that even the medical professionals can’t tell you exactly how your recovery will go.

Popular slogans tell us to “Just Do It,” and to, “Sleep when you’re dead.” Our society pushes us to take on more and more, and we are seen as weak when we are unable, or do not want to do so.

I normally run my day-to-day life at a high-speed pace. Maybe that comes from living and working in New York City, but I also genuinely like being busy. It’s just how I function. Teaching by day, running Project HEAL by night, balancing graduate school, friends, family, etc. I like having things to do and getting them done. Recovering from a chronic illness, of course, is the polar opposite of that.

When I struggled with an eating disorder, my self worth was based on how much I weighed. Through recovery, I learned that I am more than a number. Having a chronic illness often comes with a lot of feelings of inadequacy, which can affect one’s ability to prioritize self-care.

I am learning that I can’t base my self-worth on my career or my accomplishments. I am learning to find a way to value myself for the person I am, instead of valuing the things I do. I am learning that my body, though it doesn’t always comply with what I might want, is not the enemy. I am learning to remind myself that I am not made less for taking the time to rest and give my body what it needs. I am learning that advocating for my physical health is no different than the advocating for my mental health. I am learning it is OK to ask for help. I am learning it is OK to not be able to do everything every day. I am learning that perfectionism isn’t healthy, practical or necessary. I am learning that I need to live in the present moment instead of focusing on the past or worrying about the future. I am learning to slow down, make myself a priority, and incorporate self-care practices on a daily basis.

Self-care, more often than not, is viewed as self-indulgent. For whatever reason, as a society, we’ve begun glorifying the neglection of ourselves. We’ve slowly been chipping away at our weekends and evenings, and don’t consider ourselves successful unless we’re constantly on the go. Down time has been replaced with screen time and relaxation has been replaced with hustle.

We all need to care for ourselves. We all deserve basic rights. We all deserve to participate in what makes us better and stronger. And that is not indulgent or selfish. That is simply self-preservation. It is self-care.

Our bodies are incredible. Currently, mine may be my worst enemy, but it’s also my greatest gift. #MyHEALthyBodyCan be my own personal warrior in the midst of its own battle. It deserves a hell of a lot more credit than I once gave it.

A special shout out to my body for reminding me how strong, resilient and badass I really am.

So, if you take anything from reading this, remember:

  1. Don’t comment on people’s weight. Don’t shame people for how they look, whether you think it is within their control or not.
  2. Sometimes saying no and choosing the path of rest and relaxation is absolutely necessary. While the rest of the world may be operating at lightning speed, it’s OK to stay in the right hand lane going at your own pace.
  3. Rather than criticizing your body, accept your reality, reclaim your strength and demonstrate all the ways you can be excellent — all the ways you and your body can be excellent!

We want to hear from you!
If you are currently struggling with a chronic illness, how do you deal with weight changes and people’s ignorance surrounding the topic? Email



About the Author: Liana Rosenman, President and Cofounder of Project HEAL

Liana is the co-founder of Project HEAL, an organization that delivers prevention, treatment financing, and recovery support for people suffering from eating disorders. Liana met her co-founder Kristina while undergoing treatment for anorexia nervosa at just 13-years-old. The two girls helped each other to reach full recovery, and decided to help others achieve it as well. Project HEAL is now the largest nonprofit in the U.S. that raises funds for eating disorder treatment, with over 40 chapters throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Liana is currently working as a 3rd grade NEST teacher at P.S. 19 in New York City and is earning her master’s degree in Special Education at Hunter College. Recently, Liana was cited by Forbes as one of 2017’s “30 Under 30 – Social Entrepreneurs,” for her work on Project HEAL.

Why I’ll Never Stop Sharing My Recovery Story

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By: Brenna Briggs

Sharing my story of recovery has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. To take such a negative time in my life and turn it around into something positive is something I am so thankful for.

I was talking to my dad last night and he made a comment how he always knew I would turn my story around and I would do something good with it. My response to him was “Really dad?” and he said “Of course, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. ” Maybe he really believed that, or maybe that helped him cope with the intense stress and scary life we were all living during my disorder.  I told him last night, there were times I really wasn’t sure if recovery was in the cards for me, and when I said that my heart sunk. It sank for the younger me, and it sunk for all of the people I know who are struggling right now. Feeling like you are going to live a life trapped in this ongoing cycle, being a slave to your disorder and the mind games it plays on you is hopeless, draining, and exhausting.

Knowing that there are people feeling like that, gives me even more reason, even more purpose to continue sharing my story, to continue reaching out, to continue education, to continue fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness and eating disorders.

The more people I reach with my recovery story, the more people will feel confident in their own recovery, more family members will know that there is hope and this is just a minor road block and the destination to recovery is on the map.

I’ll share my story with anyone who will listen and I’ll continue to share it because you never know whose heart strings it’s going to tug at, you never know who has a friend of a friend struggling. Recovery is real and living eating disorder free is real. There is help, there are resources, there is support. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.  

I used to be ashamed of my eating disorder, I kept it hidden from so many people for so long. I even kept my recovery a tucked away. So many people worry that others will think differently of them. I thought that too, until I realized that my story could help someone. My story IS helping people. I’m not just sharing my story so that people who are struggling will reach out for help, I’m sharing my story so that others who are recovered will stand up and share their stories too. We lived it, we fought it, and we are better and stronger because of it.

If even 1 person hears my story and it means something to them, I am doing my job and I won’t stop until the job is done. I didn’t quit on recovery, and I won’t quit advocating.

“Recovery was the hardest thing I ever did. Recovery is the best thing I’ve ever done,  Recovery is my biggest accomplishment, and recovery is worth it.”

About the Author: Brenna Briggs is a Project HEAL Boston Chapter volunteer. 

Why Weight Watchers Needs to Discontinue Their Latest Ad Campain

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By: Rebecca Pottash

Earlier this week, Weight Watchers announced that starting in summer 2018, teens can join for free. Weight Watchers is helping dangerous patterns, both of thinking and behavior, form at earlier ages. By inviting kids as young as 13 years old to join the program, Weight Watchers is sending the message in no uncertain terms that teens’ bodies need fixing. The teenage years should be a time of learning how to nourish a growing, newly bigger body, and figuring out how to make their own food choices with less parental oversight. The introduction of rigid rules and points systems at such an early age robs teens of the opportunity to learn how to eat for their own bodies – of the chance to learn what they, themselves, need to eat to feel good, and full, and strong. And as those of us in recovery know all too well, learning to recognize your own hunger cues when they’ve been stamped out and silenced is hard work.

Offering its services for free as a means of increasing its reach also betrays the pernicious business model Weight Watchers is employing. The hope, of course, is that the teens who enter the fray this summer for free will return as paying customers next time around. Which is precisely the point – there will always be a next time around. Weight Watchers fails if its customers succeed in their weight loss goals, because those customers will no longer need them.

Weight Watchers stakeholder and spokesperson Oprah Winfrey said in a press release that she hoped the new teen program would deepen the company’s ties to the community. If Weight Watchers is expanding its community, it is one of people who have been told time and time again that their bodies are not good enough as they are. Weight Watchers can give teens free access because they know that when those teens inevitably experience dissatisfaction with their bodies again, they will come back to Weight Watchers as paying customers. And they know that it will happen again and again. Because diet companies are not actually selling healthy lifestyles. They are selling body dissatisfaction, and they are selling the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting that accompanies it.

Considering the well documented link between early dieting and the formation of eating disorders, we in the eating disorder support and recovery community should be especially concerned by Weight Watchers’ announcement. If we really want teens to be healthy, teach them how to have a healthy relationship with food. Teach them that the weight loss industry profits when their products don’t work. Teach them that they don’t need to change their bodies to be healthy, happy, or successful. Teach them that diets don’t work.

Thank you to BALANCE Eating Disorder Treatment Center for starting the #WakeUpWeightWatchers movement, and getting the word out to Weight Watchers that this new program spurs unhealthy habits in an already vulnerable population.

Photo credit: @mel_parrish via Twitter

About the Author: 


A Different Type of Scale

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By: Eva Romanoff

When I was nine years old, I asked my mother if I could buy a new sweatshirt. They were this new brand that were super soft, and each one was unique with a special design and color. My parents gave it to me for my birthday, but as my mom placed in my excited hands, she said that, while it was a very cute sweatshirt, she didn’t think it was like my style had been in the past. The next day at school, my friends and I all obsessed over our new sweatshirts, until a week later when a girl bought a new type of backpack. Then I wanted that. I didn’t particularly like the bag, but I began to think, if my friends all liked it, then they wouldn’t like my bag if it was different, and therefore wouldn’t like me. A perpetual system of self-doubt and comparison began to form. At twelve years old, my friends began to diet. I had worried about eating certain foods in the past, but I had never followed a strict meal plan. When my friend group at school began to diet together, I assumed I should join in, because what if they resented me for eating “junk” food in front of them while they were eating “healthy” food? At thirteen, when my friends began to work out intensely, my actions immediately followed theirs. What if their bodies began to change and mine didn’t, what if I stood out too much? My eating disorder, the loudest voice in my head, was shouting that I should follow the other people in my life.

For me, my anorexia focused my thoughts on my general body shape and appearance rather than specific weight and numbers. Instead of counting calories or weighing myself, I placed my life on a different scale, those of my peers. If my friend dressed a certain way, I mimicked her style. If my sister cut her hair, I scheduled an appointment at the salon immediately. If my friend talked to a boy with a certain attitude, I needed to talk to a boy and use the same attitude. I needed to be the best, the first, the most accurate. I placed myself on a metaphorical scale of self-worth and comparison rather than pounds. I was able to deceive myself, convincing my brain that these weren’t connected to my eating disorder, that these thoughts were normal and consistent with teenage life. Unfortunately, I was very wrong. Without realizing, my eating disorder voice crawled into my common sense, and they morphed together to sway me against my values. My goal had always been to be my individual self and to hold true to my values, yet my brain was telling me that acting and looking exactly like my friends were my values. The scale that my eating disorder forced me onto wasn’t just about weight or appearance, but included weighing my intelligence, my emotions, my athleticism, and my personality against the people around me.

When I went into residential treatment at fourteen, we did a group activity about two months into my stay. We gathered around a scale, wrote the cruel things that our eating disorder told us on the plastic in a big sharpie, and then took hammers and smashed the scale until it was screws and broken pieces. My therapist called it “scale bashing” and it was a way for us to visibly take power away from our eating disorders and the pressure to be a certain weight. I had a difficult time with this exercise though, because what if my central problem wasn’t my weight? What if it was the weight of my values? How did I bash that scale? I grappled with this for months, even after I was discharged at a much healthier place, and especially when I was reintegrated into school and my social life. My eating disorder voice and my healthy voice were separated, and my healthy voice was winning each daily battle. Yet the squeaks of my eating disorder that I still heard were centered around comparison. It wasn’t about being the funniest in the world, but simply the funniest in my friend group. It wasn’t about being the smartest girl in the school, but just in my grade. My obsessiveness around food was gone, yet here lingered these thoughts of comparison. After dealing with these ideas for the better part of my freshman year of high school, I realized that my eating disorder hadn’t morphed into a new disorder, but rather the core of it remained. It was like an apple; the skin and flesh of the fruit were about food, weight, and appearance, but the core was based on my position within a larger group of people. This isn’t how everyone experiences their eating disorder, but for me, the revelation that it hadn’t been about food was life changing. I didn’t need to bash a real scale, as much as a needed to bash the scale of my self worth. What I began to understand was a simple concept that I had never previously grasped; respect for oneself cannot and should not be based on other people’s life and actions. It should be based on your own perspectives of the world and your own opinions. My experiences are what should shape my values, not my friends experiences. This shift in thinking was my first step to understanding the personal scale I had built for myself. I didn’t need to ‘fix’ myself, I needed to change my focus from my friend’s opinions to my own.

When I realized this was the root of my eating disorder, I began to look at the larger picture. Throughout my life, I was raised with the same set of children surrounding me. My best friends, my sister, my classmates and my acquaintances. I had spent the last fourteen years of my life with these people, and we had essentially raised each other. How was I supposed to find my own voice when the people I loved seemed to be expressing kind and helpful things as well? Why did I need to have my own values when my friends believed in kindness and acceptance too? I grew to understand that my friends and family could have good values that I related to, and they could guide me in my own journey, but the end result had to be discovered on my own. I couldn’t blindly follow others opinions just because, I had to analyze the purpose of my perspectives before I could connect them to myself. Through discovering my own thoughts independent of others, I am able to engage more fully in vibrant discussions, and hold true to my own personality, something that was previously hidden beneath the scales of my eating disorder.

About the Author:  Eva resides in New York City. Eva is a high school student who works with other teenagers to instill a sense of hope regarding the possibility of full recovery, as well as what that means and what that looks like in a teenager’s life.  At Project HEAL, Eva is dedicated to providing others with a sense of community and security throughout the process of recovery, spread education and awareness to fellow high school students, rand to promote a healthy lifestyle that allows everyone to discover their true selves and purpose.  She is passionate about horse back riding, learning about history, and spending time with friends and family. Eva’s favorite ice cream flavor is coffee ice cream with chocolate chips and caramel sauce.


A Recovery Pledge

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By: Amira O’Kelly

Today I will not punish myself. I will not eat to fill a void or because I feel like it is my only chance to have the thing I want before I have to restrict again. Today I will not binge and purge or make excuses for why it’s necessary to empty my body. I will remember all the effort I put in to make my metabolism work again to go to the bathroom naturally again. I will remember purging will lead me to my grave – even if on the worst days when I feel like there is not a reason I want to live or be here. I must remind myself I don’t want to die kneeling over a toilet bowl and lying on the floor of the cold tiles in the bathroom. I will remember the panic attack I had on the train when I became too afraid to eat dinner. When I pulled my hair out because I had  over my limit for the day.

When the calories spun around inside my head torturing me for hours upon hours and days upon days weeks upon weeks and months upon months. I will remember the Father’s Day I ruined because I was not eating and too weak to enjoy an outdoor fair because the whole time I felt like I needed to faint. And when I got angry at my dad for stopping to eat because I could not stand the thought of putting anything into my body I will remember the nights I’ve hung out with my girlfriends but was too weak to enjoy anything. When I cried looking at the menu because I did not know the exact calorie count or kind of oil they cooked their vegetables in. I will remember to truly trust my hunger signals and eat only when my body needs it not when I am bored lonely happy or emotional. I will remind myself that no matter how powerful I feel when I starve myself, it always leads to a road of self-destruction. I will remember not to be weak at night when I feel as though I’m completely alone – food will not fill that void and will ultimately lead to over eating or a binge which then leads to a purge. I will remember the days and nights I felt happy to be alive. When I have a truly amazing laugh with my girlfriends, when I do a good job at work and get a lot done, when I get my favorite breakfast every morning, when somebody I love hugs me. When I am distracted from the constant validation I need from my eating disorder brain. I will work out and not become obsessed, but I will do it because it makes me feel sexy and powerful. I will nourish my body and remember the only reason I feel so lost is because my eating disorder still lives inside of me.

About the Author: Follow Amira @amiraokelly

The 5 Most Important Lessons Recovery Taught Me

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By: Simran Bansal


In fact, it is actually a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit that you may not be fully in control of your actions at the moment. To address your weaknesses and flaws and be in tune with them is the first step to taking back what is rightfully yours—a healthy, happy life in which anorexia and the concomitant negativity has no place. To be humbled by others and ok with that….that is what I call sheer character.

It took me awhile to hold onto a helping hand—not because one was not offered, but because I was ashamed. I was ashamed that at 12 years old, I still hadn’t mastered the art of feeding myself. I was ashamed that at 12 years old, I still had no control over my own actions. I was ashamed that at 12 years old, I still was unable to silence the constant internal shaming of my body, of my essence. To me, accepting help was equivalent to admitting what a pathetic excuse for a pre-teen I was.

I was wrong.


Yes, sometimes by helping others, you can in turn help yourself, but this is not the case for a person wrapped up in the midst of a mental illness. To truly focus on recovery, you must simultaneously focus all your attention on helping yourself….at least until you get back on your feet. Focusing on you is not always selfish. In fact, in this case, putting yourself first is perhaps the most selfless act. Because only by beating the illness can you divert your attention towards other scopes of life, such as giving back to others.

When I was little, I dreamed of helping end poverty and sadness and war. I dreamed of travelling to third-world countries, helping to rebuild the slums and provide the destitute children with the comfort of a future. I wanted this so bad, more than anything else. For years, I begged my parents to let me travel for a summer to fulfill my dream. For years, my parents said no. And this rejection angered me because I just didn’t understand.

However, while in recovery, I realized that I couldn’t make those impoverished children happy if I was so miserable….First, I needed to regain my own happiness so I could share some with them. And so I did. I recovered selflessly for the children, for myself, for my dream. It was so worth it—after focusing on myself for awhile, I was finally able to travel to Thailand, working with neglected children at orphanages and rebuilding slums. I used to think that I didn’t need to be happy before committing to bring others joy. I used to think that focusing on myself was shameful.

I was wrong.


And it is probably the hardest, yet most rewarding process you will ever encounter. I don’t really understand why it is so easy for us to love and accept others, to treat friends and family with kindness, to think they deserve the world….yet, think that we ourselves are unworthy of this same sense of belonging. I don’t know why it feels so impossible, I just know that it does. Recovery not only forces us to confront our worst fears, to feel our favorite pair of jeans becoming tighter and tighter with every passing day, but it also forces us to do perhaps the most difficult thing—to recognize that we too, are human. That we too, are worthy of love and laughter and unconditional comfort. That we too, despite our mistakes, are strong and genuine and deserving. Recovery is a process that locks us in a room alone until we become friends with ourselves….It is an intervention that replaces self-abuse with self-love.

Recovery forced me to question why I only focused on my weaknesses and flaws while overlooking my many strengths. Recovery forced me to see the seemingly contradictory—that at the same time, I was the bully and the victim. Recovery forced me to accept my weaknesses because I was only human and the very nature of humanity is imperfection….I used to think that loving myself was absurd, was impossible, was delusional.

I was wrong.


It took me over 5 years to reach a point where I could genuinely and truthfully say I was recovered. It took me over 5 years of hospitalization, months and months of being away from everything I had ever known. It took me 1825 sleepless nights of crying, 1825 days of grey, sunless skies. Recovery is not at all a fast process. Recovery is the evolution of us….a gradual, unpredictable venture into the unknown. Without patience, you will never reach the finish line. Without acknowledging that recovery will not happen overnight, but over the course of many nights, you will find yourself without the strength to keep fighting. Without recognizing that recovery is a prolonged battle, that you can only emerge victorious after apparently endless days filled with both defeat and triumph, your endurance will vanish. Patience is key. Patience is the indispensable weapon.

I remember all the nights I cried, wondering when, or if, I would see the sun again. As time went on and I kept relapsing, I became increasingly frustrated and impatient.. I used to think that I could recover quickly—that recovery could be some continuous, hurried process.

I was wrong.


In other words, there is no half-assing recovery. Not if you truly want to complete the process, to truly live a life untainted by internal war. You will only take away from recovery how much effort and heart you put in. You cannot carelessly stroll your way through recovery….to reach the finish line, you must persevere and exert all the energy and willpower you have. Otherwise, you will just lose stamina. No one can force you to recover. You must want to recover yourself, to truly put in the work to reap the full benefits. You decide the extent to which you will gain meaning and insight.

As a teenager engrossed in the unattainable journey towards perfection, I couldn’t have cared less about recovery. At therapy sessions, instead of talking about my feelings and issues when I so desperately needed to, I would glare at my therapists, wearing a smug smile of silence.  Little did I know that I was only hurting myself and my chances for a happier future. 1-hour sessions, week after week, would go by with no progress. I rebelled every step of the way, trying to compromise with my nutritionists, trying to beg my therapists for freedom. I couldn’t understand that it was my own apathy, not my therapist, that was keeping me trapped, caged, stuck.

You cannot expect to magically feel better after putting in no effort towards healing. It was only after I really was fed up with a life of misery and Ana’s broken promises that this suffering would all be worth it in the grand scheme of things that I truly fought with everything I had. I didn’t want to be those 60 year olds who cycled in and out of treatment centers their whole lives….I wanted to see the sunshine. And so I fought to end the rain, to paint over the grey. And it was only after ending my rebellious, recovery-is-not-for-me phase that my smile became natural, that my heart became full. I used to think I did not have to focus on recovery to truly recover.

I was wrong.

This blog post was originally posted here 

About the Author: Simran Bansal is a Project HEAL national ambassador. 

Warrior: A Recovery Poem

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By: Kirsten Danzo Tidwell

I am a warrior built from a million shattered pieces,

I am girl with a dirty and damaged core who clings to the hope of grace.

I am a daughter of laughs and love who cowers at the sounds of anger.

I am a fragile mended soul with just enough glue to hold it together,

But enough cracks that one push could make me crumble.

I am a preacher of forgiveness, believer in forgiveness, seeker of forgiveness.

I am a heart desperate for love but afraid it might leave.

I am a romantic who believes in happy endings but fear I might be naive.

I am a fighter battling demons that you can’t even see;

I run emotional marathons daily while you have the luxury of taking a break.

I believe that I am broken but also believe in healing,

I am fiercely independent, yet don’t want to have to be.

I accept my past and shake off my demons,

Even when others flaunt them in my face.

I am a half-grown, half-healed, half-brave shell of a girl who’s tired of life being a battle.

I dream of a world where I am normal and whole and not tired, but I know this is a fantasy.

But I am a warrior and I will fight on.

About the Author: Throughout my recovery process, writing is how I process my emotions, deal with my demons, and find the strength to keep fighting. I wrote this poem in year 8 of my battle with anorexia. I started writing when I was in a dark place, beaten down and feeling trapped in the narrative of past trauma. Writing it allowed me to remember to forgive myself and fight on.

5 Answers to Common Questions From Those Struggling with Anorexia

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By: Melissa Gerson, LCSW

Although every client is different, here are the five most frequent things we hear from anorexia patients at Columbus Park, together with our response:

1. “Why can’t I stop thinking about food?”

That’s what happens when your body is starving.

Chronic food deprivation and loss of body weight results in heightened interest in food.   When your body weight drops below a comfortable set point range, the brain switches into starvation mode—metabolism slows and hunger signals pick up.  This focus of the starved mind on food may lead to increased interest in food preparation (often for others, not oneself), obsessive planning of meals, extending eating experiences for long periods, reading about recipes, and/or looking at photos of food.  Many describe this fixation on food as persistent and profoundly distressing.  Weight restoration helps reverse these effects.

2. “My weight isn’t low enough; how can I be starving?”

Your body feels starved long before you look emaciated.

The popular image of anorexia and under-eating is that of someone emaciated. While some people do get to this point, most enter starvation mode at higher weights.  Each of our bodies has a set point range (usually about a 5-7 pound range) it works to maintain.  Set points vary by individual—based on genetics, lifestyle, height and weight as a child, and where the body was prior to the start of the eating disorder.  Once weight falls below your set point, your body enters starvation mode.

3.  “Why can’t I keep exercising a lot? It makes me feel calmer.”

Yes, exercise can be relaxing, but too much can impede your recovery.

Mammals who are in areas of famine show remarkable strength and single-minded focus to migrate to areas where food is more plentiful.  There is some evidence to suggest a similar effect in those with anorexia; a kind of hyper energy even in the absence of adequate food.   Exercise also stimulates the production of neurochemicals which serve as natural soothers.

4.  “Why can’t I limit my diet to just healthy, clean foods?”

Is it really about health?

I’m all for healthy eating – but “healthy and clean” eating often gets taken to unhealthy extremes.  When clients with anorexia frame healthy, clean eating as in the service of health, I remind them that this extreme restriction and rigidity has actually had the opposite impact; it has taken them to a dangerously unhealthy place (hair loss, poor circulation in extremities, slowed heart rate, loss of periods in women, and more).   These clients typically require intensive medical oversight due to their compromised health – hardly a “healthy” place.  It’s not really about a pursuit of health; it’s about taking eating habits that might be considered ideal or even virtuous to an extreme.

5.  “Why can’t I get better without gaining weight?”

It’s not possible.  Your body and mind simply cannot recover if you remain underweight and malnourished.

The consequences of maintaining a low weight include constant thoughts about food, low energy, avoidance of social situations, isolation, poor sleep, inability to focus, and obsessing about the number on the scale. Clients sometimes want to shed those un-pleasantries without actually gaining weight.  It can’t be done; they are inseparable.  Achieving a full and balanced life means restoring health and balance to your body.  Most of our clients with anorexia notice that as they restore weight they feel better, not worse.  Depression and anxiety symptoms remit along with obsessive food and body thoughts.  They develop the kind of flexibility required to re-engage socially.  Physically, they feel stronger, more energetic, and better able to concentrate.


Melissa Gerson, LCSW is the Founder and Clinical Director of Columbus Park, Manhattan’s leading outpatient center for the treatment of eating disorders. As a comprehensive outpatient resource for individuals of all ages, they offer individual therapy, targeted groups, daily supported meals and an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). Columbus Park uses the most effective, evidence-based treatments like Enhanced CBT and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to treat binge eating, emotional eating, bulimia, anorexia and other food or weight-related struggles. They track patient outcomes closely so they can speak concretely about their success in guiding our patients to recovery.

To learn more about treatments offered at Columbus Park head to

Why I Created a Series About People With Depression

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By: Shawna

It’s been a while since I have visited this page. It’s been a bit longer that I have been interested in continuing this project. I fell into a pretty dark and deep depression in the midst of this project. I struggled listening to people explain about the confidence they have in themselves or just they way that handle their day to day life. I would sit and absorb the interviews and start to think “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be like that?”

I have dealt with depression before in my life but this one felt different. It wasn’t set off by an event or a loss. This one crept up and swallowed me whole. It was scary. I woke up one morning not too long ago not wanting to get out of bed. Not the, “Oh this is so comfy and I want to just lay in bed” but more like “I never want to get out and live life anymore.”

I didn’t feel suicidal, I just didn’t want to be a part of life anymore. I know that doesn’t make sense to some, but to others, I bet it makes perfect sense. I had been spending my time helping my kids through some tough times in their lives that I neglected my own. I was so wrapped up in keeping things status quo on their side that I didn’t recognize right away that I was slipping….and fast. I started neglecting things in every aspect of my life.

I stopped photographing, I stopped writing, I stopped caring. I just didn’t have the energy to go on with anything anymore. Thankfully, I began to recognize what was going on and knew it wasn’t going to get better until I did something to help myself. I got a psychologist and started the hard work of getting to a better place. I started seeing a psychiatrist when I recognized that I needed more help in the form of medication. I started to reach out to friends that I pushed away during my darkest days. I started to pick up the camera and reach out in my grief and depression and express what I was feeling. Some I have shared, others I have deleted because they were dark. Today, I can say that I am feeling the light. I am starting to laugh again. I am starting to sing, dance, and joke again. I am wanting to go outside and taste the daylight again. It’s getting better. And so it is time to continue to spread the beauty of these men and women that I have interviewed in hopes that someone recognizes themselves in these stories. I hope that everyone sees their own beauty. We all deserve to feel that love.