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Health Doesn’t Dictate One’s Worth: #MyHEALthyBodyCan

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By: Lexie Manion

When we talk about “health” in terms of our bodies, many people tend to only focus on the physical aspect. If we are going to talk about myself, a fat person who at one point in time was over-eating and was not very physically active, we absolutely need to talk about the mental health aspect. I was over-eating due to my eating disorder struggles and I wasn’t exercising due to my clinical depression (both of which made me feel very ashamed and unmotivated and led to frequent self isolation).

Health is complex, multifaceted, and very individual. So, today, I am joining Project HEAL in their #MyHEALthyBodyCan campaign. I would like to challenge the wording of the campaign a bit. The #MyHEALthyBodyCan campaign can unintentionally leave out unhealthy bodies that simply “cannot” do the same things as “healthy” bodies can. So, I’m here to share both sides of my story today. I encourage you to do the same.

Today, #MyHEALthyBodyCan stand for 6+ hours every day, lift and move heavy things, go for a walk without having to sit down
and take breaks, climb a staircase without feeling so out of breath and in general, move more without being in pain. These examples I list have been great personal achievements because I was wrapped up in self doubt when I was struggling with depression in the past; I didn’t think I would ever be able to be this physically active. My unhealthy body can fight and survive. As a teenager, when I was unhealthy mentally, emotionally and physically, I was still resilient and I pushed through many obstacles. I want to thank my unhealthy body because it was still capable of great things. Even when I was “unhealthy”, I was a good friend. Even when I was “unhealthy”, I was compassionate. Even when I was “unhealthy”, I participated in Operation Beautiful, a movement founded by Caitlin Boyle, that spread a message to youth that they are worthy via posting post-it notes with inspirational words in public. Even in my worst days of “unhealthiness”, I spent several weekends of my sophomore and junior years of high school spreading encouraging and inspiring messages to my fellow classmates and the faculty. I wasn’t well, but my loving and bright personality still shined through. I did great things even when I was “unhealthy.” Today, #MyHEALthyBodyCan face difficult, emotionally draining situations head on and cope healthily with them. My mental and emotional health is very stable right now, so even when stressors arise, I don’t relapse or take things out on myself anymore.

My unhealthy body can also face difficult, emotionally draining situations. I may not have been equipped with effective skills as a
teenager to deal with problems as healthily as I can today, but I still managed. I did the best with what I had, and to me, that is
what matters most. I still overcame difficult obstacles when I was “unhealthy”. The point of myself distinguishing #MyHEALthyBodyCan from “my unhealthy body can” is because unhealthy and healthy bodies “can” accomplish great things. I wanted to provide examples from my personal experiences to show both sides. The additional phrase is inspired out of my desire to validate people with mental illness, physical illness, chronic illnesses, disabilities and other conditions.

Our health is our own and we never have to prove anything to anyone. Whether you’re healthy or unhealthy, you are worthy.

#MyHEALthyBodyCan be worthy and my unhealthy body can be worthy. I was worthy then and I am worthy now. We are worthy
whether or not we are healthy.

DNA Loads the Gun and Society Pulls the Trigger

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By: Sammi Farber

So I have been getting a lot of questions from people, both struggling and not, on what my opinion is in regards to if we chose our eating disorders.I have done a lot of processing when it comes to this topic because it is something I feel very guilty about.

What I am about to say is 100% from my experience, I CANNOT speak for anyone else but my own, however I want to explain to you why I think it’s a little bit of both.

DNA loads the gun & society pulls the trigger.

I think some people think that you can catch an eating disorder like it’s the common cold. Not the case. In order for disordered eating to manifest into a full fledge eating disorder, you have to have the DNA for it. There is a chemical imbalance in your brain that causes this compulsive behavior reaction to start. This imbalance, combined with societal influencers, makes the perfect recipe for an eating disorder.

I remember being very young when I started to notice things about my body. One body part that I am extremely self conscious about are my arm pits. I know bizarre but true. I don’t know how old I was, but when I was in gymnastics one night, I remember one of my team mates showing us that she could make a “cup” with her armpit, I have no idea why, we were clearly very young and bored, so bare with me.


Anyway this “cup” thing, I couldn’t do it and from then on I was always super aware of my armpits. I just felt like they were “fuller” than other people’s, I know this probably sounds like the most ridiculous thing but it’s something that bothered me and still does to this day, and I’m sure it bothers others but because it’s so strange, they probably don’t talk about it.

That night at the gym didn’t really start up anything but I remember it making me aware of my body and then once I stopped gymnastics that awareness got even worse. All of a sudden, because I wasn’t training, I started developing and going through puberty.

Naturally, I put on some weight, which basically felt like it happened over night and a lot of people noticed. I remember throwing out my lunches at school, thinking that was the answer. One of my friends ended up telling her dad, who was a doctor, that I was doing this and they sat me down in their house and basically had an intervention.

Looking back, I probably should have listened. But instead I stopped throwing out my lunch and just started dieting. That’s where society came into play. I would lose weight and everyone would praise me- kids, parents, teachers you name it. I was constantly being told how much better I looked and asked how I was doing it.

That’s the fucked up thing with society when it comes to eating disorders, anorexia in particular.

When someone is thin and develops anorexia, they get put in the hospital, but when someone is not already thin and develops anorexia, they get PRAISED.


Carolyn Costin often references back to the time when her and her three friends went on a diet and she was the only one who ended up with an eating disorder. That’s how I kind of think about this incident in gymnastics, no it did not cause my eating disorder what so ever, but I did obsess and fixate on my body when in reality all the other girls there probably just thought it was a cool thing and got over it. I mean clearly there’s something there if, at least, 15 years later I still remember it.

So here’s the deal with my stance on my ED, and why I feel guilty around just saying it was in my DNA. I have to take some responsibility for it. I started dieting, I followed the trend, I restricted until there was nothing left to restrict.

I may not have chosen to have the chemical imbalance imbedded in me, and neither does anyone else BUT I did choose to continue on this path. I did choose to restrict.

It wasn’t until I chose recovery that I realized this. It is NOWHERE NEAR as easy as it sounds to just “turn it off.” A lot of supporters will often say “just eat” and now, being in recovery, I can see how that’s the common answer, but it’s just not that simple, believe me I wish it was.

When you are stuck in an eating disorder, your brain is completely taken over. Your body is in shock, it’s in survival mode, it is the furthest thing from rational.

Look at it from my point of view. I was someone petrified of death. But I had a doctor look me in the eye and tell me my heart rate was at an alarming low and I was going to have a heart attack. My heart was going to stop beating and you know what? I didn’t care, I still didn’t stop.

I think having the whole debate on if we chose our eating disorder or not is about as relevant as debating what came first, the chicken or the egg. No one really has the answer, I definitely don’t.

The only thing I do know is, eating disorders are not just a mental illness, they are a slow suicide. I, like many others, was actively killing myself, without even the mental capacity to see what I was doing to myself or my family. I was sucked into this black hole and just couldn’t get out.

So honestly, I really don’t care what lead me to my ED or if it’s something I could have prevented, because quite frankly there is no use in dwelling on the past. I can’t change what happened to me and honestly, given the option, I don’t think I would, but one thing I know I can do is see that I have a choice to make EVERYDAY, and that’s the choice of whether I’m going to listen to my eating disorder or recover.

Don’t fixate on how you got to where you are, just know you’re here and make the next right choice.

So were our eating disorders a choice? That I don’t know but what I do know is,  recovery is and always will be.

This blog post was originally published here 

About the Author: Sammi Farber resides in New York City and is a National Champion for Project HEAL.
Sammi is currently in recovery and has decided to dedicate her recovery to helping and inspiring others. She has also created an organization called The Unicorn Affect. In doing this she hopes to help people in residential treatment get the treatment they need without the worry of insurance cutting them too soon. She believes that hitting maintain in treatment is crucial to relapse prevention and wants to make sure that everyone who is brave enough to go to treatment has a fighting chance at full recovery because it is possible. Sammi has also decided to go back to school for her masters in social work. She feels it is her life’s purpose to help people. As a Project HEAL Champion, Sammi is dedicated to showing the community that recovery is anything but linear. It is hard work, quite possibly the hardest work you will do in a lifetime, but it’s worth it. Recovery is possible. She firmly believes that we may not have chosen our eating disorders but we do chose whether or not to recover and by advocating each day she is showing her personal journey and how she chooses recovery day in and day out. Most importantly, she wants to show everyone that they are not alone. She is passionate about helping others, cooking and traveling (mainly to disney world). She can often be found on her Instagram exploring NYC in search of the latest food craze, laying low with friends and family, or in the candy aisle at just about any drugstore 😉 Sammi’s favorite ice cream flavor is a toss up between Nocciola Gelato from Grom (really Italy but let’s face it Grom is quicker and just as good) or Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.

Eating Disorders Come in All Shapes and Sizes

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By: Jennifer L. Gaudiani, MD, CEDS, FAED (www.gaudianiclinic.com)

I’m an internal medicine physician who cares for patients with eating disorders and disordered eating, of all shapes and sizes, all genders, and all ages, in my outpatient clinic. I’m struck by how common it is for my patients to confide in me that they don’t feel they are “sick enough” to warrant their friends’ and family’s worry, their need to have a multi-disciplinary team, or to change their behaviors. That feeling of not being “sick enough” is part of the mental illness. People with the most remarkable insight about just about everything else can utterly lack (or distort) insight into the medical and psychological issues that arise from their eating disorder.

This denial doesn’t just emerge from their eating disorder, though. The medical system is deeply at fault too. Doctors and other medical practitioners have for years been bringing their weight stigma and size bias to their patients. The woman in a larger body who has developed critically unhealthy disordered eating patterns gets praised for weight loss in the doctor’s office. The young man who only meant to seek a healthier lifestyle, but fell into increasingly orthorexic habits and now finds his life controlled by anxiety over so-called clean eating, is lauded for his perfect health and willpower. The trans man with binge eating disorder is never even asked screening questions for an eating disorder, but simply gets a stern talking-to about the need to diet, exercise, and lose weight (not to mention the doctor’s office often doesn’t get his pronouns right, and their paperwork is cis-biased).

The fact is that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people with eating disorders are not living at a low body weight. There is no one measurement—a weight, a laboratory value, a vital sign—that makes someone sick enough to seek treatment and recovery. I take care of patients across the size and weight spectrum, and I can tell you: you cannot tell whether someone is healthy or unhealthy by the size and shape of their body. Malnutrition can exist in people with anorexia nervosa and low body weight, of course, but it can also develop in someone who has a “normal” body weight and has been restricting or purging, or in someone in a larger body who has lost weight rapidly. The diagnosis “atypical anorexia nervosa” describes patients who suffer from all of the fears, distortions, and restrictive eating habits of someone with anorexia nervosa, but doesn’t happen to have a body weight that is formally low for their height. Patients with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, ARFID, atypical anorexia nervosa, and all points in between can become dangerously medically ill from their eating disorder, with devastating psychological consequences as well.

So please: if you have an eating disorder, regardless of your body size and shape, know that you are sick enough for help. You can find relief from the torment, with its promises of happiness and confidence that never materialize. Society, and the medical establishment in particular, have endless work to do on size stigma and weight bias. A Health At Every Size (HAES) philosophy, which I wholeheartedly subscribe to, is applicable to every individual. Your therapist can help you learn to give yourself compassion for the treatment you endure as a result of society’s biases. Your dietitian can help you learn to nourish yourself adequately and without limitations. You are sick enough, just as you are.

About the Author: Learn more about Dr. Gaudiani at  www.gaudianiclinic.com

What It’s Like To Tell People I’m In Recovery

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By: Sarah Stewart

“Should I say it’s me?”

I stood in the stairwell, trying to shrink into the corner, hoping that some random magical act would free me from what I was about to do.

For one of my classes, we were given the assignment to write a persuasive speech. It had the typical requirements: it had to be 3-5 minutes long, have specific elements, follow correct organization, yada, yada, yada.

Easy enough. The challenge, though, was that we were supposed to write about an atypical topic that we had a personal connection to, one that we knew all about and was uncommon enough that others wouldn’t be likely to cover the same subject.

My mind immediately zoned in on one topic: eating disorders.

I knew about them, having personal experience, witnessing many others struggle, being educated on them through seminars, books and mentors.

No one else is likely to talk about themeither, I thought.

What I didn’t think about in that moment was why: why wouldn’t others talk about eating disorders? Why was I so confident that of all the students in my class, I would very likely be the only one to cover that topic?

I went on my way, not even thinking, just throwing myself into creating the speech. Time passed without my knowledge as I gathered all the information, as I wrote and wrote, adding this, tweaking that.

The speech flowed with ease, my fingers dancing across the keyboard as the words poured out of me, each one filled with a little part of myself, a little part of my every day reality. A little part of the darkness that wasn’t normally visible to the outside world.

I sat back into the chair, rubbing my stiff neck, it and my back aching from intensely crouching over my laptop. A soft smile tugged at my lips as a feeling of excitement stirred within me, my nerves tingling with anticipation.

This is going to be great, another chance to tell people, to make others aware, I thought. It was perfect, a setting in which I could practice skills for my future while also furthering the cause I was so passionate about.

I practiced and practiced, watching myself in the mirror, adjusting my movements, choosing the best parts to emphasize, falling into a natural rhythm, emotion dripping from words I spoke, a sense of intensity, of urgency shining through my eyes.

When the day came, I was ready.

I was confident—I knew my stuff, every bit of the speech engrained in my mind, on the tip of my tongue waiting for the time to come.

I took the bus that morning, easing into the seat, my heart beating just a little faster each moment. As I floated toward my class, I felt light. My nerves sparked throughout every part of my body again.

But suddenly it felt different.

As I walked through the doors to the building, my feet felt heavier, my stride slowing. My smile began to fade and my heart began to thud harder and harder against my chest as my excitement gave way to fear, the anticipation gave way to dread.

I had somehow reached the top of the stairs, my body moving without my mind’s consent.

What on earth was I thinking? I can’t go in there with this speech. What are they going to think? No, no way. I can’t. No. No.

My vision blurred as my thoughts raced around, my head spinning and spinning.

Mom. Call mom.

“Hello?” Her voice, normally having an instantaneous calming effect, couldn’t get through to me.

“Should I say it was me?” I didn’t have time for hello, didn’t have any brainpower left to focus on anything but what I was about to do.

Without any explanation, she knew. She knew what I was talking about, the thoughts that were taking over my mind.

“You can go either way. You can say it’s you, or you can speak as though it is someone else’s experience. I don’t want you to EVER be ashamed, but I also don’t want you to feel like you have to tell people if you don’t want to.”

“What if they judge me? What if they suddenly see me differently, if it turns them away?”

“I think it will be like it always has been and will be in the future—some people will judge; they’re just like that. No getting around it. Some will commiserate or sympathize. A lot will think “huh,” and move on.”

“I don’t know why I’m feeling like this, why it’s different this time. I’ve told my story before, used it to raise awareness. I don’t know, I just… I’m scared.” My voiced cracked on the last word, my body giving away the emotion that filled every part of me.

I think it’s always more difficult to talk about it to a group of acquaintances, some strangers, rather than those who are friends or family. Those you trust.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I whispered, still completely unsure of what to do, where to go from there.

A few moments passed in silence, the weight of the situation lingering between us.

But then she hit me with a question:

“Sarah, do you believe you are worthy of love?”

My first thought was, ‘Okay, Mom, really? So not the time for this.’

She continued.

“Do you? Do you believe that you, knowing that being in recovery from an eating disorder is a part of you, believe that you are likable, that you are lovable?”

I didn’t respond, knowing what she wanted to hear wouldn’t match my honest response.

“Okay, let me ask you this: what about all the others? What about them, those who are silent because they are ashamed, those who suffer alone because they feel like there is something inherently wrong with them because they have this disorder? Do you believe they are worthy of love?”

Something clicked, then, and my thoughts came back together.

“Of course,” I answered with zero hesitation, fully believing what I was saying.

“Then live what you say you believe.”

Her words hit me, full of truth—if I said I believe we are people, people who have been shaped and honed by contending with our eating disorders, our mental demons, and people who are full of life, of gifts and talents, of personality, of quirks and cute oddities that make each of us a person who is lovable, but I remained silent about my own struggles, trying to keep that part of me hidden from the world, was I not simply blowing hot air, my words contradicting my actions?

Or even worse, was I adding to the stigma, the sense of shame that was attached to this mental illness? Was I contributing to a world where people are afraid to talk about their struggles, their constant inner battles, for fear of what others will think?

What was I doing?


I walked unsteadily up to the front of the room, my ears ringing, my hands trembling as I spread the pages of my speech across the podium. I was sure that my heartbeat was audible to those around me, sure they could see how body pulsing with waves of heat, how I had no idea if words in my mind would even make it out of my mouth.

I took a deep breath, begging my body to calm down, praying that I would somehow be able to do this.

Slowly, I looked up, meeting the curious eyes of my classmates.

“Hi, my name is Sarah Stewart, and for the last six years, I have been in recovery from an eating disorder.”

Why I’m Thankful For Project HEAL

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By: Jessica Koller

What I thought was the end, was just the beginning.

I cannot pinpoint one event or reason that sparked my eating disorder at the very young age of 11 years old. However, I can talk about the one and only reason I was given a second chance at life in my most crucial time getting help. Project HEAL is an amazing non-profit organization that helps fundraise costs for individuals who desperately need and want treatment with eating disorders that cannot afford it themselves. It costs $30,000 for an individual to receive only one month’s inpatient care. That is a godly amount especially since those suffering almost always need more than a month in treatment, and health insurance companies often times kick the person out of treatment way before they are ready to be discharged.  Now, I want to briefly share my story and why I chose to blog for Project HEAL.

Briefly after I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in the beginning of the fifth grade, I was told I needed hospitalization due to my drastic weight loss. I had gone to therapy before and I did not think I had a problem at all. The day I was hospitalized at Princeton’s eating disorder unit I was simply a terrified 11 year old just wanting to go back home with my family and friends. All I remember was my parents leaving me with doctors and specialists who were there to help me gain my health back. I began having a breakdown and extremely upset and nervous was with what would come. Although I desperately needed to be there, I was notified after only a week of inpatient that my insurance company was kicking me out due to a small weight gain.

At the time I was so happy hearing this news because I just wanted to go home and get back to school. I was covered for one month stay in outpatient and then I was discharged. What we all hoped was the end of my illness, turned out to be just the beginning of a very scary relapse. In the beginning the 6th grade, I slowly began losing weight due to complications in school and was then homeschooled that year. I remember constant doctor appointments and therapy sessions I had no desire going to. By the time I turned 12 my eating disorder had taken a drastic toll on my life as well as my entire family, and everyone I was friends with I became so isolated from.

In February of that same year, my family reached out to Dr. Phil, in hopes of getting me help, and a miracle happened. Project HEAL saw my story and immediately reached out to my family. At this point in time my family no longer could afford health insurance so the hope was gone from all of us. After Project HEAL contacted Princeton’s eating disorder unit, my doctor at Princeton readmitted me informing me if I was willing to put in the hard work and dedication to the healing process, this organization was offering to fund my treatment stay for the time I needed.  I now knew I had little time left to live and wanted the help.

I dreamed of my happy life back with sports involved again and engaging in parties with friends. I put in a lot of work throughout my therapy sessions, groups, and nutrition. It was not easy one second but after my one month stay inpatient, followed by two months outpatient, I was confident in leaving the treatment center. The co-founders of Project HEAL will forever be my inspiration in recovery and I can’t thank these two incredible girls enough for saving my life. They dedicate their lives in showing people recovery is possible and there is light on the other side of an eating disorder. What I thought was the end at only age 12, was just the beginning. I am living happily and healthy today at 20 years old, thriving in my recovery journey. Thank you, Project HEAL.

About the Author: Jessica Koller resides in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Jess works as a daycare teacher for infants and young toddlers.  At Project HEAL, Jess is working on monthly blogs for our site to help share with others her story in hopes of inspiring individuals who are currently struggling or in recovery as well.  Jess is passionate about helping others, animals, and playing sports. Her favorite icecream is mint chocolate chip and loves spending time with friends and family. 

The Umbrella Strap

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By: Amanda Long

She walked her usual morning path, for the most part unaware of her surroundings except for the pouring rain. The important thing right now was to stay some type of dry. This current thought overruled any thoughts of food intake or outtake. An occasional change of focus. As the wind blew the rain towards her, she held her umbrella handle close, almost using it as a shield. The handle became damp and started to twist in her hand and as it did the ‘umbrella strap’ (the velcro piece that fasteners it in the closed position) flapped right before her face. It was so annoying and even though she would twist the handle to make the strap move to the side, almost straight away it would be back right in front of her face.

It was SO irritating. Couldn’t she even walk in peace? She just wanted to get some scissors or a knife and ‘cut’ the strap off and get it out of the way. That would fix everything and then not, because the umbrella needed the strap to hold it together for storage. Not that she carried scissors or a knife on her walk but then again the blades of either were not needed when she had the blades of her thoughts cutting & slicing her heart continually. It crossed her mind that it was possible it would have been even more annoying if the umbrella had no fastening strap when it needed to be closed.

As the rain continued and the umbrella twisting happened a few times she realized this was like her long standing life of addiction recovery. Many times she just wanted to ‘cut’ things off. People. Places. Work. Feelings. Emotions. Food. Herself. Breath. She was reminded that seemed to be the easy way out. Just withdraw. No one really cared anyway.

During those long years of binging/purging/repeat life, she had little regard for her feelings unless they were feelings that went hand in hand with her self- hatred. Anger. Unforgiveness. Bitterness. Victim mentality.  Otherwise feelings just got in the way. Peace or recovery seemed to be an elusive concept reserved for others, but never ‘her.’ People like ‘her.’ Who were people like ‘her’ anyhow? The ones who were looked down on because they couldn’t function in daily life without depression, food comfort, numbers ruling every decision and a lifestyle of counseling and intervention. Society had pretended it cared and offered programs but ‘her’ truth was they didn’t really care, let alone understand. No one understood so it was better to just keep to yourself.

Occasionally someone would cross her path who may have had some understanding but it often turned out to be a competition. This was no help at all. She didn’t need anyone else to compare herself to, the unrelentless voice of self-hatred did an excellent job of that.

As she wandered through puddles, she thought about the nature of umbrellas – they kept to themselves. They came out only when necessary. When it rained or was particularly hot. Otherwise they lived a withdrawn lifestyle, tossed to the side but often readily accessible if the need arose. She often felt like this. Withdrawn. Not needed except in emergency. Or unless she could be of use to someone. To their benefit. And the voices in her head confirmed this. Every time. Every dam time.

An umbrella acted like a shield. She needed a shield. A shield from her thoughts. From the screaming of the self-hatred. From others unhelpful words & stares. They thought she didn’t notice but nothing much in that department escaped her. She would spot those glares, mutterings and quick turns from a mile away. An umbrella didn’t have a heart and that suited her fine – her heart had broken many years before.

An umbrella was designed to open quickly and be pushed into shape, to be shaken backwards and forwards to rid excess water and to be pulled down when its job was done. She had so many things in common with this device called an umbrella – people and voices wanted her pushed into shape, to let her be shaken as much as they liked, her tears as raindrops, then put away quickly, ready to be used again as soon as necessary. Put away – her mind felt like that – shut away in the dark.

She stepped aside and found cover from the downpour of rain. She wondered what someone else thought of an Umbrella – perhaps she needed a different perspective.

An Umbrella-(cr. Vocabulary.com)

An umbrella is the gizmo used to protect yourself from rain or sun.

An umbrella can also be something that groups similar things, like an umbrella organization that protects and serves many smaller organizations.

An umbrella is that lightweight, collapsible cover that’s handy on a rainy day.

This part of the definition caught her attention….something that groups similar things… could such a place exist that could group people like ‘her?’ No – her meaning of umbrella – just cut the ‘strap’ of people and stay away. But the inquisitive thoughts persisted. An umbrella? Was there more to it?

And then she realized…protects and serves many smaller organizations. She was like a smaller organization and maybe there were places that could serve as an umbrella organization to her. Somewhere she could find protection. Somewhere that would shield her.

She started a very slow journey of reaching out. She was unsure and untrusting. She listened to the voices of others in similar situations, others that didn’t judge her. Over time she slowly started to open her heart. Over more time she shared her heart. Time again listening to her heart in place of the relentless voice of self-hatred. She realized she had never really given these places a chance before, she had pre-judged them the way she had judged herself. With disdain and hatred.

She found much freedom in being grouped as part of this ‘umbrella’ family. This larger organization acted as her shield until she grew stronger.

She had not been able to see this before. She had to shake the mist and rain drops from her eyes and take cover. Change perspective. Her healing story wasn’t to be found in the ‘cutting off’ of the umbrella strap, but started with the ‘changing position’ of the strap which symbolized her heart and mind. For the umbrella to be completely functional it needed the strap to be in place when required, and so it was for her to be functional, she needed to belong to an organization bigger than herself. Part of an organization that would become her other family or even her whole family.

Her story of heart peace was long but continued as ‘she’, someone like ‘her’ brushed the tears and the mist from her eyes and pursued healing and inner strength. She found her hope in the everyday things – like a walk in the rain with ‘her’ umbrella and the ‘strap’ that belonged on it. She too belonged.

About the Author: Amanda Long resides in Cairns, QLD, Australia.  Amanda known as Mandy, is a Coach/ Advocate who works with people to help  them overcome anxiety, disordered eating, depression & losses in life. At Project HEAL, Mandy is dedicated to sharing her lived experience to get the word  out that recovery is available and HOPE is not elusive. Mandy can often be found taking early morning strolls with coffee in hand, enjoying a good film and spending time with family & friends.  Mandy’s favorite ice cream flavor is peanut butter chocolate.

5 Ways to Reclaim Your Identity from an Eating Disorder

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By: Abigail O’Laughlin
The first time my therapist asked me to write down things I loved about myself, I couldn’t. I couldn’t name a single thing that I loved about myself. I wasn’t proud of my accomplishments. I wasn’t happy with my body. My eating disorder took everything from my being. Reclaiming my identity has been a long process, and I don’t think that it’s a process that will ever end. However, I am closer to finding my true self than I have ever been. I want to share things that have helped me discover who I am without ED.
1. Start a list of things you enjoy

This list isn’t about yourself, it’s just about things that you like to do! If a list seems too daunting, grab a stack of magazines and cut out things that seem like things you’d enjoy. Try your best to avoid anything that has to do with food or exercise. The goal is to separate yourself from the eating disorder, not further mix it into your life.

2. Take a break from social media

I’ve been to treatment twice for a total of 6 months. Both times, I was not allowed to have my phone. This ended up being one of the most freeing opportunities I have ever had. Without social media, I didn’t have to constantly worry about portraying myself in a certain way. I didn’t have to compare myself to others who were just as superficial as I was. If you are an Instagram junkie, sit down with someone you trust and unfollow accounts that make you feel inferior. I did this with my therapist and was surprised at how many influencers I was following that didn’t make me feel good about myself. Social media can be a great tool for recovery, but it can also be counterproductive. We, as a society, tend to only show the good things in life. Burying those “bad” things can have a negative effect on your psyche.

3. Try a bunch of new things!

I tried a lot of new things when I came home from treatment. I tried ballet, aerial yoga, new clubs at my high school, blogging, lacrosse, and many other things. Some things will stick and others might not be right for you. New experiences can be very challenging, but I think they are super important for personal growth. As they say, you never know until you try!

4. Volunteer and/or share what you’ve learned in recovery

I have found that I feel most like myself when I am helping others. The greatest thing about this is that there are so many different ways to volunteer. I volunteer at an animal shelter! I love cats, so this doesn’t even seem like work. I am a volunteer for Project HEAL and luckily, I can do a lot of good work from home which is good for a busy schedule. If you have skills such as photography or writing, you can contact local organizations to see if they need any help! Do you want to share your story and inspire others? Try contacting a local treatment center or outpatient center! There are SO many ways to get involved.

5. Find your tribe

Remove toxic people in your life and find those that embrace you for who you are. This step has been one of the hardest. You can’t thrive in the same environment you got sick in.  This might mean something different to everyone. Maybe you just need to delete that contact, or maybe you need to switch schools. It may be lonely for a while, but once you find your true friends, it will all be worth it. If you already have supportive friends, spend time with them! Even as an introvert, I find that spending quality time with good friends is one of the best ways to get me out of a funk.

You are a beautiful work in progress. You are so much more than a body, a label, a grade, a number, or an eating disorder. You are fearlessly authentic. I hope these tips will inspire you to do a little soul searching. If you have tips about reclaiming your identity, share them below!

Abigail O’Laughlin resides in Destin, Florida. At Project HEAL, Abby is dedicated to spreading awareness of eating disorders throughout her local community. She can often be found discussing mental health, photographing her best friends, petting her 3 cats, and spending way too much at Starbucks. Abby’s favorite ice cream flavor is Huckleberry! 

Six Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going To Eating Disorder Treatment

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When I walked into the mansion (that I’m still not convinced isn’t haunted) where my residential treatment would take place, I had no idea what to expect. An alumni of that facility had become one of my closest friends in the preceding year, and she frequently referred to it as, “a luxury maximum security penitentiary where people sometimes hide cottage cheese in their bras,” which I have to admit, was enticing. Nevertheless, I felt scared and overwhelmed.

Thanks to the generosity of Project Heal, I was able to attend residential treatment for six weeks, partial outpatient for two weeks, and intensive outpatient for three weeks. I learned a lot about the process of recovery during that time, and even more about myself. Should you need to enter into a higher level of care, hopefully this list will help better prepare you for the shit that no one tells you about when it comes to eating disorder camp.

  1. This Ain’t Linear, Henny

 It’s been over two years since the first time I set foot in a treatment facility, and it’s still an everyday struggle not to do weird shit with my food. And honestly, that’s how it goes for most people. To be clear, there are some people that are able to recover after one stint at treatment, and you shouldn’t necessarily enter feeling that relapse is inevitable. That being said, according to statistics gathered by NEDA, 80% of people with eating disorders relapse at least once.

The reason that I think it’s important to note this is that relapsing does not equal failure, and it most certainly doesn’t guarantee a lifetime of suffering with an eating disorder. It can feel very discouraging having to admit to yourself and others that you need to seek intensive treatment again, as it’s easy to feel like you exhausted all this energy in an attempt at recovery just to end up back where you started. This notion is untrue, however, for no time spent recovering is wasted. (I just used “for” as a preposition lmao. I feel like Charles Dickens or some shit). Even if you have to return to a higher level of care, you still carry all the experiences and knowledge you gained throughout your past with you.

Like an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the recovery process can be tumultuous and unpredictable. While that may sound disconcerting at first, once you let go of a timeline, you realize that there’s no “right” way to recover. The only way you can truly fuck it up is to stop trying.

  1. “F” Is For Friends Who Do Treatment Together

I don’t know how many people I’ve met outside of treatment that would stick by me after seeing some of the shit I pulled in treatment.

It’s safe to say I didn’t go in planning to make friends. Upon walking into the lounge, I was greeted by a dozen girls who all gave Kristen Stewart’s resting bitch face a run for its money. They all seemed so odd to me—wrapped up to their necks in thick blankets, despite it being a boiling summer day in Manhattan; constantly holding pillows in front of their stomachs; and furiously knitting. I was sure I would never relate, and therefore had no intention of getting to know them.

The thing is, though, you can’t not get to know the people you’re in treatment with. From the jump, you’re all put in situations purposely meant to make you as vulnerable as possible. Having incredible support and understanding in such a high-intensity situation quickly creates a deep bond. At the end of my first day, I remember journaling, “I didn’t think that anybody else would be able to talk about food for as long as me, but it turns out, a lot of people can. And do. One bitch talked about goddamn almonds for 30 minutes in our group therapy session.”

And I’ll tell you, there is nothing like a treatment friend. It takes a really special type of person to watch you throw an Ensure across the room at a therapist, and still want to get PM snack with you after.

  1. Take Care Of You First 

That being said, everyone goes through recovery at different stages, and staying close to each other during that process can be really tricky. While at times it can be rewarding to help a struggling friend (or vice versa), it can also quickly turn in to a very triggering situation, leaving both you and your friend feeling hurt.

While I don’t want to discourage you from continuing a friendship after both of you have discharged from treatment, I think it’s important to know that there will be times in which you have to create distance from people you love dearly in order to prioritize your own recovery.

In my experience, my friendships made in treatment that remain the strongest are the ones whose status I wasn’t too precious with. I went into the relationship with full awareness that becoming too close would probably become toxic. I was happy to be their friend, but didn’t let myself become so attached that it would be crushing to have to let them go, if need be.

In addition, I think that friendships formed in treatment, no matter how they end, teach you a lot about relationships. I remember being incredibly scared to leave treatment after my second time through, and lamenting to a friend I’d made there, “I’ll never be able to have this type of friendship again! No one in the real world will get bagels with me after I have a suicidal episode because my fake ID got taken! They’ll just leave because I’m acting like a fucking psycho!”

My friend responded, “I don’t know about you, but when I first got here, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, much less be friends with them. But over the course of time, I grew to love everyone here. The relationships you’ve made in this place are proof that you absolutely can do this again.” 

  1. You Can’t Be Bulimic on the Weekends 

There’s a moment I’ve noticed tends to happen for most people about midway through recovery. It’s a common stage where you’ve been able to admit that that the eating disorder is detrimental to your wellbeing, but you’re also not ready to give it up completely. You want to keep the “good” parts of the eating disorder; the parts you think are still serving you.

Well, I’m suuuuuuper sorry to break this to you, but you can’t. You don’t get to be bulimic on the weekends.

And I’m going to be honest, deciding to officially surrender everything sucks ass. Your eating disorder serves a purpose for you. You wouldn’t be putting yourself through all this shit if it didn’t, and giving it up is really fucking scary.

But you have to. You can’t experience all the beautiful things life has to offer if eating bread puts you in crisis mode.

  1. It Can Be Fun, If You Let It Be

 It’s very easy to fall into the disconsolateness of a place as intense as eating disorder rehab, but if you consciously make an effort to let yourself find humor in your situation, you will have an exponentially easier time.

I know this is going to be hard to believe, but in the midst of all the therapists looking at my poop and not being able to shave my armpits, some of the times I’ve laughed the hardest in my entire life happened during my residential stay. One time at dinner, my friend made me laugh so intensely that I literally had to run into the kitchen because I was worried I was going to throw up, and I didn’t want to trigger anybody.

When I entered residential, I hadn’t laughed in months. Seriously. I would do improv shows and completely bomb because I could not for the life of me find the humor in any situation. But one day, all the clients were asked to write and present letters to their younger selves. Most girls’ pieces leaned on the somber side, but I decided to write mine with a more lighthearted perspective. I was able to make the entire room laugh, without invalidating the very real pain that my eating disorder had caused me. Now, whether I was actually funny, or that entertaining a room of incredibly understimulated girls isn’t the hardest feat, hearing their laughter sparked something in me that I never wanted to let go of. I started allowing myself to step outside the gloom that had previously felt encapsulating, and thusly felt my soul slowly start to repair itself. From then on, the atmosphere in treatment completely changed, and my recovery propelled forward. 


  1. Leaving Will Be Harder Than You Expect 

Having entered into residential treatment feeling cynical and scared, I never would have expected to get attached, but I did. It was the first place I’d genuinely felt safe in a long time, and I didn’t want to leave that behind. Not only were the people around me understanding and supportive, I’d grown accustomed to an environment where I didn’t have much autonomy. At first, not being able to make most of the decisions concerning where I went and what I did felt stifling. Eventually, however, I understood that I needed to let go of control surrounding things that didn’t matter as much (getting to have a cell phone, or like, not being watched while I peed) in order to give myself more space to focus on the things that did.

This environment that once had felt so restrictive now felt like the only semblance of sanctuary I had, and the emotional weight of my impending departure grew heavier with each minute that passed. An hour before my ride was scheduled to pick me up and drive me back to Queens, I decided to break the rules one last time and walk further out into the courtyard than was allowed, into the shaded area that isn’t as easily supervised. I sank cross-legged into the grass and laid my head in my hands. I sighed as I nostalgically recalled the past six weeks, and my eyes grew misty. With my vision focused on the earth, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see Anna, one of the mental health workers.

“Feeling a little weepy?” she asked.

“I’m just really going to miss this place,” I responded after a moment. “It’s so beautiful here.”

“It is,” she said, glancing over the immaculately landscaped grounds. “But there are other beautiful places.”

“I know,” I said, eyes still focused on the ground. “I’m just scared of convincing myself that Irvington is the only beautiful place I want to be at.”

It’s easy to romanticize treatment. It’s predictable, and therefore feels safe. As I said, there’s very little autonomy as a client, which can feel like a relief to some. It’s difficult to make the “wrong” decision if you’re barely making any decisions at all. But eventually I came to the realization that I craved adventure and love more than I wanted to feel in control and coddled.

There’s so much more to more to life than choosing between drinking a chocolate or vanilla Ensure, and you can’t see much of the world if you’re only allowed to walk twenty feet from the door.

About the Author: Haley Albright Johnston is an actress, singer, and comedian living in Nashville, Tennessee. For years, Haley has dazzled audiences with her wit, charm, talent, beauty, radiance, and humble attitude. A Project Heal Grant Recipient, Haley is dedicated to continuing the dialogue around eating disorders and mental health, in hopes that creating a broader understanding will reduce the stigma surrounding those issues. You can follow Haley at @haley_albright on Twitter, and @haleyalbrightjohnston on Instagram.

My Story Matters

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By Ann Christiansen, MSEd

In honor and loving memory of Emily Fischer

This is my very first blog post focused solely on my eating disorder recovery, and it began with so many questions.  How do I start?  What should I write about?  Is anyone even going to read this?  I decided it only made sense to start with the next step in my recovery journey:  sharing my story with the world.  Whew.  So here goes.

I was nearly 15 when I met a boy who told me I would be beautiful if only I could lose a few pounds.  I was also 15 when I was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia as a result of a combination of factors including my disastrous relationship with this boy, my own perfectionism and anxiety, and a family with a history of unhealthy coping skills.  When my therapist ultimately “fired” me, she simultaneously assisted my parents in forcing me into inpatient treatment during my junior year of high school.  

I wish I could tell you that treatment sparked my recovery journey, but it didn’t.  I hated my therapists, and I hated my parents, and I hated anyone and anything that stood between me and my eating disorder.  I spent weeks aggressively resisting treatment.  The staff taught me skills and gave me tools, and I refused to use them.  I returned to outpatient counseling even more determined to fight the process of recovering.

By the grace of God, I stayed alive long enough to graduate from high school and then college.  But not without a continual downward spiral defined by my eating disorder, binge drinking, another abusive relationship, and subsequently a broken engagement.  I carried a lot of shame surrounding these years and the ones that followed.  I may have earned my bachelor’s degree by the time I was 20, but I also became a wife and a mom by 22.  In spite of the many years of self-destruction, I managed to maintain a healthy pregnancy.  But as soon as I was no longer responsible for the life growing inside me, ED returned with a vengeance.

When my daughter was around 18 months old, I remember thinking that she was now old enough to see and understand the unhealthy behaviors that consumed my days.  I don’t remember exactly how or when, but one day I realized she was my reason to live.  I knew had the knowledge and tools to recover, and I chose to start using them.  It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t linear, and it definitely wasn’t perfect or pretty.

The next 6 or 7 years, my recovery held steady, in spite of some significant trials.  Over that time, I became a mom to two more daughters, but my life still seemed shrouded in shame and secrecy about my eating disorder.  I had gained enough courage to start posting some educational and inspirational messages on social media that hinted at my history, but felt that no one in this “new life” could ever discover my dirty little secret.  I remained thriving and hopeful about finally living a life of full recovery.

Several years later, I was about to learn that my recovery, as strong as it seemed, still lacked several crucial elements.  It was Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2010, and an article appeared in our local paper about a young woman who had lost her life to anorexia.  Emily’s grieving parents spoke candidly and courageously in the interview that took place just a few short months after her death.  Their powerful words resonated with me.  I had never really viewed my eating disorder from someone else’s perspective, and now that I had daughters of my own, it pained me to think of the hurt I had caused my own family and of the devastation of losing a child to this disease.

I reached out to the Fischers through the news journalist and we met at an event featuring recovered author Jenni Schaefer.  It was at this event that, in the midst of tears and hugs, the Fischers and I connected with others who felt similarly called to educate and advocate for eating disorders awareness and prevention.  We eventually became known as founding board members of the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa (EDCI), and the organization earned its non-profit status in 2012.

Twenty years had passed since anorexia and bulimia tried to take my life.  It had taken twenty years for me to finally start opening up to my family about my struggles and, through my involvement in EDCI, to start disclosing my secret to other people.  Around the same time, I passed up a couple of opportunities to begin pharmacy school and instead settled on earning my master’s degree in school counseling.  It seemed only fitting, then, for me to tell my recovery story publicly for the very first time during the Iowa School Counselor Association annual conference.

I now realize, each time I share my story, I am not only inspiring others but I am strengthening my own recovery.  I’ve completed newspaper and radio interviews, spoken at several conferences and events, and mentored others along their recovery journey.  I even conducted a webinar and became involved in some local and legislative advocacy work!  I feel empowered each time I expose the secrets my eating disorder forced me to keep for so many years.  And now, as I write my first-ever eating disorder recovery blog post, I take another step forward in this journey and lend my voice to those who have been silenced by their eating disorders.  There is hope, and recovery is possible.  I am living proof.  I am grateful and blessed to finally be LIVING and not just SURVIVING this “second chance at life,” and I can’t wait to share more of it with you!   

About the Author: Ann Christiansen, MSEd, is a licensed school counselor from central Iowa.  Ann is a founding and former board member of the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa (EDCI).  With the support of Team BeYOUtiful, she is an eating disorder survivor who has shared her personal recovery story at a number of conferences and continues to nurture hope in those struggling through blogging, mentoring, and participating in panel discussions, media interviews, and other events.  As a school counselor, she specializes in promoting body positivity and advocating for eating disorder prevention.  She is a married mother of three daughters who inspire her to choose recovery and life every single day.  Follow her on social media @lilredcounselor

The Evidence Base: Eating Disorders and DBT

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By: Melissa Gerson, LCSW

There is a growing base of evidence supporting the effectiveness of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) with certain eating disorder patients.

DBT has its roots in treating borderline personality disorder (BPD); in fact, the American Psychological Association lists DBT as one of the best empirically supported treatments for BPD 1 . At its core, DBT teaches patients skills to help them better manage their emotions. Because many patients with eating disorders experience this kind of emotion dysregulation, DBT has been studied as a treatment for anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

A recent paper in the American Journal of Psychotherapy 2 reviewed the research on DBT for eating disorders. Here are my key takeaways:

1. There is good evidence to support the use of DBT skills training with bulimia and binge eating patients. The evidence on anorexia is less compelling, but encouraging.
2. There is promising evidence to support the use of DBT with any eating disorder patient who also has BPD. According to one study, about 20% of eating disorders patients have comorbid BPD 3 ; given the effectiveness of DBT with BPD, it makes sense that DBT would be effective for this subpopulation.

These findings mirror what we see at Columbus Park which is an outpatient eating disorder treatment center. We generally start our co-morbid BPD patients with DBT early on; improved emotion regulation makes treatment more effective for these patients. We also turn to DBT when patients treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-E) get stuck because of significant mood-intolerance component.

If you are seeking a DBT resource for an eating disorder patient, there are key components to look for:
         Skills Training Group. These group sessions are where the core skills of mindfulness,
interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance are taught.
         Individual Therapy. These one-on- one sessions help patients apply skills to their personal
         Telephone Consultation. These brief phone calls are designed to help patients deploy skills in-
the-moment, when they’re experiencing distress and/or facing obstacles. At Columbus Park we
find this component particularly helpful; over the phone, the therapist identifies the problem,
evaluates the skills the client used already, and then offers additional skill options for managing
the struggle. This intervention helps clients replace emotion-driven, impulsive behaviors with
active, competent self-directed skill use.
        DBT Consultation Team. In a comprehensive DBT practice, providers meet weekly for DBT
consultation. These team meetings are a critical component of effective DBT practice as they are
designed to support each therapist in his/her work while encouraging constant growth and
learning for the group as a whole. Patients benefit in turn from a strong, committed and
motivated team of providers.

1 Oldham JM: Guideline Watch: Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Borderline
Personality Disorder. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2005
2 Wisniewski, L & Ben-Porath, D. D. (2015). Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders: The Use
of Contingency Management Procedures to Manage Dialectical Dilemmas. American Journal of
Psychotherapy, Vol 69, No. 2, 129-140

3 Milos, G. F., Spindler, A. M., Buddeberg, C., & Crameri, A. (2003). Axes I and II comorbidity and
treatment experiences in eating disorder subjects. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 72, 276-285

About the Author: Melissa Gerson, LCSW is the Founder and Clinical Director of Columbus Park, the leading outpatient eating disorder treatment center in New York City. Melissa is a native New Yorker whose “first career” was as a professional ballet dancer with the Miami City Ballet in Florida. After seven years, touring with the MCB company, Melissa retired from ballet and returned to her NYC roots to attend Columbia University as a Psychology major. She went on to earn a master’s degree in social work at New York University. Melissa has over a decade of training and experience in treating eating disorders. She completed post-graduate training at some of the most reputable NYC institutions like NYU’s Psychoanalytic Institute, the William Alanson White Institute and NY State Psychiatric Institute. Melissa is a true leader in the eating disorder treatment community with a particular focus on using the most current and efficient evidence-based treatments like CBT-E, DBT and Family-Based Treatment for Children and Adolescents.