I Went to Iceland and My Eating Disorder Stayed Home

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By: Anonymous

Last fall, I traveled to Iceland with my husband, a long-awaited trip to celebrate our five-year
anniversary. It was my first time in Europe, and the first trip in memory that my eating
disorder did not come along. To put the magnitude of this in context, I’d like to briefly go
back in time…
When my sisters and I graduated from high school, my Nana took each of us on a special trip.
My older sister went to Greece and Italy. My younger sister would go Kenya. And I, now
almost a decade ago… New York. I was still fresh out of the hospital, after almost losing my
life to anorexia nervosa, and my parents decided that leaving the country and trying to follow
my strict meal plan was out of the question. I was devastated. Although there’s a certain,
lovely energy to the city that never sleeps, this alternate trip, and the one I truly wanted but
never took, has sat in the back of my mind for years now, taunting me.
Three years after that, the summer before my senior year of college I went on a service trip to
Guatemala with a program through my university, but my going was continent on my
parents’ communication with university administrators to ensure that I would be able to – you
guessed it – follow my meal plan. Although I had an amazing time, intruding into my
memories of teaching children in rural villages how to brush their teeth and assisting in the
delivery of medical services are ones of daily food logs sent to my doctors and weekly
weigh-ins at the Guatemalan clinic.
Although I have now been in recovery for many years, I feel I hardly need to clarify that an eating disorder does not simply go away. Yes, it can fade, become less pervasive, less
abusive, less demanding, but the process of rebuilding a life free from it’s clutches takes
years, even decades. And so when I boarded the plane for a weeklong adventure to the land
of fire and ice, and my eating disorder did not jump on board with me, this was a BIG DEAL.
For years, I trudged along in recovery, thinking, “Well, this is it. This is as good as it gets.” I
almost accepted the idea that ice cream would always induce panic, exercise would always be
about burning calories, and buying clothes would never be fun. I almost believed doctors who
warned me that I would likely be sick forever, that my anorexia could be managed, “like
diabetes,” but a full recovery was unlikely. I’d like to take a victorious moment to say how
wrong that thinking is. I stayed in the recovery-version of purgatory, that no-man’s land
between dying and really living, for years, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, life came back
into color, regained its vibrance piece by piece.
Our trip to Iceland was filled with spontaneous hikes to majestic waterfalls, late nights in our
tiny campervan cooking backpacking food over a finicky stove as the wind whistled across
the tree-less ground. There was overpriced soup, and the donning of the traditional
lopapeysa, watching seals lounge on icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Lagoon. Songs sung in the
singing caves of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, moon-lit soaks in geothermal springs, and land
so wild you feel like you’ve left planet earth. This was the first major trip in memory that
wasn’t also marked by constant body scrutiny, food anxiety, and attempts to squeeze in extra
physical activity. And let me tell you a little secret, it was SO MUCH BETTER this way. So
hang tough, and keep trudging through purgatory, because there is a beautiful world that
awaits you just on the other side.

#MusicMonday – Christina Grasso

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Project HEAL has started a new blog series called HEAL Anthems where people from our community share what their recovery anthem is and why. We wanted to give you a playlist where you can access all of our favorite anthems and new anthems added each week. This week we have Christina Grasso, Advisory Board Member, PR Director and Instagram Manager.

You can check out our playlist and hear the song Christina chose below or on Project HEAL’s Spotify profile.

Song: “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac

What does this song mean to you?

Stevie Nicks’ music and own recovery from addiction has helped me immensely through my recovery process, but this particular song reminds me to stay connected to my roots and the person I was before anorexia took over. At that point I was still a child, and this song was written by Stevie about staying in touch with her younger self before her career took off. It’s a beautiful reminder of my values and is a song that has gotten me through numerous hospitalizations and treatment stays.

What’s your favorite lyric from the song?

“To the gypsy
That remains
She faces freedom
With a little fear
I have no fear
I have only love
And if I was a child
And the child was enough
Enough for me to love
Enough to love.”

Overcoming Anxiety, Depression and Anorexia (Video)

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Hear about recovery warrior Sarah Lomke’s story below.


#MusicMonday – Sara Brody

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Project HEAL has started a new blog series called HEAL Anthems where people from our community share what their recovery anthem is and why. We wanted to give you a playlist where you can access all of our favorite anthems and new anthems added each week. This week we have Sara Brody, Advisory Board Member.

You can check out our playlist and hear the song Sara chose below or on Project HEAL’s Spotify profile.

Song: “With Or Without You” – U2

What does this song mean to you? It helps one to realize that you have the power to resolve your own challenges yourself and you can do it

What’s your favorite lyric from the song?

I don’t have one, but believe the whole song is inspirational.

#MusicMonday – Colleen Mann

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Project HEAL has started a new blog series called HEAL Anthems where people from our community share what their recovery anthem is and why. We wanted to give you a playlist where you can access all of our favorite anthems and new anthems added each week. This week we have Colleen Mann, Boston Chapter Leader.

You can check out our playlist and hear the song Colleen chose below or on Project HEAL’s Spotify profile.

Song: “Warrior” by Demi Lovato

What does this song mean to you? This song really represents my journey of recovery. It speaks to coming out stronger than ever and also not being ashamed of your past. Speaking out about my experience with an eating disorder has further strengthened my recovery and “Warrior” absolutely embodies that.

What’s your favorite lyric from the song?

“All the pain and the truth                                                                                                                                                     I wear like a battle wound                                                                                                                                                      So ashamed, so confused                                                                                                                                                     I was broken and bruised

Now I’m a warrior
Now I’ve got thicker skin
I’m a warrior
I’m stronger than I’ve ever been
And my armor, is made of steel, you can’t get in I’m a warrior
And you can never hurt me again”


Terms and Conditions

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  1. Eligibility: This Campaign is open only to those who are 18 years of age as of the date of entry.The Campaign is only open to legal residents of United States, and is void where prohibited by law. The Campaign is subject to all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
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  3. Campaign Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on October 1, 2017 at 12 AM EST and ending October 5, 2017 at 11:59 PM EST. All online entries must be received by October 5, 2017 at 11:59 PM EST.
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#MusicMonday – Cara Lyons

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Project HEAL has started a new blog series called HEAL Anthems where people from our community share what their recovery anthem is and why. We wanted to give you a playlist where you can access all of our favorite anthems and new anthems added each week. This week we have Cara Lyons, University of Pittsburgh chapter leader.

You can check out our playlist and hear the song Cara chose below or on Project HEAL’s Spotify profile.

Song: “Strong Enough” by Stacy Orrico

What does this song mean to you? When I was deep in my eating disorder, I didn’t believe that anything could save me – or that I was even worth saving. But this song helped me realize that no matter how many times you fall, you can be picked back up again. Whether you believe in a God, or choose to look at the song as a comparison between your eating disorder self and your healthy self, you are always able to start over again.

What’s your favorite lyric from the song?

“That You are strong enough That You are pure enough To break me, pour me out and start again.”



The Woman I Know, But Never Met

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By: Anonymous

Being broke is no joke. Clever rhyming aside, it’s why I jumped on a paid research study for exposure therapy as a treatment modality for food anxiety. I have an eating disorder; I’m anxious about the whole concept of food. I was a shoe-in. The allure of Target gift cards seemed too tempting to resist. What’s a little bit of being triggered in exchange for some retail therapy? Retail therapy is therapy nonetheless.

Following the carefully worded phone screening by a graduate student, I qualified. The objectivity the questioning was strangely jarring to me; as someone with a comparatively late-onset eating disorder, I never felt “sick enough” to meet the criteria for a full blown ED. Hearing yourself quantify how many times you used to engage in behaviors over the last 12 months was eye opening. Apparently, this part of me meets their criterion.

Next, I filled out a lengthy survey to determine my baseline thoughts and feelings regarding body image and food. Rate your anxiety around this or that on a scale of 1 to 10, is this “mostly true” or “seldom true,” etcetera. I did this on the computer at my boyfriend’s house, simultaneously hoping he would and wouldn’t see my rating to the statement: “I am fearful my romantic partner will leave me because of my appearance.” I marked it “always true.”

The main component of the study was to complete writing sessions based on you imagining a situation where you are confronted with some of your biggest triggers for your anxiety around food. Some occurrence where your eating disordered thoughts would be a 10 out of 10. Full tilt anxiety.

I never got to complete this part of the study. The deadline for my submission passed, and I excused it as “life just getting in the way.” I never even collected my gift cards. I had pinpointed the exact triggering situation many weeks ago, but I supposed that even confronting it with words would be like opening Pandora’s box. So I kept the box closed. However, I never stopped to think: what would happen if this once-hypothetical situation actually occurred? Many of our fears are actually irrational in nature, but this one was a bit more rational than most. And shortly before the submission deadline I ultimately missed, it did happen. The once-arbitrary event was seeing a picture of my boyfriend’s ex-wife. Thanks to the joys of our social media obsessed culture (which, as a Millenial, I am helpless to resist) I stumbled upon a picture of her while casually scrolling through my Instagram feed. A former in-law of my boyfriend’s had posted the picture, and the cruel “based on people you know” algorithm had planted it right there for me to see. Right in between a ridiculously inappropriate meme and a heavily filtered selfie of an acquaintance with ample duckface. Pandora’s box had been opened. She is a woman I know, but have never met.

Her name is familiar to me, but I’ve never heard her voice. Sometimes I feel her presence in the room, but she’s not there. A perfect stranger in the sense that it’s perfect I’ve never had to see her. Until now.  For months, I thought seeing what she looked like was my greatest fear with regards to my eating disorder. It was an eating disordered thought in and of itself: I feared her appearance over all else. I was afraid that finally knowing what she looks like would send me on a downward spiral into the depths of my ED. If she were thinner than me, I could restrict until I was thinner than her. If she were bigger than me, I could be more free to binge and purge. But I’d still want to be even thinner than I currently am to assert some asinine idea of dominance. That I “won.” While I can’t control the fact that she will forever be the mother of his children, I can at least control my weight and shape; I can win that battle. And seeing her was nothing like I had expected. My imagination had run wild for months straight. I’m not even sure what I imagined her to look like. Was she a perfectly coiffed woman who did Pilates three times a week and had wrinkle free skin even in her mid-forties? A rough around the edges, tattooed, edgy woman who was unconventionally beautiful? An older version of me, a la “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrisette? Was she even more beautiful than their stunningly beautiful daughter, who according to my boyfriend, is the “spitting image of her mother?” But most of all: was she thinner than me?

I closed the app in a hurried panic after realizing it was his ex-wife, with waves of anxiety flowing through me. But from what I saw, I was underwhelmed. She looked like your average middle-aged woman with an unremarkable hairstyle and indiscernible hair color. She was dressed like every suburban mom to teenage children, and wearing unflattering sunglasses. I couldn’t tell if she looked older than her actual age or not, but the stresses of raising two children and recently going through an acrimonious divorce had shaped her appearance. I guess it didn’t matter that she initiated it. My boyfriend had mentioned her dress size in passing a few months ago, and it roughly matched mine. Seeing this confirmed in the picture relieved me, but only fleetingly. For a moment, I had won this completely imaginary battle mentioned earlier. In a society wholly obsessed with youth, I already came out on top as a vibrant 20-something who already looks younger than her age. Despite how much I hated my body, it hadn’t birthed any children.

Having your body “ravaged” by childbirth is a simultaneously a womanly ideal and a shameful, unattractive flaw to be corrected. My clothes are both trendy and sexy, not dowdy; my hair long and thick with barely a glimmer of grey. After sharing my discovery with a friend, she joked, “What, are you happy that she’s ugly?” Then it hit me. Passing judgement on her appearance wouldn’t make me any more secure in my own. Calling her average doesn’t make me any more extraordinary. Commenting on her size doesn’t make me any more accepting of my own. Maybe the movie Mean Girls ingrained something into my impressionable teenaged brain with the line: “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.” It was my insecurity about my own perceived worthiness as an equal relationship partner that was at the root of this. Her appearance was just a symptom of a larger disease.

The entirely irrational thoughts run through my head from time to time: I will never birth his children and she did. They will share that connection forever, while neither he nor I can physically have children. I’m just a young plaything for his midlife crisis and will never be on equal footing with his vast life experience. That I have “daddy issues” because I want to date an older man; I’m looking for a parent and not a partner. That is “damaged goods,” and she laughs at me for being not emotionally equipped to handle a relationship with a divorced man with children. That I don’t deserve to be someone’s first wife if the relationship were to lead to marriage. That I’m unlovable and undesirable. That I should just be happy that he wants to be with someone as broken as I am. Giving into my eating disordered thoughts would be just a means to temporarily ease the storm in my mind. Confronting these issues is where the hard work lies, but If I were to binge, purge, or restrict, it would hurt not only myself, but the relationship I have now. And I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in both areas. However, old habits die hard. But they will die… without a vengeance.


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photo_for_adamProject HEAL sat down with Patrick Schmitt, CEO of FreeWill to learn more about the process of making a personalized last will and testament.

What is FreeWill?

FreeWill is a new social venture out of Stanford University, with the mission of helping people do the most good for the people and causes they love!

The problem we’re solving is that pretty much all adults (including you!) need a legal will to direct where their resources should go if they pass away. But the current process is scary, complicated, and very expensive, so fewer than 30% of Americans have an updated will.

Plus, it’s pretty hard to figure out how to leave money to organizations you care about, if you’re into that, like we are.  

So we built new tools that help people do their estate planning in a way that is warm, friendly, intuitive, and free. You can use FreeWill right now, for free.

How does FreeWill work with nonprofits like Project HEAL?

We are really lucky to work with several amazing organizations, like Project HEAL, that are doing heroic work.default

We use our technology expertise to build custom versions of FreeWill for a group like Project HEAL, so they can share it with their supporters. This helps those people have free access to something that would otherwise be very expensive, and potentially helps generate more giving to Project HEAL.

How easy is it?

Very easy. It takes less than 25 minutes (and for some people, less than 15) to make a legal will online using FreeWill. Then, you print out your will and sign it in front of two other people, who serve as “witnesses” to make it legally valid. That’s it!

If you have a particularly complicated estate (you have tons of money, or you own property overseas, for instance), we can help you document your wishes and find a qualified attorney near your zip code, too.

How much does it cost?

It’s free, of course.

How has working with Project HEAL impacted you personally?

Working with Project HEAL has impacted me in two specific, and very different ways.

First, I think the team is incredibly inspiring, and their mission is so important. So it’s excited for the FreeWill to be waking up every morning and supporting movements like this one, and I think it makes us work even harder.

Second, working with Project HEAL has reminded me of how prevalent and significant eating disorders are in the United States, and that when I step into a room with any small or large group, there is probably someone in that room who is battling or knows someone battling an eating disorder. It’s also helped me think about how to be most helpful to those people in my own life.

What Ice cream flavor best describes your personality? Why?

I’d like to think that it’s Chocolate Cookie Dough. Because you taste the chocolate and think “this is good, solid, reliable ice cream that is steady and wonderful.” But then you taste the cookie dough and think “I was not expecting that.!” 🙂


Recovery From Anorexia is Worth the Fight

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By: Hope Virgo

Sharing my story of anorexia hasn’t always been easy. I never know what someone’s reaction will be when I tell them that I spent a year living in hospital with anorexia. Battling to stay alive whilst my heart went in to a critical state.

But now I am out the other way. Now I can say I am an eating disorder survivor I don’t feel embarrassed about it but I want to take this time to tell you why I battled to stay well and have managed to stay well since!

  1. You think anorexia is your best friend. You think she has your best interests at heart but she doesn’t! She really is a nasty piece of work who doesn’t support you and doesn’t care about you!
  2. Realizing that what you see in the mirror isn’t always accurate! For me I looked in to the mirror every day and saw a body I hated back. I still have days when I struggle with my body image but I now know the reality of my feelings and I know how my mind plays tricks on me so I don’t see what others see.
  3. Knowing your triggers: for me exercise was a huge issue & yes it has helped me stay well but it can also be risky! When I begin to struggle again I am tempted to push myself that bit harder whether on a run or on the gym. But now I know that! When I hit that point I can challenge it and ask for support.
  4. Realizing that anorexia is dangerous: I remember when I was at CAMHs they would tell me I was going to die but I never ever believed them. I thought they were lying to me when they told me my heart was failing. But they weren’t… I was so close to dying from anorexia and it is scary how many people do. I know you won’t believe clinicians when they tell you this but please try and listen to me.
  5. Know your motivations for getting well and fighting: I used to have mine written down so I wouldn’t ever forget them. But remind yourself or the things anorexia will stop you doing – travelling, having a family, missing out on night outs with your friends.
  6. Realize talking does not make you weak: Throughout my recovery I had to learn to express my feelings through talking and I got good at it. However, it is still something that at times I struggle with. If I am having a bad day I feel like I am a failure or that I have let down these rounds me but the reality is I haven’t. It is not a failure to admit you are struggling but I guarantee talking about things makes it so much better.

I don’t want to lecture you on anorexia but I want to assure you that recovery is so much better. It is hard work yes and at times you don’t see the point of carrying on, but I guarantee your life is so much better when she is not your friend!

IMG_0056About the Author: Hope Virgo suffered with anorexia for 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year and since being discharged, has fought to stay well. Hope now lives and works in London, runs marathons and has a keen interest in exercise and maintaining good mental health. Her latest book Stand Tall Little Girl is available to order on Amazon.com