Why I Sought Out Recovery

By: Heather Hower

I had anorexia nervosa for 23 years, and I have been in recovery since 2012. When I woke up on the day of my “new reality,” I knew that I could not continue on the path of listening to “ED (Eating Disorder),” as it had been a roller coaster of restriction, over-exercise, and emotional turmoil with those who loved me. At times when I would allow myself to eat (e.g., holidays, vacations), I would feel horrible after, and ED would tell me to “cathartically cleanse (go back to restricting)” as soon as I returned home. My life was ruled by the scale, a main tool of ED, and I thought that the lower I weighed, the more in control of my life I would be. I also looked at myself in the mirror a lot (my husband called it EMT; Excessive Mirror Time) to check my body parts. There were times when I was starving, sick, injured, and in danger of seriously damaging my relationships, but ED yelled at me to keep going, saying “How bad do you want it (to be thin)?” The answer was of course “bad,” in every sense of the word. ED promised that if I followed his rules, I would be happy, but I realized that morning that I was miserable, and I would be for the rest of my life if I didn’t change anything.

The “essential me” knew that I needed to save myself (from ED). Working with my doctor, therapist, and nutritionist (my professional “support bench”), I learned how to hydrate and fuel my body, growing to trust it would tell me when I was hungry and full, and that it would make up for my mistakes. I had a lot of momentum in my recovery at first, and then I realized that I needed to maintain a pace that was sustainable (life is a marathon, not a sprint). There were times that I felt like I was on the cusp of giving up, but I pushed through, and the reward was that I became healthier and happier. I am in recovery for my loved ones (especially my husband), but most importantly I am in recovery for ME. There are many benefits to living without ED, but the driving one for me is a sense of sanity (it is priceless). I am seeking a balance; not too little or too much of anything, and when I am there, I am in my “sweet spot.” Throughout recovery I have been further discovering my identity, the things that make me happy; I am really excited about moving away from ED, and focusing on the “essential me.”

About the Author: Heather, MSW, LICSW, QCSW, ACSW has served on the Board of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) since 2013 (including the Development Committee, Research Advisory Council, Conference Committee Co-Chair), and collaborates with her NEDA colleagues on Eating Disorder research studies, papers, and presentations. Through her position at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, she has also been collaborating with her local Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Partial Hospital, Outpatient, and Home-Based clinical programs since 2013.  Heather had Anorexia Nervosa for 23 years, and has been recovered since 2012.




Recovery Is Not A Straight Line

By: Jessica Koller

I am in a comfortable place in my recovery journey where I would like to talk about some of my achievements and some of my downfalls. Throughout the time leaving treatment at 12 years old to my life as a 20-year-old young adult today, a lot has changed to say the least.

My recovery journey has helped me learn more about myself than I probably would have never discovered. I have learned how powerful my voice is, and that there is no reason to try and live your life desiring to impress others. Growing up, and especially when I was very sick, I was always a perfectionist. I played sports and ran, which was my biggest joy in my life, yet I always had to be the best and fastest. Also, in school, I would beat myself up over anything less than an A. These signs of having to be perfect are often very common among those with eating disorders. I now know that I do not have to be the best in everything I do, because as long as I’m working hard and trying my best, that is enough for me.

Also, when my eating disorder had taken over my life, that was all I cared about. Nothing else mattered other than food, calories, and the number on that scale. Throughout my recovery, I have discovered my own thoughts and how I really felt about things, the way Jessica felt, not what my eating disorder made me think and feel. That being said, recovery has not been a straight line in any means. Through recovery, I have gained my relationship back with my parents, that my eating disorder had destroyed due to the constant arguments over food and how mean and isolated my illness made me become. One achievement is that I graduated from high school, with not all A’s, but A’s and B’s throughout, which I learned is good enough! I had the best four years in high school meeting some great friends, and my boyfriend senior year, who I now live with today! I also got to go to prom two times, which my family never thought they would get to see me do.

I have enjoyed my years since my darkest times stuck in my eating disorder and am so happy I chose recovery. Recovery is still a daily choice, however not a daily struggle. I want to emphasize on the meaning of this in a couple different ways. First, throughout high school I tried my best to stay strong in recovery even through some difficult times. I was still listening to my eating disorder a lot of the time, which made some days harder than others. There were a lot of days when hearing the negative body image talk throughout my friends really began bothering me, yet I did not stop them or engage in conversation. I now remove myself from bad body image talk or ask the person to not talk that way about themselves because it is triggering me, and to let them know they are beautiful just as they are.

Senior year I was just ready to get out of high school, and ready to move into my summer shore house with all of my friends. However, I was not putting my all into recovery, and definitely not eating enough to sustain the energy I needed to get through each day in school and work. I wanted to look good and slim for prom and the summer, which gave my eating disorder a happy burst and thought it was his time to help me achieve that goal. Luckily, I stayed healthy throughout that summer and reached out to my friends when I knew I was beginning to slip up. This is what I mean when I say choose recovery. You see, a huge accomplishment for me is reaching out to people when I need some extra help. I recently reached out to my old therapist who I haven’t needed since I was 14 years old, yet I knew to prevent a possible relapse, I wanted and needed her help. I used to be embarrassed and ashamed of my struggles, but now I know the worst thing you can do is keep how your feeling inside. When I felt most alone, I began feeling anxious all of the time and of course out of control. To keep myself on track, this is what I need to do, and I will continue to reach out whenever I need to.

Another huge accomplishment for my recovery is eating intuitively. I was so scared for most of my life to eat when I wanted, and how much I wanted, until I was full. I always had ED on my shoulder telling me I’ve had enough to eat, and I continued to listen to the rules I had made up in my head regarding food. However, today in my recovery I am able to eat my fear foods I once had for a very long time as much as I want and how often I wish to chose to eat them. I no longer listen if ED wants to chime in when I am out to dinner and see the calories listed on the menu, wanting me to choose the lowest amount possible. I chose what I want to eat and that to me is my biggest achievement. I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt especially knowing I have the power to ignore ED in order to keep my sanity and health. I want everyone to know how much work I put into my recovery even to this day, and it’s okay to not be perfect. It is completely normal to have bad days, as long as you do not allow your bad days to overpower the good ones. Recovery is not a straight line, yet it is the most rewarding gift waking up every day freeing myself from my biggest demon that once controlled every aspect of myself and life.

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 Body, Perfection and Acceptance

By: Theresa Garcia

I really struggled with figuring out what to write about in this blog post. There are so many things that I want to share, but maybe that is why I’m going to write a book. The first hurdle to writing is getting past perfectionism…reminding myself that there is no such thing as perfect. No perfect topic to write about. No perfect blog post.

This is extremely relevant to my diagnosis of anorexia and my recovery. Perfectionism has long been a challenge of mine, but there is no such thing. Most importantly, there is no perfect person. No perfect body. No perfect meal. When we have an idea of what perfect is, how do we know when we are there, anyway? What are we striving for? When I truly think about it, what I am striving for at the beginning and end of each day is being authentic, loving, and making a difference in other people’s lives. It is natural to have high expectations for ourselves, and probably healthy. However, it is also necessary to find a balance between being in the present, hoping for certain outcomes, and thinking about past experiences. Many times what I fear will happen in the future does not actually happen, and then I ruin a “present” experience due to fear. We cannot get those moments back.

I work as a school psychologist, each day hoping to be a positive moment in a child’s life, or help families help their children. In recovery, the big picture is always what has helped me. What do I want people to remember about me? What WILL they remember? They won’t remember things, looks, or what you ate. There is an unfortunate emphasis and even an obsession about objects, appearance, money… etc. things that are not permanent. I read an article about self-love and body image and there was a striking comparison between how Americans view their bodies and how women from a small village in Africa view theirs. The researcher asked the African woman if she loved her body and she said, “What do you mean? Of course I love my body. That is like asking me of I love the trees. I love my body like I love the trees, like I love the earth.” She almost seemed shocked that he even thought to ask that question.

We love trees because there is no judgment of them. We love when we can accept that there is no perfection. Why cannot we look at other living things with similar acceptance? I have done a lot of reflection on the body. When I was first receiving treatment for anorexia, I started to realize that I did have an issue with body image. I never thought I did, but I had an issue of what I feared would happen in the future with my body. Now, I try to appreciate my body and be grateful for it. I appreciate the space that my body takes, the amount of gravity it takes to keep me on this ground. I appreciate all of its functions and its ability to carry me to places I want to go, to show affection for those I love.

Why do we also judge food? Good food or bad food. The judgement gets in the way of listening to what our bodies need. Unfortunately, when we judge a food or a type of physical appearance, we then transfer that judgement to ourselves – judging ourselves for eating a “bad” food or not reaching our expectations. Additionally, it seems typical to judge a food as good or bad based on the amount of calories it has. Calories are not the enemy. Nothing about food is bad. Calories and the components of food provide us with energy to live. We need calories – carbohydrates, fat, and protein in order to walk, blink, pump blood through our body, digest our food, kiss, hold a baby, throw a ball, and use our brain to make decisions. Remember how we thought of calories as a kid? We didn’t think of them. We thought about delicious food, enjoyed it, and then went back to enjoying life, using up the energy while playing with others. I was an intuitive eater all the way through high school. I remember eating BBQ potato chips after school because I was hungry and they tasted good. I remember loving pesto pasta and going back for seconds and not feeling guilty. I remember wishing my mother packed me white bread because I didn’t like the seeds in the whole grain wheat bread. I remember loving Capri Suns after soccer games. I was non-judgmental about food. I was carefree, ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full, and ate things that tasted good.

During one of my sessions with my old therapist, I learned a new perspective that was helpful, something valuable. When a food is “good for you”, it does not necessarily mean it is what I need in that moment. Maybe another piece of fruit isn’t good for me today – maybe I need a slice of cheese. If I don’t have the cheese, maybe my body will not be able to absorb the wonderful vitamins a piece of fruit has to offer. That hardest part is accepting this reality and practicing it.

I’ve learned a lot about radical acceptance during my treatment, which involves accepting who you are, what you feel, other people, and life as it is with compassion and curiosity. It means accepting life without repression or grasping an emotion or thought. I have been working towards radically accepting my experience, relationships with friends and family, old relationships, and my emotions. I have one life. And one body. I cannot change that. But I can change the way I live my life and how I think about my body. It has taken me a long time to accept certain things, and once, a person in a therapy group told me “it is what it is” and I hated that he said that. I wanted to tell him he was wrong and I could change what happened. But he was right, and that is why I hated what he said so much.

When we are resisting our thoughts and emotions, we are not loving ourselves and our experience. “Our self-wroth is precious” a friend once told me, ”You have to guard that shit.” When people say the wrong things, when people make judgements about food or bodies, whether their own or yours, we need to be sure of ourselves and be strong in our own truths. We cannot let negative comments deter us from fighting. If anyone doubts my ability to overcome anorexia, I show that I believe in myself and I am making small, big, and very difficult steps in the recovery direction. When I forget that I can do it, I remember all of the times when I HAVE done it and I take myself to places that remind me of the bigger picture: nature, someone’s arms, and my painting studio. What places or activities remind you of the bigger picture? Go there…

About the Author: My name is Theresa and I am from Walnut Creek, California. ​I am currently earning a Masters in Counseling with concentrations in Marriage and Family Therapy and Clinical Child/School Psychology. I work in a school district and provide mental health support for students K-12 as part of my full time internship. I also assess students for disabilities and collaborate with other professionals.  At Project HEAL, I am a former grant recipient, and am determined to give back by sharing the lessons I’ve learned from living with an eating disorder.  I am passionate about nature, therapy, and art. I can often be found hiking with my dog, painting, or working! (since my work right now is my passion).



To the Teacher Who Showed Compassion When I Was Struggling

By: Abigail O’Laughlin

Dear Teacher,

Walking into the hallways on the first day of 8th grade, I never fathomed that I would not be able to finish school that year. I never imagined that I would be unable to eat the large bag of Sour Patch Kids I received for my birthday from you. I never imagined that I would simply cover my plate with carrots and apples during our party in history. However, I developed an eating disorder anyways and you, my history teacher and yearbook advisor, made opening up about it a little bit easier.

The only other person that knew about my eating disorder was my best friend. I recruited her to help me talk to you. After asking to talk to you one day, you pulled us both out of P.E. and into your classroom. I laugh about it now, but I was unable to talk because whenever I would try, I would burst into tears. So, my friend told you what was going on while I calmed myself down. She told you how I called her the day before, crying because I desperately wanted a granola bar but I just couldn’t let myself eat it. How I literally spread myself thin trying to juggle exercising and schoolwork and obsessing about food. As you sat across from me, you did not judge me. You did not question my actions or claim that my suffering was in vain. Instead, you listened and accepted my struggle. You did not try to “fix” me, but you offered me advice on how to tell my parents. You, a mother of 3, told me that if I were your child, you would want me to tell you. Later that day, I mustered up the courage to tell my parents. They were probably more grateful for you than I was. I think that because of the kindness I received that day, it made my initial attempt at recovery a little bit easier, and my faith in others a little bit stronger.

I believe that more teachers should be like you. I believe that more teachers should listen and be compassionate and take time out of their busy day to talk to their students. For many students, you guys spend more time with us than our parents do. I felt comfortable walking into your classroom, which is much more than I can say about my current U.S. history teacher. Not only was that beneficial to my recovery, but it made going to school while depressed a little more bearable. I can never thank you enough. What you did may not seem like a lot, but it is something I will never forget or stop being grateful for.

Thank you, so much,


About the Author: 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! 

Why It’s Important to Have a Relapse Prevention Plan and How To Make One

By: Kristina Zufall

A relapse prevention plan is a document that is created by an individual with a mental illness, including eating disorders, to ensure that their recovery can be sustained as they step down from more intense treatment. The objective of the plan is to prepare for obstacles in recovery before they happen so that you are better prepared to face them. This is a comprehensive plan designed to help you stand firm in your recovery.

Things To Include on Your Relapse Prevention Plan:

A vision:

  1. Ask yourself if you are truly in recovery and define what your recovery looks like.
  2. Describe how your life will be better without your eating disorder and what you will lose if you ever return to disordered eating behaviors.
  3. Write about a time in your life you felt your best.
  4. List your supporters and how you will practice healthy communication with them.

Areas of wellness:

  1. Sleep- recovery takes energy and sleep helps us replenish our energy!
    1. List how you plan to get enough sleep.
    2. Describe any problems with sleep in the past and that could be problematic in recovery.
    3. Add ways your support system can assist you, or other things you can try should sleep problems persist (sleep medication, sleep hygiene, etc.).
  1. Mindfulness- mindfulness is a component of many different therapies styles used in treating eating disorders including dialectical behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. Mindfulness helps one stay living in the present, rather than in anxious thoughts of the past or future.
    1. List ways you have benefited from mindfulness in recovery.
    2. List how you plan to continue to implement mindfulness in your daily life and include your supporters if possible.
    3. Describe any ways you have previously had difficulty implementing mindfulness and ways you can address these should they arise.
  1. Emotions and moods- often eating disorders develop out of an attempt to manage mood. Instead of reverting to poor coping through disordered eating, recovery means learning to self-regulate in more helpful ways.
    1. List specific mood regulation tools you plan to implement. Perhaps you have learned these through therapy, groups or nutrition counseling.
    2. Do your best to describe why you may have had difficulty using these methods in the past, and how you plan to avoid these pitfalls in recovery.
    3. Describe your biggest stressors and how you intend to manage them.
    4. Describe your biggest struggles with body image and how you plan to work through these.
    5. Offer ways supporters may be able to help with mood regulation.
  1. Exercise- moving our bodies is an important part of staying healthy most physically and mentally, however, disordered exercise practices may exist within eating disorders.
    1. Describe the healthy exercise plan as discussed with your treatment providers. Be specific on number of days, duration, and intensity.
    2. List any problems that kept you from staying on track with you plan or reverting to disordered exercise patterns.
  1. Recreation- “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!” It is important to balance the hard work of recovery and daily life with activities that bring you pleasure.
    1. List what activities you want to incorporate in your life. Include when and where you may like to do them and if anyone else will be participating with you.
    2. Make note of any ways you may have had difficulty adding recreation or pleasurable activities in your life prior to this, and any ways your supporters can help prevent this.
    3. Consider adding time to give back to your community as this can be a powerful way to boost self-esteem.
    4. Don’t forget time for socialization. Having peer interactions provide healthy outlets for emotions. List where will you go and who you will go with for healthy social interactions.
  1. Nutrition– after a pattern of disordered eating exists, it can be difficult to break. Throughout treatment you will have had learned healthy nutrition for you and your body.
    1. List your meal plan as determined by you and your treatment team and ways you will ensure you are meeting all planned requirements.
    2. Describe any challenges with meal planning (shopping, cooking, cost, travel, etc.) and ways your supporters can help.
  1. Medication- often medication accompanies eating disorder treatment. It is important to take medication as prescribed.
    1. Detail how you will ensure you are getting to your appointments, filling prescriptions timely, and taking medication daily.
    2. List ways supports can assist you if you are having difficulty keeping up with your medication regimen.
  1. Ongoing care
    1. List the contact information for all your outpatient treatment team providers.
    2. List all upcoming appointments for your treatment team.
    3. Add any emergency crisis numbers such as the NEDA HelpLine (800) 931-2237.

Signs of Relapse

  1. Increased stress- List high stress areas if your life and ways that the stress may be visible to your supporters.
  2. Changes- ­List ways you can avoid major life changes which can often trigger increased stress or relapse.
  3. Denial- List ways your supporters can gently point out behaviors or concerns they have for your behaviors.
  4. Relapse- Should relapse happen, list your plan. (Increasing outpatient treatment, going into PHP/IOP, etc.)

Once you complete your plan, make a copy for yourself, each member of your treatment team, and each of your supporters. Continue to revise the plan as you move through recovery. And don’t forget to continue to ask for support throughout your recovery!

About the Author: Kristina resides in Houston, TX. She is a University of Houston alum where she earned her master’s in counseling. At Project HEAL, Kristina is dedicated to leading the Greater Houston Area team in awareness and fundraising efforts. She is passionate about the Houston Astros, Texans, and her black cat, Hallie.  Kristina’s favorite flavor of ice cream is birthday cake with sprinkles!

How My Dog Helped Me Heal from My Body Dysmorphia

By: Bethany Avery

For as long as I can remember, I have been at war with my body. I’ve had an eating disorder for 14 years, and though I consider myself to be in recovery now, I still wake up each morning feeling like my body isn’t mine, as if I am wearing a heavy cloak that was made for somebody else’s shape. I have hated the curves of my silhouette and the bumps and lumps of my flesh since I was eight years old. My older brothers started physically and emotionally abusing me when I was five, using elaborate games and songs to paint a picture of a world called “Fatland,” of which I was the queen. They couldn’t get close to me, they said, because fat was contagious. If they did get near me, they would bounce off of me, pretending I was a blob of flubber with enough force to propel them into space. As a child with very few emotional resources, I was willing to do anything to get the pain to stop, so I did the only thing that made sense at the time.

I began starving myself the summer before fourth grade, passing over my favorite childhood snacks and spending hours alone in my room, forcing myself to do hundreds of skips on my Skip-It toy. I was desperate to be thin, desperate to slip unnoticed from my abusive brothers’ eyes, passed over like a wisp in the wind. I know now that my brothers’ abusive behaviors had nothing to do with my weight, and that losing weight wouldn’t cure the cruelty in their own hearts, but I wasn’t able to understand that as a kid. Being able to point the finger of blame to myself was easier than pointing it at my brothers, who I wanted so deeply to love me.

From that time forward, food—and my body—became my worst enemy, a nemesis I swore I would find a way to defeat. In today’s standards, my body is not beautiful. I perhaps would have been considered beautiful in the days of Marilyn Monroe, with my curvy hourglass waist, thick thighs, and large chest. As much as I wanted it, I have never had a flat stomach, a thigh gap, or slender arms and legs. My body wasn’t meant to be thin.

I’m bulky and strong. I can go to the gym twice and come out with new definition in my muscles. My torso is short; my ass, large; my shoulders, wide; and my feet, big. Because of how deeply my brothers were committed to making me think my body was disgusting, I started to believe them. I would look in the mirror and see a stranger, a girl who had stolen my eyes and my mouth and my soul and placed them in a different body. I spent hours looking at myself sideways in the mirror, trying to determine if the fat roll on my lower stomach had gotten bigger or smaller since the day before. If my boobs looked smaller, I would rejoice. If my face looked rounder, I would cry. Even in my dreams, I would imagine myself as a thinner and stronger girl. To this day, my dreams don’t accurately reflect what I really look like, portraying me an 11-year-old girl rather than a 22-year-old woman.

When I first began my recovery in college, there were times that I was able to see what my body really looked like. I had moments where I would be in front of our dorm mirror in a panic, wondering how I had gained ten pounds overnight, only for that weight to mysteriously disappear an hour later. Or moments when my curves would suddenly shift from looking disgusting to looking normal, from feeling out of place to feeling right. It is these moments that get me through the tougher times I face every now and then in the present, when I try on five different outfits for work and feel wrong in every one of them or when I’m too self conscious of my body to go to the grocery store. When it’s difficult for me to connect with what my body really looks like—and, more importantly, what it feels like—I’m able to hold onto these moments and know that it is possible. One of the biggest steps in my recovery occurred directly after college.

Though working towards recovery, I was still in the grasp of my eating disorder by the time I graduated college. I lived at home for a few months while job hunting (my abusive brothers had moved out) and grew to become close with our family dog, Scooby. We found Scooby when I was a freshman in high school, rustling around under our front porch. He was emaciated, so thin he could slip through our porch rails spaced three inches apart. He was wide-eyed and terrified, but not aggressive like animals can sometimes get when scared. It took us over an hour to get him to come out from under our porch, feeding him one hot dog at a time until he felt comfortable enough to wiggle out. My parents wanted to call our local animal shelter, but my sister insisted he stay with us. He was an extremely skittish animal, and even after seven years of living in our garage, Scooby never got over his fear of being touched. He would let us pet him and sit next to him, but he would duck his head in fear or skitter away to allow for several feet of space. He had obviously been abused by his past owners, and his body showed it. He was an ugly dog. Misshapen torso, a nub for a tail, front legs that didn’t bend. Floppy ears, loose skin, claws the size of knives.

He quickly put on weight at our house and became less skeletal, but his body remained a little broken. Scooby and I struck up a friendship while I was job hunting, and we kept each other company in the lonely moments. I would take him on walks to get fresh air and fight away boredom, and he would come to the door next to my computer when he needed attention. His favorite place to rest was on the porch next to my computer, where he would move from one sunny spot to the next and lounge throughout the day. He had arthritis in his legs, so he would lie with them stretched out, his chin resting on the ground. I noticed one morning how Scooby’s skin rolls looked very similar to the fat rolls I have down the side of my body when I’m curled up, like little glops of dough waiting to be put in the oven. And how his chin could so easily envelop his face, similar to the double-chin I’ve had (and hated) for my entire life. I noticed these things, and I didn’t judge him. I didn’t decide he was a piece of trash. I didn’t decide to treat him poorly, like I treat myself at times. He was my Scooby, and that’s all that mattered. I had grown to love him, and I didn’t care that he was different from other dogs. His misshapen body was beautiful to me, and I loved how he looked with his chub rolls and crooked torso and missing tail. Now, when I look in the mirror and see my own fat rolls, double chin, and thick thighs, I think of Scooby rather than thinking about my body.

I didn’t plan for this to happen, but as my heart opened up to Scooby, it began to open up to myself as well, and I decided if I could believe the stray dog that wandered under our porch was beautiful and important, then I could believe that about myself as well. My recovery is still a work in progress, a flower that hasn’t quite bloomed yet. I’m okay with that. Eating disorder recovery isn’t something that can be planned. It’s not something that can be put on a goal list and achieved by the end of the year. It’s messy, and unexplainable at times, and confusing. Loving myself inside and out is a lifelong journey, and there will be a lot of ups and downs along the way. I haven’t reached the end yet, but I’ve taken the first step. And if it took a scared, ugly dog to help me see the beauty in myself, then for that, I can only be grateful.

5 Tips for Caring for Someone with An Eating Disorder

By: Etta Eckerstrom

Recovering from an eating disorder is HARD. It takes time, mental energy, and physical energy to commit to a meal plan, attend appointments, and fight the voices in your head that scream, “you don’t deserve this.” Many people choose or are placed into residential treatment as a result, an environment where recovery becomes the only and top priority. But residential treatment programs are expensive, and not every individual can afford the cost or time associated with them. As a college student, the thought of leaving my friends and classes behind for a semester, or committing my summer to a residential program, was too hard to even consider. So, with the guidance of an amazing team of outpatient providers, I was able to recover.

Recovering from an eating disorder is hard, but throw in a full course load, extracurricular engagements, and the typical campus “diet culture,” and you have the perfect storm of stressors, triggers, and barriers to fuel the eating disorder’s voice in your head. Having a support system outside of a treatment team can make recovery that much easier, but many well intentioned friends and family members do not know how they can be the most help.

Here are five suggestions that I wish I had been comfortable enough to bring up to those close to me early on. While some may seem small, each can make a difference in a friend’s recovery.

1. Please do not make comments about what your friend is eating, how much, etc.

A lot of students use mealtimes as a time to catch up with friends, grabbing lunch between classes or dinner at the end of a long day. For someone with an eating disorder, eating in front of people can often be scary, either because they have rituals around food that they don’t want others to notice or they fear judgment from their friend as to what or how much they are eating. If you know your friend is going through recovery, it is especially important to keep the conversation away from their plate. Even if you yourself have been through recovery, your friend’s meal plan could be entirely different, depending on where they are at in the process. Keeping the conversation away from food turns the meal into just a time to catch up on each other’s lives and can reduce your friend’s anxiety.

2. Please do not talk about the new workout plan you started or how you were “good” because you worked out today.

Many people going through recovery are either banned from exercise or placed on a very restricted exercise plan. This can be anxiety provoking, as they are eating more and unable to engage in activity that used to be a way to reduce guilt and anxiety surrounding food or weight gain. Hearing about your hour long workout at Barre or how you have been at the boxing gym five times this week can quickly lead to a comparison game, and induce feelings of guilt for not doing the same. Saying “I was so good for exercising today,” can quickly make your friend’s brain jump to, “Well I couldn’t workout today, so therefore I am bad.”

3. Be aware of buying into “diet culture.”

This is good advice for anyone, regardless of whether or not they have a friend who is in recovery for an eating disorder. “Diet culture” is what tells us that there are good foods and bad foods, that exercise is a way to “make up” for any “bad” foods consumed, and that restricting to get that “spring break body” is normal and okay. In reality there is only food, period. Exercise should be a way to destress and boost energy. And restricting food is never normal, or okay. Yet the amount of times I hear people make comments such as, “I’ll have to be at the gym for x amount of hours to burn this off” or “I was so bad today, I had ice cream” or “Oh, I can’t eat that, spring break is in two weeks,” is disappointing. Even comments that seem casual, such as “I haven’t eaten all day” or “I skipped breakfast this morning,” can be triggering and invoke comparison anxiety in your friend. For someone in recovery, all of these thoughts can mirror ones they have on a daily basis. Diet culture is sadly the norm in our society, but being aware of staying away from these types of comments can have a huge, positive impact on your friend’s recovery, as well as in combatting its pervasiveness. These were three things that you should not do, but what about things you can do to help your friend while he or she is going through recovery?

4. Be patient and understanding.

It can be hard to watch someone you love and care about struggling, and there may be times you wish you could talk them into eating. But showing them compassion and especially patience throughout the process is so important. Recovery is far from a linear process, so if your friend cancels on dinner or seems to be eating less than usual, do not immediately assume he or she has relapsed. Some days will be much harder than others, but blaming, yelling, or expressing frustration with them only adds to any feelings of guilt, anxiety, or frustration that they themselves feel. As much as you may wish it, your friend will not recover overnight. Instead, remind them that you are there for them, and suggest non-meal activities, so they can still spend time with you in a less stress inducing environment. They likely spend a lot of their week talking and thinking about recovery already, so time with you can be a mental break from that part of their lives.

5. If you have a friend you are concerned about, either who is in recovery or showing symptoms, tell them what you notice. If you notice your friend has been skipping meals, going to the bathroom after meals, at the gym more than usual, or seems to be losing weight, one of the best ways to bring it up to them is by explaining to them what you notice. Approach them one on one and in a private environment, and begin by saying, “I have noticed x, and am worried.” People with eating disorders will want to protect it with everything they have, so jumping in immediately with, “I think you have an eating disorder,” can lead walls to go up and for them to lash out defensively. They can’t argue with behaviors and signs you have seen with your own two eyes, however. They may dismiss the importance or claim there is nothing to be concerned about, and in that moment, it’s okay to back off and let them know you will always be there for them if they need to talk. A person must ultimately choose recovery, but I believe it’s important not to give up. If they continue exhibiting this behavior, going to an adult or a parent may save their life. Recovering from an eating disorder is hard, but so can being there for someone who is. Every individual is different and will respond to offers of help and support in different ways, but let these serve as a starting point for helping your friend along on his or her recovery journey.

About the Author: Etta resides in Nashville, TN. She is earning a degree in public health and psychology from Vanderbilt University. At Project Heal, Etta is dedicated to having a positive impact, directly or indirectly, on those who are in recovery. She is passionate about empowering others and educating people on eating disorders. She can often be found studying at coffee shops around Nashville, going for a run, and spending time with friends. Etta’s favorite ice cream flavor is anything with chocolate.

The Joy Is In The Journey

By: Lydia Hubbard

I am here but not there.

I have found myself yet I am still searching.

Standing at the top, my eyes stare forward,

trembling to look down before I let myself plunge.

Falling beneath the black, deeper into a hole

that may never close.

The ditch is stable but its width fluctuates –

I can still fit.

I imagine a day where I outgrow the hole but maybe I don’t want to.

Maybe the depth of its darkness is a place to hide.

I dig with weary hands and brittle bones until

the dirt consumes me.

Until my heartbeat stalls and my breath screams into the empty air.

Until I realize the only way out is to climb back up without searching

for a short-cut.

The hole has found its place in my chest, my eyes, and my brain.

I will fill the hollow dwellings with my own light.

I walked into my bedroom at home last week with a new pillow added by my mother that read: “joy is in the journey”. I did not think much of the cliché until I walked into an office the next day, where the same exact pillow sat on the couch. A center where I finally accepted treatment for an eating disorder – the very hole that has welcomed depression and anxiety into its darkness. I dug into the depth of the void and I found emptiness. My mind’s control is consuming and I cannot fix this on my own.

I constantly find signs where there may be no significance at all, but nonetheless, a simple pillow ignited a decision. “I need help” came in a soft and quivering voice, but I’ve never felt so strong. I am ready to breathe freely, to dismiss the overwhelming voices, to change my learned behaviors, to start living. Recovery will be a process and there is no satisfactory result. The journey itself holds purpose and the timeline to rebuild is continuous. A hole can leak and crack, maybe re-open, but closure does not determine progression.

Whatever the hole may be for you, if your mind had the power to form the hollow dwellings, you also have the strength to fill them – but you do not need to know how to do so on your own. There is no manual to healing, no concrete image of a fixed hole to follow as you read the instructions. Making the effort to begin is greater than the endpoint. No matter your pace, purely start; rid yourself of the pressure to reach your sense of perfection. Put down the guide and stop planning for success – if the “joy is in the journey,” then you’re already there.

About the Author: Lydia Hubbard resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a College Coach who works with College Possible for a year of service through AmeriCorps. At Project HEAL, Lydia is dedicated to sharing words of hope after her recovery from anorexia. She is passionate about mental health, suicide awareness, and the power of meditation.








It (It Does Not Deserve a Name)

By: Tracey Buckley

It has stolen years from me

It has kept me isolated

It was my best friend

It controlled me

It took away my dreams, hopes and desires.

It kept me small

It made me frail

It turned my bones into chalk

It bullied me

It gave me no direction

It controlled me

It became all I’ve known

It kept me weak

It left me frail

It was dark, ugly and deceiving

It did not have my best interest for me

It was loud

It left me empty

It left me broken

It made me feel invisible

It scared me

It was not my best friend.

Imagine having a friend like that?

I wrote this in 2008 when I was just so angry about having an eating disorder, and what it had done. I was angry about the impact it had on my life. I was angry at the years that it had stolen from me. I was angry, it was the first time that I felt angry at the eating disorder. At that stage, I was a year into my recovery.

So now fast forward ten years later and my life has changed so much, my world is so much bigger.

I had to decide that my life was worth so much more, I had to believe that I was a woman who deserved to live a life, to live a life without an eating disorder.

I chose to fight back, I chose to embrace my life and to get back what the eating disorder had stolen from me.

I really wanted to encourage you that there is hope, that recovery is possible, that your life is so valuable and you are so worthy of living a full and abundant life. You are so worthy, valued and loved.

Be encouraged.

About the Author: My name is Tracey Buckley and I live in Australia. Tracey is a Primary School Chaplain, who works with students from Kindy to Year 6 and the whole school community to help students with friendships, family and life skills issues. Tracey is also studying a Diploma in Counseling. At Project HEAL, Tracey is dedicated to letting people know that they are not alone in their journey and to know that recovery is possible. She is passionate about making a difference, coffee, family and friends. Tracey’s favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla at the moment.

What Happened When I Talked to My High School About My Eating Disorder

By: Eva Romanoff

I am a 10th grader at an all girls high school, which means almost everyone surrounding me is often worried about how they look. I, too, used to participate in the conversations surrounding the best diet or the workout that is absolutely necessary to get that one perfect guy to notice you. Over my years in recovery though, I was able to step back and realize these conversations are not “just how teenage girls think,” but a part of a larger societal problem about the placement of young girl’s self worth on their appearance.

After seeing that body image was a deeply rooted issue in my school, I began to speak to the administration about the fact that the conversations surrounding body image are too rare and too simplified. Honestly, I felt that I had had my experience discussing food and weight at treatment, and that my friends deserve the opportunity to share their emotions in a safe space as well. So, I was thrilled when others agreed with my perspective, and I was overjoyed when I discovered our grade would be broken up into groups of 10 girls and paired with 2 seniors for an hour a week with the goal to discuss how we feel about ourselves, physically and emotionally. Yet the second I entered the classroom filled with familiar faces students and no teachers, my stomach dropped.

The majority of my grade is aware of my eating disorder, my treatment process, and my recovery, so how was I meant to talk honestly about my body image without seeming self-righteous or all-knowing? How was I meant to express my confidence surrounding my progress without seeming conceded? How was I meant to express my remaining stress about my image without seeming like a fraud whenever I promoted positive body image? I was having trouble balancing my positive recovered mind with my insecure teenage mind. I was overwhelmed trying to figure out how to be recovered and confident and humbled and helpful and honest. I was desperately trying to find a way to use this time, the time I had fought for, to talk about my body image in a way where I could share my knowledge and confidence I had gained in treatment while also accurately expressing my emotions. I was putting too much pressure on myself to be the perfect, relatable spokesperson for all eating disorders and insecure girls in my school.

So, I made it through the hour discussion by being brutally honest, because that was all I could do. When I heard a friend say something that I had previously discussed in treatment, I responded by explaining how I related, and then repeating how I got through it. When I thought something I was insecure about, I spoke my thought and walked my friends through my emotions and actions. Yet I was still carefully, meticulously balancing a conversation concerning the topic I was most passionate about discussing. As I reflect on this hour of my life, I realize I should not view this hour as a lost opportunity for be to be honest, or a failed discussion that was my responsibility to lead. I should view it as a first step. 60 minutes with 12 girls is not enough time to delve into all the aspects of body image, insecurities, and the sources of them. It is just a first step, and I need to be okay with that. I am learning that the process of eating disorder education and awareness is just that; a process. I cannot snap my fingers and explain everything I have learned in therapy, or fix everyone’s fears surrounding food. What I can do, and what I am able to do, and what I promise to do, is push for the second, third, fourth, and fifth steps. Because I cannot solve all the problems surrounding body image myself, but I can be responsible for my portion and just simply do my best.

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.