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

Recovery During Stressful Times

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By Madison Swart

Finals, graduation, starting a new job, moving home, moving to a new city, not having your usual routine of the school year…

It’s no secret that late spring brings a whole vat of stress along with it.

So, during this time of life transitions and stressful events, I really really REALLY need for you to remember something – Ed THRIVES on stress.

He literally sits around and waits for various moments of vulnerability.

What makes us more vulnerable than stress? (Believe me, I know the “I’m so stressed so I will just do nothing and lay in my bed and cry” feeling/action/decision more than anyone – Just ask my mom!)

When we find ourselves in personal crisis, Ed will present himself as an ally…as a friend.

He is standing (or sitting, or lying – whatever he does with his pathetic existence) there, waiting for you to break down just enough that you will find comfort in anything –

Even if that is the one thing you know you should avoid like the plague.

I started struggling with my eating disorder early on in high school, and battled it through my first semester, sophomore year of college. Ed was there for me when I went to college, transferred schools, switched majors, studied for finals, and any time I was stressed in any way.

The issue is that while he helped to relieve some of my anxiety and stress in the immediate moment, he would always bring along with him an aftermath of sadness, depression, guilt, and shame.

I realized that Ed was my default reaction to anxiety, and that there were so many other productive ways that we can deal with anxiety or stress in ways that don’t hurt our mental, physical, social, and academic health.

Psychotherapist and researcher, Angela Favaro, Ph.D., gives three guidelines for improving how to deal with stress in the book by Aimee Liu, ‘Restoring our Bodies, Reclaiming our Lives’.

  1. Understand that stress is normal

Here, it’s important to realize that you are indeed stressed, and that it’s perfectly OK. Stress has the helpful function of acting as a signal for you to recognize your needs. Thinking of stress in this way makes it a lot less overwhelming and approaches it in a ‘problem-solving’ manner rather than letting it overtake you. This is like how you’d use a relapse to figure out what’s wrong and try to come up with the best ways to proceed. For most people, our automatic response to stressful situations is to blame ourselves for feeling that way, but Favaro says ‘Criticizing yourself for feeling stressed or trying to suppress the feeling will only increase your anxiety and make it more difficult to handle the situation.’

  1. Take stoke of your current stress-management resources and abilities

Dealing with stress isn’t some innate gift bestowed upon only a select few. Everyone can deal with stress better once they have some good tools in place to cope with it. Favaro suggests identifying ‘the resources and relationships in your life that currently help you manage stress as well as factors that limit your ability to manage stress (such as fatigue, lack of free time, unsupportive relationships).’

  1. Identify the resources and abilities you still need to develop to succeed in managing stress

What are other things that would help you better manage stressful situations? Favaro lists several strategies that are known for their stress-soothing abilities: meditation, hanging out with friends, hobbies, nature. She suggests writing down, in steps, how you’ll add these tools to your day-to-day while reminding us that ‘effective stress management is not a quick fix, bur a lifelong process.’

meditate-1851165_640So as you enter this stressful time, remember to cut yourself some slack.

Take a study break and go to a yoga class with your friend, or even just try and meet up with friends to study (I’m all for killing a few birds with a single stone!) When you notice yourself getting stressed, or overwhelmed, close your eyes and count to ten. It’s amazing what this quick and easy exercise can do to your perspective. Often it’s when we act in the moment that we regret what we do – and think of how many times Ed has preyed upon you in moments of impulsivity.

Lastly, remember that nothing is permanent. If things are going great – enjoy it, because it won’t last forever. If life really has been throwing you around lately – don’t worry, because ‘this, too, shall pass.”

0e6fca243e254133b5e305ec6d7825c5About the Author: Madison is the Founder and President of the Ohio State University Chapter of Project HEAL! She is a senior majoring in Social Work and Psychology currently working as an addiction counselor for The Ohio State University Student Wellness Center. After graduating in May, Madison plans to stay involved with Project HEAL while pursuing a career in Social Work, hoping to help individuals struggling with mental health struggles. Madison runs a blog,, and paints in her free time.

A letter written by a caregiver to her partner’s eating disorder

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Dear ED,

How dare you.

How dare you turn my partner into something I no longer recognize. You make her selfish, which she is anything but. You make her hide things from me, yet I am the only person that knows everything about her.

How dare you shame her.

How dare you tell her that she is not enough. That she is not worth it. That she is dirty.

How dare you make her live in a world full of fear when she is so full of nothing but love and empathy for people. How dare you.

How dare you make her want to crawl out of her skin. How dare you make her want to be just skin and bones in order to be invisible. How dare you take her voice away from her when she is full of knowledge and insight that should be shared with the world.

How dare you break her down into nothing and take her away from me. How dare you make me miss her so much although she is physically standing right in front of me. How dare you be an illness that very few people understand limiting the amount of people that I can confide in. How dare you separate us when we are supposed to be building our lives together. How dare you keep me up at night wondering if she’s okay. How dare you make me pull over to the side of the road and cry alone in my car. How dare you make her so scared and anxious to put anything in her body and take away the joy of food. How dare you make me tell her to take two more bites of food and act like her mom when I am supposed to be her equal. How dare you make me get so mad, frustrated, and disappointed at her just because you embody her.

Shame on you ED. Shame on you for making me scared that she may not wake up the next morning because you made her destroy herself physically and mentally. Shame on you for making me navigate our broken mental health system alone without my partner and best friend. Shame on you for showing me a glimpse of hope, of “normalization” only to completely tear it apart and put our future farther and farther away from us. When will you leave us? Our lives are supposed to be beginning, but instead they’re on hold.

Why won’t you just leave her alone? Her head is full of you. Full of distortions. Full of torturous thoughts.

Please I beg of you just let her be. Your thoughts are a waste of time. She could be spending this time creating and giving back to the world and making it a better place and filling it with joy and happiness, but instead she’s stuck with you. She’s stuck attending to your needs and your desires. Have you ever thought about what she wants? About all that she can give to the world without you present? Please just let her go. I can’t bear to live with you for another day. I’m so tired of fighting you. I just want to be with OJ, just OJ, just as she is without you in her head taking away from our time together. I am ready to continue to grow with her and discover all that we can do together, without you.

In spite,


Jamie third wheelAbout the Author: Jamie Dannenberg (CJ) is the primary carer of her partner, also named Jamie but referred to as OJ, who is in recovery from an eating disorder. As the partner of someone with an eating disorder and a registered dietitian, CJ has had to learn to navigate various roles in their relationship. With OJ, Jamie has become involved in global advocacy work and together they share their experience as a queer couple in recovery on their blog thirdwheelED. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Road to Recovery: Liza Kulimanova

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By TJ Spencer

Project HEAL provides grant funding for people with eating disorders who cannot afford treatment. For many, this treatment has gone beyond saving their lives – it helps them save others’ lives as well.

Such is the case for Liza Kulimanova, a 2014 Project HEAl grant recipient who currently runs a website, educational YouTube channel and a blog dedicated to helping others overcome their struggles with bulimia.

For Liza, her 13-year struggle with bulimia began in her home country of Russia. She remembers being happy until around age 11, when she began dedicating more and more of her time to her studies and striving for perfection. After trying different weight loss centers and Chinese acupuncture to help cope with her struggles, she was prescribed Fluoxetine to help with depression – but it just wasn’t working.

Her days before treatment were filled with a routine of “dwelling on negative thoughts, zoning out, restricting, binging, purging…being extremely busy and ‘productive,’” Liza explains.

This routine was further perpetuated with she immigrated to the United States in 2010.

“I had no support in the USA and I was extremely isolated,” she says.

She then began searching online for scholarships for eating disorder treatment and discovered Project HEAL. With the grant, she was able to attend treatment at The New Beginning in Scottsdale, AZ.

“Treatment was hard and painful, but at the same time giving me relief and making me feel so much better. I am so grateful for treatment and I see bulimia as a gift now. It really allowed me to become a healthier and better person and grow tremendously from the inside,” she explains.

Today, Liza’s routine is filled with smiling, being more present and aware, checking in on herself, creating time for herself and being open to people, along with blogging and bodybuilding.

“I am very determined and disciplined, and willing to grow consistently,” she says.

This determination and discipline has allowed her to become an ambassador for bulimia treatment through her website, blog and YouTube channel.

“Believe that recovery is possible, because it is. Love yourself enough to get better — just take the first step and see where this journey will lead you. Let your life to unfold and let go of the control,” she advises.

headshotAbout the Author: Second-year journalism and French double major at Seattle University, TJ Spencer is originally from a small town in California, but Seattle stole her heart. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading and showing off her embarrassing dance moves at cardio dance class. You can find her around Seattle photographing anything and everything, or in her bedroom practicing her French by talking to her roommate’s rabbit.

Where is My Chip or Ribbon?

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By: Jeff Holton

I would like to first start by saying that I do not have an issue with anyone or any group that has representation for their struggles, triumphs, and circumstances.  In fact, it has been seeing firsthand the many different people that have been in my life and the joy, encouragement, solace, and unity that each have drawn from their own ribbon or chip, that identifies what they have personally dealt with, and many times still continue to battle through.  I greatly admire what each signifies not only for the cause, but as important the individual person.

When I initially decided, or maybe better finally admitted that I needed to enter treatment for ED my thought was that I would be away from work for eight to twelve weeks, gain a certain amount of weight, and come out on the other end as the same person I was prior to ED.  In fact I was so sure of this that when people would tell him how happy they were for me, and they would be thinking of me, I still remember telling many that it was no big deal and that I would be gone for a little bit of time and comeback with added and needed weight.  It is not easy for me to admit when I am wrong, but this I WAS WRONG!  In fact I was not even in the ballpark, zip code, area code, or whatever analogy you like to use.  I am still shocked at how much I underestimated the process.

I entered PHP September 6. 2016 and left October 26, 2016.  During that time I attended around 35 days of therapy.  The total hours ranged between 250 and 280 hours.  Safe to say that I underestimated greatly what would be involved while in full time therapy, what would be involved immediately after I left, and what would be involved for the next five to seven years of my life.  Since leaving therapy I continue to spend 1.5 hours a week working with my therapy team which includes a dietician and psychologist.

What I failed to realize is that treating ED is not something that has a defined game plan, path, timeline, or basically anything that my structured mind wanted.  In fact treating my ED at times feels like getting all four of my kids on the same page for what is for dinner, the movie we will watch that night, and what the movie snack will be.  There is always a chance that all four (ages 9 through 3) will agree on everything, but more than likely it will be much like treating ED– a 5 to 7 year process to see success.

I bring this up not for anyone to feel sorry for me and what I am going through.  In fact, the opposite.  This is process is me and “my team’s” battle, one that we ARE going to win, and I do not want sympathy, only empathy.  My point in sharing is that treating ED and getting to a place of recovery, which looks different for each person is a long and winding process over many years.

Battling ED, and yes I view it as a battle, is a process that one breath has you feeling as if you are on top the world, and the next scared of a menu or something on your plate. Then you find yourself contemplating what in the hell to pick for your snack, to not having confidence that you are following your meal plan, to being back on top of the world.  This can all happen before lunch, and can happen many times throughout the day for those of us battling ED.

It is a constant process to be mindful, breathe, use your skills, slow down, be present, ask for help, sit with emotions, not be self-critical, and many other things that occur throughout the day while battling ED.

Today there are over 80+ different color ribbons that are designed to create public awareness to health, medical conditions, disability, and other issues. An awareness ribbon is defined as a piece of colored ribbon folded across itself creating a loop shape. Today, awareness ribbons are used globally as a way for wearers of the ribbon(s) to make a statement of support for a particular cause or issue.  There are 100’s of different causes, issues, and diseases that are represented and are very much deserved.

I bring all of this up as I know many on the outside of the ED battle tend to think “Hey Jeff went to therapy for a couple of months, gained some weight, looks better, all is fixed and good.”  Yes things are MUCH better than they were when I entered treatment, AND I am now only six months into my process AND I know that at the very minimum I still have another twelve months left and in most situations another four or five years.  I am comfortable with my process, all I wish is that for myself and everyone else battling ED that we had a ribbon, chip, or some symbol that signified our process, how long we have been in the process, and where we are at.  The battle and process are real and there is no definite end date or finish line.

In the grand scheme of things I know that this is a small item, AND I also know that it is something that I want AND I have learned from many great people that it is healthy and necessary to ask for what I need.


About the Author: What does Jeff do on his days off?  Well, he has four children under the age of 9, so that keeps him pretty busy at soccer matches, basketball games, baseball games, and acro recitals.  In between chasing after kids, Jeff loves watching Ohio State Football and playing golf.  He is also quite the connoisseur of craft beer.

Stars Can’t Shine Without Darkness

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By: Crystal Campoverde

I have begun to see this truth I recite daily play out in my life. A year since immersing into the sometimes-daunting process of trauma work, this quote helps me visualize the co-existence of joy and pain. From my perspective, recovering from trauma requires one to walk through the five stages of grief and loss while simultaneously staying grounded in the beauty of the present.

Renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously illustrates these five stages of grief and loss as

1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance.

Of course these stages are not linear. Much like recovering from an eating disorder, trauma recovery is like a musical piece with all its crescendos, pauses, accidentals, ebbs, and flows. For me, denial looked like holding my arms out trying to keep two worlds separate – the remnants trauma left behind on one side from the beauty of my present life on the other side.

Bargaining looked like acknowledging selective parts of the trauma to justify its occurrence in my life. Specifically, my vocation became the bow I tied neatly on top of the trauma to make sense of its existence. Of course, that was until even my vocation was not enough to keep the eating disorder and pain at bay. When the bargaining wasn’t enough, I went back to anger. Because wait, why do children, the most vulnerable of any population, have to endure any pain and suffering when they are still establishing their internal resources? My eating disorder gave me the false belief that anger over anything was wrong. So experiencing anger was a sign of moving forward towards accepting the trauma instead of denying it and numbing it out by restricting.

Although I am only in the beginning stages of acceptance, I share with you my reflections to provide fellow trauma survivors hope. Acceptance does not mean excusing the trauma that occurred. As Oprah Winfrey says, “It means letting go of the hope that the past could have been different” and not giving power to the trauma to claim your true identity. So what does acceptance begin to look like? For me, moving into acceptance is unclenching my fists and releasing the burdens I was not meant to carry.

Moving into acceptance is lowering my arms and allowing the remnants of trauma I am still working through and the redemptive moments in life collide like an avalanche. As much as the pain can feel unbearable, the heartaches can keep us awake at night, the anger to want a reason for suffering can weigh heavy, I’m discovering that letting go of the hope that the past could have been different gives one momentum to get up each morning to reach out to community, help others, and to simply be even when things are messy. Because things will be messy when one is recovering from trauma and unburdening the pain since healing is giving witness to the grief.

When the grief presents itself, instead of it letting it overwhelm me and going into denial I now ground myself by saying to my grieving part, “I’m okay, you’re okay, I will let you have your say.”

Anorexia has a subtle way to fill one with the cynical, false belief that you need little to survive- little food, little community, little safety, little hope, little acknowledgement. But once you recover from an eating disorder and begin to unburden the trauma it was covering up, your authentic self begins to emerge. Calmness, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, courage, creativity, and connectedness, these 8 C’s from internal family systems model (IFS), are in the stage of acceptance. Sometimes we won’t have answers for experiences we had to endure. Trusting our higher power, we keep our eyes fixed on what’s ahead, unburdening the past, dwelling in hope, and embracing the present. Acceptance to me is what we do with the pain. Yes, the people and things I advocate for are part of my story. I can’t deny that my past has allowed me a unique perspective and intensity to advocate for the very same things traumatic experiences take from others. Today, I am slowly unclenching my hands even with the messiness I am still working through.

Stars-cant-shine-without-darkness.-1In moving forward, you begin to notice the beauty around you to remain grounded. I believe these moments give you momentum to recover what was lost. Allow yourself to feel the stars shining on you even if those around you don’t experience them in the same depth. Bask in them. I am claiming my voice again through these experiences.

When I was in residential treatment, I couldn’t visualize where these life-giving memories would emerge. These moments include running the parking garages with my friend and feeling so alive and free to spend time with such a positive person and feeling my body supporting me.

When I sit with the uncomfortable feelings of a break up, I can now also see that my interaction with him allowed me to dream I could let someone in and feel belonged. When the toddler I nanny spontaneously embraces me, I allow the joyful tears run down my cheeks because I know how it feels to allow love in. Celebrating a friend’s birthday and seeing the wind blow out the candles prematurely and laughing uncontrollably–these are the moments that remind me that I am moving into acceptance and that the trauma cannot have power over my present life.

Yes, acknowledging and recovering from trauma can be painful and can make you feel exposed. This life can be incredibly messy especially when the unexplainable, tragic occurs. There is loss. There is grief. But there are also stars in that same darkness. And if you begin to embrace what you have right now, release the burdens of your past, dwell in hope, you will start to see the stars clearer. These stars include your loving community that sticks with you, Project Heal that is a family to so many in recovery, and your authentic self. YOU are a star shining in the darkness.

15676370_10202766162271418_1024429809987914000_oAbout the Author: 
Crystal Campoverde is a GRATEFUL Project HEAL treatment grant recipient. Having walked through her journey of recovery from anorexia and bulimia, she is incredibly thankful for her loving community and for vicariously experiencing a life-giving childhood at 24 years old. She loves to write, eat cupcakes, practice yoga, and advocate for children’s needs. She is a strong advocate for both eating disorder awareness and post-traumatic stress disorder awareness. She shares her vulnerability through blogging to encourage others in their healing and to lead a fulfilling, redemptive life.

Trash the Trash Talk

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By: Florence Taglight

You know that little devil that sits on your right shoulder? (It may be your left, but I’ve always had mine on my right.) We all have one, some bigger than others. Well I’m learning to toss mine in the trash, where it belongs.

The negative self-talk, the anxiety provoked thoughts and day-ruining words this devil speaks. Telling me that I am not good enough, that I am not worthy of recovery, that I am unloved–sound familiar?

Maybe the literal words are different, but nonetheless they are filled with same toxicity–and come on, in a world filled with competition, pessimism and cynics, the last thing we need is OUR OWN mind beating us up.

What I find so strange is just that, it is my own mind. So surely, I should be able to stop these words. Surely, if I am telling myself all these vile things, I am the only one who can shut it up. Well the hard part, is also empowering–in the end only I can. But like a lot of things that sincerely make a difference it takes conscious synapse re-routing (I just barely scraped by in biology, so let’s just pretend that’s a thing, okay?) persistent emotional awareness and mental redirection.

It’s exhausting just thinking about it and trust me; I’m far from an expert. My pernicious and deceiving pint-sized ’friend’ still speaks far too often and far too loud for my liking, but unquestionably less than it did 6 months ago.

person-976759_1280(If you know me, you know I’m going to bring my dogs into this at some point) I have to remind myself, that I would NEVER EVER say these things to Missy or Nell. Even if  you’re not a dog lover (first of all, WHAT? Secondly, HOW? Thirdly, COME AGAIN?) you wouldn’t say such things to a child, a friend or family member. I would never dream of telling anyone I love (or don’t love) such self-depreciating words­–so why do I say such things  to myself?

I will tell you why: The voice grew louder and more frequent as I shrunk and became weaker. It picked up its megaphone whilst I buried myself beneath my sheets.

I got so used to these words that they became normal, run-of-the-mill and routine. I didn’t realize they were detrimental until I began expressing that they were there.

Expressing those thoughts is something that is really hard to do, I know. But I promise you it’ll help. Admitting that they are there, even if it’s to yourself, your dog, fish, or snake. (If you have none of these things you are more than welcome to email and tell me.) Once they are out there, the formerly omnipotent voice quivers and shakes.

Some people I know use a ‘trash shoot’, ‘garbage can’ or ‘rubbish room’ – some metaphorical and some physical. Whatever it is, get it out, get shredding, grinding and destroying the words that only make you miserable.

Stop telling yourself you don’t matter. Stop telling yourself you’re not good enough. Take the megaphone from the imp and give it to the child inside you, who once believed that when they were older they would be royalty, a dragon or in my case a policewoman – if you know me, you know I would be a TERRIBLE policewoman.


screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-5-12-36-pmAbout the Author: Florence Taglight is the International Ambassador UK for Project HEAL. She is 21 years old. Connect with her on Instagram, and read more of Florence’s blog posts at

My Secret New Love of Spontaneity

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By: Heather Birchall

This may not be true of most anorexics, or even a portion, but honestly I can pinpoint the day I became anorexic, and the day I decided ‘enough is enough, now give me a piece of that lemon meringue pie’.

I’d battled the disease for four years but suddenly, like a cat with a ball of yarn, it unravelled itself overnight. I became determined to put on weight until my period started again, and I could look at myself in the mirror without seeing shadows. It took maybe a few months, and when it happened, I went out shopping.

In the 90’s every student in the UK worth their salt shopped at Top Shop. It’s really hard to find clothes that fit when you’re anorexic. I wore kids clothes generally, or tied an unflattering belt around my waist to hold up skirts and jeans. But now everything was snug, and I gave myself a new look – a short skirt with tights, thick black ones in winter, sheer in summer and patterned or multi-coloured for occasions.

This became my outfit of choice at work, hiking up the Lake District hills and through two pregnancies. Even when I moved to California, where active wear is all the rage, I couldn’t shake the look. But, despite all the confidence I’d gained, there was one thing that just kept nagging at me, and it annoyed and frustrated me. I just could not be spontaneous. I’m not talking about booking a last minute flight to Hawaii spontaneous, but rather “do you fancy checking out that new place for lunch now spontaneous.”

Even when I was recovered, and considered my eating disorder to be a thing of the past, at the beginning of each day I decided what I was going to eat, and there wasn’t room for extra helpings.

restaurant-1284365_1280So, when colleagues asked me out I declined and, as soon as a gaggle of them left, I would take out a forlorn looking sandwich stashed away at the bottom of my bag.

After a while they didn’t ask anymore. Sometimes I would go with them and just buy myself a cup of tea. This honestly seemed feeble to my companion – a bit like pouring a glass of wine in the evening. You need a friend to eat with you, not make a cup of tea last for 40 minutes while they munch on sandwiches and cake.

I’m 40 now, anorexia over 20 years behind me, and it’s only recently that I have been able to take up that lunch offer without any qualms at all. It’s such a relief that I don’t have to plan, and deprive myself of something at the start of the day to make up for that birthday cake that someone wants to share after school pick-up, or that trip to Pinkberry on a whim.

I sometimes wonder though if my future might have been different if I’d accepted those lunch invitations in my twenties and thirties. Would I have progressed in my work faster by discussing things with colleagues at Starbucks? Would I have found out titbits of gossip that made the afternoon pass quicker if only I’d gone on that outing to Pret A Manger?

Maybe I’d have made some closer friends during that time in my life if I’d just had the nerve to go out to a restaurant rather then unwrap the sandwich I prepared each morning. Thankfully there will be enough spontaneous lunches ahead to outweigh the many I turned down. I can happily now raise a glass to spontaneity.

pumpkins 10.00.25About the Author: Heather Birchall started volunteering with ProjectHEAL in early 2016, and has primarily been responsible for interviewing new volunteers and chapter leaders. Before moving to California and developing a passion for the non-profit sector, Heather was an expert in Victorian painting and photography, and spent eleven years working in curatorial roles at the V&A Museum, Tate Britain, and Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester.

Cultivating Hope

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By: Kiernan O’Dell

If you are in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, chances are you’ve had that moment of “I just cannot do this any more!” That moment where hope is gone, the process seems too hard or overwhelming and you want to give up-or give in-to the eating disorder.

Actually, if you’re anything like me, you have moments like that often, even daily. Moments when recovery seems so far over there, elusively somewhere out in the ether and the road ahead looks impassable.

While I cycle through feeling like this, I also know that those moments, those emotions, are not forever. I think it’s important to look at why you feel that way, but not live there with that voice that tells you that you cannot possibly recover.

hopeSo what saves me, in those times? Hope. Every single time, hope wins.  I can hear myself reading this and thinking perhaps what you may be thinking: “But how do you find hope when you feel utterly hopeless?”

Well guys, it takes effort and I don’t have all the answers. For me, the biggest source of hope comes from connection. Usually when I’m in a place where I want to give up, I am alone. Perhaps I am with people, but still feeling very isolated. When I am actually–connected to myself, to other people and to this world, I find hope or at least the energy behind hope that inspires me to continue.

Sometimes I have to act as if I feel hope. I have to take the right actions. I heard once that esteem-able acts build self-esteem. I think that hopeful acts build hope.

Perhaps that means eating to my meal plan even when food feels hard and scary. It may mean making that phone call you don’t want to make because connecting with another human being gets you out of your own head for a while and reminds you that a world exists outside of the abusive eating disorder.

Sometimes it means letting your team hold onto hope for you and listening to them when they tell you that.

Hope comes from talking to those in recovery or reading articles about their journey to a full recovery.

Hope isn’t always an emotion that I feel and, to be honest, its not always an emotion that I have the time to wait for. In this arduous process, sometimes I have to go out and hunt hope down.

Sometimes I have to take care of myself just to prove to myself that I can. Sometimes I have to call someone and see how they are. Sometimes I have to pretend my way into the feeling of hope.

These actions mean that I’m taking an active role in my own recovery and THAT gives me hope. If I sat around waiting to feel hopeful before I started acting as if there were hope, I may not be on the path of recovery any more.

Hope is out there and there is plenty of it for the getting, it just takes some work to get to. I have hope for recovery because I have solid proof that it is possible. I’ve seen it happen and although sometimes my eating disorder tells me so, I am not the only person who simply cannot recover.

So where do YOU find hope? What keeps you motivated on hard days? Id love to hear your ideas: We can always use a new path to hope. What gets you there?

image1About the Author: 
Kiernan O’Dell was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After earning a BS in Psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, she attended Columbia University’s Psychological Counseling Program. O’Dell enjoys writing, and hopes to one day adopt it as a full-time job. According to O’Dell, the current road to recovery and sobriety enabled her to discover her purpose, which is to serve as a mentor for others using her firsthand experience.

Letter to a Younger Self: A Project HEAL Series

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Dear me (nine years ago),

I’m writing to you because I believe in you. If I really thought you were hopeless, this wouldn’t have a purpose.

I’m worried about your complete and utter denial of how ill you’re getting. Right now, I know it seems like all you’re doing is simply not eating. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it will be for a little while. But let me tell you something: it won’t last forever. I’d like to share with you what’s actually going to happen:

journalYou’ll be worrying about food 24/7, weighing yourself ten times a day, crying at the number on the scale, and bearing through the insane cold in order to stand stripped in front of your mirror for several hours seeing nothing but fat. You’ll be waking up five times every night from body- wracking chills unable to feel your fingers or toes, regularly dozing off at school, fainting in the most inappropriate situations, and running on the treadmill until everything goes black.

Comparing your body endlessly to everyone’s around you, isolating in your room because you don’t want people to see how fat you are, lying to those you love, creating clever excuses for why you can’t eat dinner, hiding food, and seriously worrying people who care about you will become part of your everyday life.

You’ll stop caring about everything that’s truly important, and you’ll eventually lose all the things that make you who you are.

If you don’t reverse it now, that is.

It doesn’t get easier with time; it only gets harder. Don’t wait until you feel inspired – just go for it. Sometimes everyone has to do things they don’t like to do.

Take care of yourself. Be well. I know you can do this, and you will.

With enough love to make up for your lack of love for yourself,



Project HEAL’s new peer-based support program, Communities of HEALing, will include an evidence-based eating disorder prevention and body acceptance program known as the Body Project. The Body Project is an intervention that was developed by renowned researchers Eric Stice, Ph.D and Carolyn Becker, Ph.D and is backed by two decades of research at Stanford University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Oregon Research Institute. This program has been delivered to over one million young women around the world and is the only program that has repeatedly demonstrated reductions of body dissatisfaction, negative mood, unhealthy dieting and disordered eating. Further evidence indicates that the Body Project intervention reduces the risk of future onset of eating disorders and obesity.
Recently, Project HEAL held its first facilitator training of the Body Project with some of our volunteers from NYC and PA, all of whom are in recovery from an eating disorder. One of the activities that all volunteers completed as part of the Body Project program was to write a letter to a younger version of themselves using the information they learned from other sessions of the intervention and advise their younger selves on how to avoid developing body image concerns. The letters shared were truly powerful and we are thrilled to have some of our new facilitators share their letters with you!