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

The Power of Resistance: Saying No to the Diet Culture

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By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Carefully disguised in the name of health, diet culture has saturated our society, taking many different forms, including “eating clean,” veganism, elimination diets, cleansing diets and more.  When done in the name of wellness and disease prevention, many abnormal eating habits can be justified, the potential dangers overlooked when the objective is to be healthier.

With the damaging effects of dieting trends lurking about, especially for those recovering from an eating disorder, when do things take it one step too far when it comes to health and nutrition?

The Reality of Diet Culture

While diet culture has evolved over the years, often taking different forms, the reality is that our society continues to obsess about dieting, reaching an unattainable body type/weight, and all that this entails.

In the face of an “obesity epidemic,” dieting has in fact become commonplace, a false form of security and control as a means of counteracting our fear of fat and everything associated with this.  It comes as no surprise that some of the top dieting questions asked in Google include, “How to Lose Weight Fast,” followed by “Best Way to Lose Weight.”

In a recent survey about body image and dieting, 91 percent of women responded that they were unhappy with their bodies and resorted to dieting, with approximately 66 percent of Americans currently on a diet [1].  There is something startling and abrupt to be recognized about a dieting industry that rakes in billions of dollars each year.  People are looking for answers in the wrong places, often complicating their health and risking their overall quality in life by engaging in our prominent dieting culture.

Going Against the Flow

Is there anything that is justified about being on a diet? Is health, nutrition, or wellness achieved with anything that condones restrictions in any form?

The reality is that dieting, no matter its form, is counter to what our bodies are intuitively capable of doing.  For individuals who are susceptible to having an eating disorder, dieting can be the trigger that influences the development of these fatal illnesses.

No matter the look or claim of any type of diet, the bottom line is always the same: Diets DON’T WORK!  The things that are often lost with dieting include self-esteem, confidence, energy, health, quality of life, and an overall peaceful relationship with food and body.

So what can you do in the face of our dieting culture? Resist.

Resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon of a new “health regime” you see trending on Instagram or the diets that claim to give you energy and optimize your longevity.

Anything that recommends restricting any food groups, demonizing certain foods, or deters you from trusting your body completely should be scrutinized and likely avoided completely.

do-not-give-up-2015253_640Your body contains all the innate wisdom needed to guide you safely through the diet-infested culture we live in, avoiding the heartache and misery that is attached to dieting in any form.  It’s simply a matter of resisting what our culture has deemed as desirable and fighting for normalcy; going against the flow of what everyone else seems to be doing, and making peace with our bodies through gentle nutrition, intuitive eating and exercise.

This may ostracize you from mainstream acceptability, but in the end, you will never regret the choice you made to stand for freedom from dieting.


[1]: Mintel Consumer Reports, “Diet Trends – September 2016”, Accessed 19 April 2017

Crystal Karges_HeadshotAbout the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her nutrition private practice and work with Eating Disorder Hope.  Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as a Contributing Writer and Social Media Events Manager for Eating Disorder Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

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.

The Four Seasons

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By James McLaughlin

Living in the northeast of the United States has allowed me to live life through the ever-changing four seasons. Over the course of my life I have found there is something intrinsically special about each one of them.

Autumn is a time to let go of things we cannot change, but also a time to accept and let go of things that have changed–just as the branches of a tree let go of their changed leaves.

I consider the winter months to be a time to go inside, not only physically, but metaphorically as well. It’s strange that people say things like “this blanket is so warm!” When the truth is that blankets do nothing but allow us to insulate and feel our own warmth. Winter is a season of hibernation for some animals, but for us, winter provides a period of introspection–a time to become cozy with oneself, a time for us to warm up to who we are.

And then there’s our current season, my favorite–spring. What I love about spring is the new life that begins to sprout its way into the world, primarily in the places that were let go in the fall. They say when one clears a space of the old, it makes room for the new–I agree with whomever they are.

I find that spring presents an opportunity for new perspectives. For me, the simple, yet exquisite smell of spring is a reminder to be present–to experience the world with all of our senses, to rediscover joy and gratitude in the small details of our life’s larger picture.

Perhaps there is no greater clichéd phrase pertinent to this specific time of year than April showers bring May flowers–perhaps there is not a clichéd phrase that holds so much truth.

Spring flowers and grey skies. Photo by: James McLaughlin
Spring flowers and grey skies. Photo by: James McLaughlin

Our lives are not always full of sunshine, and rainbows seldom appear after a storm has settled. And it is no secret that flowers need plenty of sunshine, but flowers also depend upon rainy, grey and gloomy days.

Similarly, our rainy days, our life’s difficult times, not only enable our ability to blossom, but also allow us to appreciate the light and love that shines in our lives. That light at times may be cloaked by grey skies, but it is always shining beyond that vail of mist–in the sky, and inside of ourselves.

When we let go of what no longer serves us, when we learn to love ourselves without our evergreen leaves or bold-colored blossoms, when we sprout new roots and grow into the person we truly are, we find that the joys of summer are not contained to several months of blue skies, but something unchanging, something exquisite, something that will always exist inside of ourselves.

10685458_10152412384291548_4590576595723063741_nAbout the Author: James McLaughlin recently became the blog manager for Project HEAL. He is a senior at Montclair State University majoring in Communication & Media Arts. His hope in managing the Project HEAL blog is to be a link between informative and inspiring content & a readership who can relate, grow and find peace with each written word.

#DontMiss Loving Yourself in Recovery

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It’s so easy to miss the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. I know, because I had one for over seventeen years, and I was a master at not only hiding it from my family and friends, but deceiving myself into thinking that I didn’t have one.

Thankfully, with the help of God and my support team, I was able to get into a healthy place in my life and learn that it is possible to recover. And just as easy as it is to miss an eating disorder, it’s easy to miss loving yourself in recovery. I am a hard worker, and I love helping others, in fact, it’s one of the things that has helped me to recover. So in this VLOG for the Eating Recovery Roundup, I’ve decided to focus on #DontMiss loving yourself in recovery. Enjoy, and if you have any self love or self care tips you’d like to share, email me at

With love and gratitude,

Nikki DuBose

Cave Person Brain (Part II)

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By Jennifer L. Gaudiani, MD, CEDS, Founder & Medical Director of the Gaudiani Clinic

In my last blog post, we started to consider how one’s brain responds to starvation, aka caloric restriction. In case you didn’t catch that one, I consider our cave person brain to be the part of our brain that keeps our body running on a day-to-day basis, operating separately from our thinking brain. And as a Cliff’s Notes version to that blog, by way of introducing today’s topic, is when your cave person brain doesn’t get adequate nutrition, it shifts into calorie conservation mode, reducing your metabolic rate (the calories needed neither to lose nor gain weight). These blogs on the cave person brain go into further details about how exactly your body achieves its goal of slowing metabolism. Remember: humans only exist today because our ancestors developed multiple mechanisms to survive famine. When food resources were scarce, humans became extraordinarily efficient at surviving and functioning. I’m always struck by the magnificence of our bodies’ innate functioning…vastly more responsive to our environments and scientifically and beautifully set up to keep us going than our own coarse attempts to over-control food and exercise.

As far as your brain is concerned, starvation includes deliberate caloric restriction in the service of disordered eating or an eating disorder, fasts or cleanses done in the name of health (pro tip: fasts and cleanses are the opposite of healthful), or even a diet. It’s a good moment to put in my expert physician note that diets don’t work. The data all point to 95 percent of weight lost through dieting being regained.

Because our brains are so superb at reacting to famine (aka restriction of calories) by reducing our metabolisms in many ways, all restriction does is make us highly cranky, less able to make sound decisions, feel deprived and think constantly about food, and slow our metabolism.

So, when a dieting person restricts long enough, nature kicks in to demand lots of food—preferably calorie-dense food that satisfies the cave person brain’s needs—and this consumption on top of a slowed metabolism leads most commonly to regaining even more weight than was lost. Thus what dieting most often causes in the long term is weight gain.

Back to how our cave person brains slow our metabolism and react to caloric restriction. In my last post, I talked about body temperature changes and slowed heart rate. Another way the body accomplishes slower metabolism is through slowed gastrointestinal function. When your cave person brain senses caloric restriction, it no longer wants to spend an extra calorie on normal wriggles of the stomach, small intestine, and colon. Pooping every day isn’t considered essential to life (compared with keeping the heart beating, for instance…), so many patients who restrict find that they become constipated. In addition, with stomach wriggles (called peristalsis) diminished, food might sit in a patient’s stomach for far longer, undigested, than it otherwise would in a well-nourished person with a faster metabolism. This condition, called gastroparesis (which can also be caused by many other things), causes bloating, early fullness where just a few bites might make someone feel full, and nausea. While a gastric emptying study can diagnose gastroparesis, these symptoms may occur even before a study shows any abnormality. Thus, someone who is restricting calories and adamantly telling themselves they are “fine” because their bloodwork is normal, but who has symptoms of constipation or gastroparesis, clearly isn’t fine. That slowed GI function is a sign of a body suffering due to inadequate nutrition. Usually, GI function will speed back up over time to normal, with consistent, adequate nutrition and body weight restoration if the person was underweight. But this can occur in people of all sizes and shapes and the unifying factor is caloric restriction.

Caloric restriction that lasts a long time, often associated with substantial weight loss, can cause the cave person brain to shut down sex hormones. To the cave person brain, malnutrition plus high stress hormones (cortisol, which increases due to the stress of starvation) means, “This body isn’t safe to participate in procreation.” To achieve this, the part of the brain called the hypothalamus basically recedes back in time to pre-adolescent levels of hormone production, which substantially reduces estrogen and testosterone levels. For many females, menstrual periods stop (although some continue to get their period despite prolonged malnutrition), and vaginal tissue can become dry and fragile, increasing the risk of bladder infections and of painful intercourse. For males, sex drive diminishes and erectile dysfunction occurs. For both sexes, bone density can drop fast, increasing the risk of fractures. These hormones nearly always come back on line when an individual has consistently rehabilitated nutritionally, usually with restoration of healthy body weight.

Finally, caloric restriction can cause the cave person brain to become severely anxious, even paranoid. Now, it’s true that for some people, restricting can numb their emotions. However, even when this effect occurs, it can be offset by a more “animal anxiety” from the cave person brain. Any of you who have pets know that a dog or cat who’s had surgery at the vet, or been through severe weather, may end up freaked out for a couple days…under the bed, eyes huge, fur up, claws out. Their animal brain knows that they’re in a vulnerable situation, and they’d better be extra vigilant about potential causes of harm. Similarly, when you’re restricting calories, your cave person brain understands its animal body to be vulnerable, not in a safe place to weather another challenge. Thus, the risk radar goes up and my patients feel like they are terrified at the prospect of making a big decision, or a meal plan increase, or even just the arrival of lunch. It’s a disproportionately paranoid, self-protective instinct that can cause a lot of suffering both to patient and family/friends. I remind patients, after bringing this up, “This may not be you, and it may not even be your eating disorder. It may be your starved brain. So let’s nourish you and see how this plays out. You have my compassion in the meantime.” Invariably, my patients tell me that this animal anxiety does really lessen with consistently adequate nutrition.

head-1965667_640To finish the discussion of the cave person brain and metabolic changes with caloric restriction, I have to include a discussion of people’s widely varying responses to malnutrition. There are people who drop weight fast when they restrict (keeping in mind that restricting in the service of a mental illness is vitally different from dieting), and there are people whose body weight simply does not change despite intense caloric restriction. There are people who’ve never had a moment of GI trouble and those who are crippled by GI issues, despite similar intakes and body sizes. Some never lose their menstrual period, while others have to wait years at a good weight to regain theirs. What explains this is our individual, genetically-determined variability in how our body responds to malnutrition. To use a more familiar example, a young man who only drank alcohol heavily for five years might develop severe liver damage, while a 90-year-old who drank his whole life might attribute his longevity “to the whiskey.” Similarly, every person will respond differently to the stress of caloric restriction. However your body responds, remember that your cave person brain is wise and working hard to keep you alive all the time. Give it compassion, rest, and plenty of nutrition.

ckgaudianiclinic-094-copy-300x300About the Author: Dr. Jennifer LGaudiani is the Founder and Medical Director of the Gaudiani Clinic, a unique outpatient medical clinic for adolescents and adults with eating disorders. She is one of very few internal medicine physicians in the country who hold the Certified Eating Disorder Specialist credential from the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. Check out the Gaudiani clinic on Facebook and Twitter.

Love the skin you’re in

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By Madison Swart

As we approach summer, we all know the looming stress of attaining a ‘beach bod’. The pressure we put on ourselves, the pressure created from that girl from high school who was always a little posting her ‘transformation Tuesday’ and looking like a flippin VS model. We all know it. We all hate it. And I have news for you – YOU’RE ALLOWED TO IGNORE IT!

shells-792912_640So for today, I have put together a list of my top 6 favorite blogs you can follow/read this Spring and Summer to help remind you that YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL – Cellulite and all.

So this Summer, wear that bikini. Lay out on the quad. Own your body, and know that there are those of us out here who will support you and love you no matter what size shorts you wear.

  1. Stop Hating Your Body By talking about self-love, this blog encourages readers to discuss body image issues related to size, gender, and sexual orientation. Followers are allowed to post their own content, given it follows the guidelines that have been set to maintain a safe space. The blog is described as “Healthy, not healthy, working on it, abled, disabled, we are all human, we all deserve to be happy, we all deserve to love ourselves.”
  2. Fat Girl Food Squad 
 This Toronto-based blog focuses on body positivity by talking about the intersection between food, fat, and feminism. Amanda and Yuli started the blog after feeling alienated by their size at PR events. You can also find IRL meetups regularly through their online community they have built!
  3. The Militant Baker Jes’ blog took off in 2013 after she recreated Abercrombie & Fitch’s ads with the tagline ‘Attractive and Fat’ after their CEO made some crude and unwelcome comments saying that A&F didn’t make XL clothes because he “doesn’t want larger people shopping in the store.” The Militant Baker has more than 500,000 views a month, and focuses on topics from body acceptance, and rape culture to feminism and empowerment.
  4. The Love Yourself Challenge 
Scotty and Rae are a brother and sister duo who create original image content (inspired by their own experiences) with the goal of challenging young people to learn to be comfortable in their own skin by offering them positive and encouraging messages. Rae even shares her story.
  5. Weightless PsychCentral‘s body image blog focuses on wellbeing through a personal, relatable lens.
 The blog is written by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., who interviews experts, features recovery stories and provides real and honest feedback for women’s magazines when they host harmful health advice for their readers.
  6. REglam Blog REglam is a fashion magazine aiming to change the conversation around the industry, focusing on real women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Its blog comments on a variety of body image issues.

    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.

Perhaps you are just as the animal sees you: Someone to love.

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By Shannon Kopp

During every SoulPaws session, each participant spends about twenty minutes of one-on-one time with a service animal. This past weekend, we were fortunate enough to work with the Pet-Assisted Therapy Animals from the San Diego Humane Society—small animals who lead very busy lives visiting hospitals, schools, treatment centers, and more, offering comfort to people in need. After six months of this service, they then become available for adoption at the Humane Society.

Since we had thirteen participants on Sunday, we gathered thirteen pet-assisted therapy animals: a handful of sweet rabbits, a bunch of guinea pigs, and two rats.

The room fell silent as we placed an animal into each individual’s lap, and for the next twenty minutes, the room stayed quiet. People used this time to bond and connect with their animal, to journal, to pet and snuggle.

Afterwards, one woman held a guinea pig close to her chest and shared, “Initially when you gave her to me, I was scared. I thought she would scurry away. Lately, there has been so much sadness in my home, and in me. I thought I gave off bad energy. I was sure this little animal would sense it.

Photo Credit: San Diego Humane Society

But instead, she nestled close to my chest. She stayed so close to me, content in my arms.

And it made me think that maybe I don’t give off bad energy. Maybe I’m more than this sadness. And maybe if the animals know this, I can know it, too.”

Tears gathered in my throat and behind my eyes. I thought back to when I was working at the Humane Society and had relapsed with bulimia, despite years of treatment and therapy. To say that I felt like a failure then is an understatement. I felt like a monster.

But day after day, the shelter dogs wanted to be around this monster. I’d open the door to a kennel and these beautiful, four-legged companions would come running into my arms like I was the greatest thing they’d seen all day. Sometimes, in their unrelenting excitement, they’d knock me over. Sometimes they’d approach cautiously and softly make their way into my arms. Sometimes they’d lick my face and gaze into my eyes with the fiercest, purest light of love. And I too would begin to feel like maybe I was more than my sadness. My bulimia. My monstrous relapse.

Maybe I was more than this harmful story I’d been telling myself for so long.

Animals aren’t interested in stories of the mind. They aren’t interested in what we look like or the “mistakes” we made last night or ten years ago. They aren’t interested in shrinking our sacred being down to a harsh and rigid label. They are only interested in the now. How do we treat them in this moment? Are we gentle? Are we safe? Are we kind?

Animals don’t demand of us what the world does. We’re not expected to walk through grief in five, neat and timely stages…because our sadness makes them uncomfortable. We’re not expected to be thin or pretty or stylish.

We’re not expected to be strong or brave or put-together. We don’t have to know what we want to be when we grow up. In fact, we never have to grow up.

Around animals, we don’t have to play any roles or live behind this pretend mask of adulthood. It’s okay for us to laugh hysterically, to cover ourselves with dog hair and dirt, to roll around on the floor, to pick our nose, to bawl our eyes out, to express the uninhibited joy or the misery we often try to tame in our human society.

We can just be. And what we often find with animals is that our being is enough. We are enough.

So maybe today you are buying into some story the mind is telling you. Maybe your mind is saying that you too sad or too big or too much or too afraid.

Is there a loving animal nearby?

Look into their eyes.

And through your connection with that animal, give yourself a break from this mental chatter. Press the sacred pause button to your thinking. And hold that button down until you begin to feel that you are not “too” anything.

Perhaps you are just as the animal sees you.

Someone to love.

Shannon Kopp (Left)

About the Author: Shannon Kopp is an eating disorder survivor, animal welfare advocate, and the best-selling author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life (HarperCollins Publishers). She is also the founder of SoulPaws Recovery Project, offering free animal therapy and healing resources to those suffering from eating disorders. Shannon’s writing has been featured on CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post, Salon, NPR, Good Housekeeping, Dogster, Maria Shriver, and more. She also regularly posts recovery-related poetry on 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.

Trying Again

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By Kelsey Ognibene

I, like many eating disorder sufferers, am a chronic perfectionist. Growing up, I always wanted the best grades, to win the most awards, and to be everyone’s favorite student. As an adult, these urges are still there: be the best employee, the most liked by the boss, have the most friends. This constant strive toward the unattainable, to be perfect in all aspects of life, is something that I know, logically, is impossible. And yet, I still strive toward it, and it in part fueled my eating disorder.

Recovering from an eating disorder is not perfect. There are no clean parts of it—it is all messy, time consuming, difficult, emotional work, and none of that is part of anyone’s five-year plan. When I left treatment, though, that perfectionist mentality manifested itself again, this time about my recovery: You can be that person that never relapses. You can do recovery perfectly from now on, never needing help again. I told myself these lies for weeks, until I realized that I was wrong.

I, and many others, wrongly assumed that once you leave a treatment center, that’s it. You have all the coping skills you’ll need, you’ve dealt with all the emotional work that needs dealt with, and you will reintegrate into society seamlessly. I realized, of course, that I was wrong pretty quickly. Leaving the relative comfort and controlled environment of a treatment center is terrifying, and realizing that decisions that were once made for you and were not options are now your decisions to make is harrowing. As soon as you leave the center, everything is essentially exactly as it was before—except for you.

I had to understand that perfection in recovery, just like perfection in life, does not exist. I had to relearn how to make food choices, and how to do so in a way that seemed healthier and also like a normal part of life. I had to realize that no recovery is perfect and that no one never has another eating disorder thought ever again. There have been numerous periods of relapse, ruining my image of “perfection” that I assumed would be my life post-eating disorder center.

It has been two years this month since I entered residential treatment. During that time, I have worked to lose the attitude that perfection is possible and have tried to realize that all of the messiness and ups and downs of eating disorder recovery are what makes it so difficult and so rewarding. If recovery was perfect, why would we do it? Why fight for something that you don’t have to work for and that doesn’t make you better?

board-786119_640There are days that I wish I could go back to believing I have the power and control to make my life perfect and my eating disorder tells me often that life was better that way. But then I look at my life now, a life where I accept that I have flaws, and that everyone does. Today I live a life where I live authentically, tell people when I need help, and allow myself to be told when I need improvement. It is not an easier life in that respect, but it is a real life and one that I wouldn’t trade.

Your eating disorder lies to you constantly. You cannot be perfect, and you cannot control everything in your life. What you can do, though, is learn to accept yourself just as you are now, not at a magical weight that you think will make things perfect. Life is so much better when we give up the illusion of perfection—breaking free from the eating disorder is the first step in a long journey, one that ends with acceptance, self-love, and a love of flaws. We are not perfect—but if we strive to love ourselves, our life can become somewhat more rewarding and happier, the goal that perfection and control can never give us.

About the Author: IMG_4353Kelsey Ognibene is a social worker living in New Orleans, Louisiana who graduated with her masters in social work in 2016. She received a Project HEAL grant in 2015 and has been working to help others with addictions and mental health issues since. She also has a dog, Daisy, who is a pretty cool canine. Follow her on Twitter.