In 2006, at the age of 15, Kristina Saffran and Liana Rosenman were undergoing treatment together for anorexia. The girls have since overcome their eating disorders and founded Project HEAL: Help to Eat, Accept and Live.
Project HEAL, which helps people receive treatment for eating disorders and works to prevent low self-image, will soon turn five, and we knew we had to get more deets on this awesome yay-acceptance org. Along with providing scholarships to people who can't afford treatment, it encourages teens and young adults to get involved and spread its message.
We spoke to Liana and Kristina to learn more about how to get involved and what needs to be done to help opinions of body image in our culture.
ACT: If someone is currently suffering from an eating disorder and needs help, what options are available to them? How do your treatment scholarships work?
LIANA AND KRISTINA: While in treatment, the two of us saw so many people who could not get proper treatment because of financial issues. We saw people who wanted to get better, and were making strides towards recovery in treatment, but were cut off and sent home because insurance saw them as "medically stabilized" (i.e.-- they had reached a minimum goal weight.) We also met people who had never had an opportunity to get treatment, who had such strong drives to live, and yet had never been taught the proper coping skills. Personally, we were lucky enough in that our insurance did cover most of our treatment, our parents could spend hours on the phone bickering for more coverage, and what was ultimately not covered our parents could afford. Still, seeing so many others who were not as lucky drove us to action.
While some recent state and federal “parity” legislation has required that health insurance policies provide equivalent coverage for mental illnesses, including eating disorders, as well as other illnesses, this legislation does not apply to self-insured institutions. More importantly, the requirement of equivalent coverage founders on the fact that eating disorders typically require longer and more intense inpatient and residential treatment than even more severe physical illnesses. Thus a private initiative like Project Heal is crucial.
We fund treatment scholarships for people with eating disorders who are motivated to get better and do the hard work required, but cannot afford treatment. Scholarship applications are reviewed by our Clinical Advisory Board (CAB), which is a team of professionals who are skilled in the field of treating eating disorders. The CAB examines each request for funds and grant two each year based on financial and motivational factors.
ACT: Part of what you do with Project HEAL is diminishing the societal obsession with body image. How are you doing that?
LIANA AND KRISTINA: Over three-quarters of the covers of women's magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance -- by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery. We live in a society that we will always be seduced by the cultural lies -- those lies that tell us we are not ‘thin or beautiful’ enough. We encourage people to concentrate on natural beauty and self-worth instead. Negative body image and disordered eating can cause tremendous damage on one’s well being. When someone does not feel good about themselves, their energy, their enthusiasm, and their personality will disappear. It is clouded over by the constant thoughts and anxiety of weight and appearance. Be conscious about your thoughts! Negative thoughts and feelings can have a negative effect on one’s well being, whereas positive thoughts and emotions have the power to transform for the better.
We also strongly believe that the number one thing that makes someone beautiful is their confidence, and encourage people to work on building their self-confidence instead of looking to change their perceived flaws and imperfections.
ACT: As individuals and as a society, what can be done to stop eating disorders?
LIANA AND KRISTINA: To begin, we need to shift our focus as a society from valuing "skinny" to valuing "healthy." We need to value inner beauty as well as outer beauty. We need to teach kids from an early age the importance of healthy eating and exercise, to feel strong and healthy, and not just to lose weight. And we need to introduce more preventative services in schools to catch early signs of eating disorders and treat them before they become full blown.
We also need to invest more money in treatment for eating disorders. While eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses, with proper treatment, people do recover.
ACT: Can you share some success stories with us?
LIANA AND KRISTINA: As our first scholarship recipient expressed it: “My life changed forever when I met the girls of Project HEAL. Not only was I given an amazing opportunity, but I also learned that there was hope, that someone cared and believed in me, and there was more to me than being sick. The recovery journey and unmatched kindness and compassion of Project HEAL have helped to shine a light in my darkness and call an end to my secret and silent suffering. Finally, I have learned to fight. Because of your help I am alive, and I am LIVING.”
ACT: How can people start their own Project HEAL chapter? What goes into having a chapter?
LIANA AND KRISTINA: The primary responsibility of a Project HEAL chapter is to help with fundraising for our treatment scholarship fund. As you can probably imagine, we receive far more applications than we can fund. The more fundraising we can do, the more scholarships we can award!
Chapters also work to create an event theme that somehow reduces the body image obsession in society that often contributes to the development of eating disorders. To be an active chapter is easy! Just email the volunteer team (firstname.lastname@example.org) to state your interest in getting involved with Project HEAL! You will be sent a brief questionnaire and from the information we receive, we match you with a Chapter Mentor who can help you get started and help you narrow down a fundraising project. Your Chapter Mentor will then send you the forms you need to activate your chapter or volunteer project.
ACT: How can people get involved with Project HEAL?
LIANA AND KRISTINA: There are many ways to get involved with Project HEAL. It could be as simple as spreading our mission by joining our Facebook group and inviting all your friends to join! We also encourage everyone to look out for upcoming events on our website by taking action below!