We all know someone who once had or has an eating disorder. But did you know that treatment can run upwards of $30,000 per month? Kristina Saffran and her co-founder, Liana Rosenman met while in treatment for anorexia, and saw the firsthand effects of people suffering from eating disorders who weren’t able to get the funds they needed for treatment. They decided to do something about it. Read Kristina’s incredible story of turning a personal journey into a foundation committed to helping others afford the treatment they need.
1. What is Project HEAL and what inspired you to create Project HEAL?
Project HEAL is a nonprofit dedicated to raising money for people with eating disorders who can’t afford treatment and promoting healthy body image and that full recovery is truly possible. When I was 13-years old, I met my co-founder, Liana, while in recovery for anorexia at Long Island Jewish Hospital. We encouraged and helped each other to reach recovery and wanted to help others as well. We saw how many people with eating disorders weren’t able to get the treatment they needed, because they couldn’t afford it. Treatment for eating disorders is exorbitantly expensive, $30,000 a month or higher, and 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, but treatment is often not covered under insurance plans. So only 10% get treatment. Liana and I saw a lot of this in recovery, and we wanted to do something about it. We began by holding our first fundraiser, where we raised $13,000. Then we officially started Project HEAL at age 14/15 years old.
2. What was the hardest part of your personal journey and how did you rise above it?
Eating disorder recovery is so hard because the desire for recovery is ambivalence at best. You don’t necessarily want recovery. Initially, I was in a place where I didn’t want to get better. But then I realized, I didn’t want to live the rest of my life like this. Honestly, I was absolutely miserable throughout the whole recovery process. I felt really uncomfortable with myself and with my body. But recovery is a long process where you kind of have to have blind faith and trust others and hope that it will get better. I really had to listen to the advice of my treatment team and follow all of the specifics that they planned…I knew I couldn’t trust myself.
3. Are “food porn” sites unhealthy? How do you inspire others to feel body confident?
They are not in and of themselves unhealthy…it depends on how you’re using them. In some ways, they can be inspiring for people in recovery from an eating disorder. People who are posting their food journey on social media and documenting themselves rediscovering the joys of eating can be a really positive thing. But when it becomes unhealthy is when they feel like they can’t eat the food that they post or see when scrolling through…it’s bad when they think, ‘okay, I’m just going to look at this for 2 hours and not eat it and think that I never can’.
To answer the second question, the last thing to kick in at the very, very end of recovery is feeling body confident. At the end, it took a lot of cognitive work for me, a lot of looking in the mirror and telling myself I was beautiful enough times until I could actually start to believe it. And more importantly, I really began to value myself in areas that were so much more important than my body. I was driven, I was passionate, I was motivated, I wanted to make a difference in the world. Those were the things that really made me beautiful.
4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
My primary mission is to help as many people as possible recover. Project HEAL has grown tremendously in the past two years, and I only see this trajectory continuing. Those who recovered through Project HEAL have and will continue to give back. We are able to fund an increasing number of applicants per year, and continue to inspire thousands that full recovery is possible.
I also currently work in eating disorder research at Stanford University, studying ways to most effectively treat people with eating disorders. I am planning to pursue my PhD in Clinical Psychology and eventually go on to treat people with eating disorders.
5. How can we support Project HEAL and are there opportunities to get involved?
The biggest way to support Project HEAL is to get involved in a local chapter. We have 40 chapters around the country. Each chapter does exactly what we do on a national level, just targeting a specific local community. Each chapter does fundraising for treatment grants and promotes the idea that full recovery is possible. You can also get involved by attending national and chapter events. We actually have our huge upcoming annual gala on Friday, June 3rd in New York City. It’s a really inspiring recovery event, called RedefinED – there’s a huge cocktail party, food, dessert. Liana and I will speak, a treatment grant recipient will come to speak, there will be a special featuring of a Nickelodeon star, followed by a Silent Auction at the end with some really great items. (For more information about Project HEAL’s 8th Annual Gala, click this link!)
And lastly, you can “like” Project HEAL on social media! We have a large Facebook following and regularly post inspirational content and educational articles about eating disorders, and recovery.
6. Are there times when you aren’t taken seriously simply because of your age? If so, what do you do when that happens?
In the beginning, absolutely. You’re definitely going to face obstacles spearheading something at a young age. People question your credibility. But honestly, that happens to some extent with any founder or trailblazer. What you do is persevere anyway. I love the old Thomas Edison quote that genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration because it is so true. Once you persevere at something in the face of obstacles and prove to people that you can make an impact, they start taking you seriously.
7. What do you believe it means for a woman to be “Fit to Lead”?
The most important thing is having a passion, being confident in yourself and your ability to actually affect change. Be nice to others. And work incredibly hard to make your dreams come true.
8. Who is your female role model?
I’ve never been the type of person who has celebrity role models. Rather, my role models are the people in my life. My female role model is my co-founder, Liana. She is incredibly inspiring. When we first founded Project HEAL, Liana was a little further in recovery than I was and helped me to reach full recovery. Liana was been a driving force in Project HEAL. And a quality in her that I find absolutely incredible is that she sees beauty in every single person. She’s also the most giving person I know. Liana is a Special Education teacher in New York City, which speaks to her values and the kind of person she is.
9. What advice do you have for girls who have had or are recovering from an eating disorder?
First, asking for help. People are often nervous to let others in. Like I said earlier, there is this tendency where wanting recovery to be ambivalence at best. There’s also a tendency to think that you’re not sick enough to need help. But getting help is the most important thing. Second, trust in your treatment team, “Fake it till you make it” was a frequent reminding phrase and driving force during my recovery. And third, know that recovery does not happen overnight. It’s a LONG process. It took me 3 full years after I was at a healthy, stable weight and eating normally that I finally felt that I was fully recovered. It is an extremely challenging and long process, but it’s SO worth it. No one ever “regrets” recovering.
Thanks Kristina, and welcome to the Fit List!