Gaining More Than Weight: Life After Anorexia
Liana Rosenman, Becky Allen, Kristina Saffran
Founders, Project HEAL
I was struck by the beauty of their skin. Rosy, smooth, full of life…healthy. My preconceived notion of what a former anorexic would look like went right out of my head when I met Liana Rosenman, Becky Allen and Kristina Saffran. The girls are from different Long Island towns and counties but even with the distance that separates them, they are the very best of friends who met while they were being treated for anorexia at North Shore LIJ Hospital.
All three girls have their own stories of why they developed an eating disorder. Becky, who was diagnosed at the age of 14, danced seven days a week. “There was a lot of pressure [to be thin] and I was surrounded by mirrors,” she recalled. Liana, diagnosed at the age of 12, was a competitive swimmer and said, “not eating would make me numb and I would block it out.” Kristina was diagnosed at the age of 10 and said, “I never dealt with issues. I didn’t remember having a negative [self] image. It was something I could control and I could be the best at.” But there are no winners in the competition to be thin because as Liana points out, “the best anorexic is dead.”
Being an anorexic takes over your life and becomes you. Liana, Becky and Kristina, who suffered through years of treatments and relapses finally said “enough” and together, through tremendous willpower and effective counseling finally were free to become the healthy and productive young women I had the pleasure to meet. “We were determined to help each other,” Kristina says.
Liana, the oldest of the three, is now a freshman at a local college. She is poised and articulate. Everyday for the past three years Liana has texted an inspirational message to about 20 girls who are anorexic. Becky, an extremely bright young woman who wants to study international relations and conflict resolutions integrating Arab and Israeli youth, came up with the concept of raising money to help other people who were suffering with an eating disorder. Liana and Kristina agreed with Becky, that even though they were young, they wanted to establish their own non-profit to accomplish two missions: to raise money for people suffering with an eating disorder who want to recover and cannot afford treatment and, to provide encouragement and support to help those struggling with body image issues from developing into full-blown eating disorders. Together, they founded Project HEAL (Help to Eat, Accept and Live).
“We aren’t doctors or therapists, but we know what they’re [anorexics] going through,” Liana says and Kristina added, “We hold ourselves to a new level. We want to be inspirational.” Kristina was very candid about the fact that she was the weak link in the group and said, “I was struggling mentally but they [Becky and Liana] encouraged me. I was the wild card for a while.” She is now a stunning, self-assured high school senior who acts as the spokesperson for the group.
The Project HEAL: Help to Heal scholarship holds various fundraisers to raise money to help defray the cost for treatment that insurance doesn’t cover. They have received hundreds of applications from anorexics all over the U.S. hoping to be selected to receive a scholarship. So far, the girls have raised more than $80,000 to fund the program. “That’s what is unique about our scholarship. We’ll pay for the therapy,” Becky says. “The patient fills out [the application themselves] and wants to get treatment.” The girls explained that it’s not enough for the parent to want to get help for their child, the anorexic needs to be committed to getting better.
Unfortunately, most insurance companies classify anorexia as a mental illness and sometimes limits coverage. “It’s not just a mental illness, it’s a medical disease also,” Kristina says. “Insurance cuts them off [from treatment] and then they relapse,” she says. The girls said that some people are using their college funds to pay for residential treatment that can run as high as $30,000 a month, with a minimum two month stay. Those afflicted with an eating disorder have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses but with treatment the survival rate improves dramatically. These girls are proof that the right treatment can be extremely successful.
“I was hospitalized four times during my freshman year,” Kristina says. She found success being treated at Princeton Medical Center in New Jersey, but the cost tallied up to almost $200,000. Thankfully her parents insurance covered most of the bills.
The girls now speak to local middle and high school students and at hospital programs about the disorder. It’s not a comfortable topic to talk about but Liana said, “Everyone has been very open and accepting. It’s been a great experience.”
“People admire us for what we’re doing. We’re helping others. They know that they can talk to us about any problems [including] drugs and alcohol. There are a lot of people struggling with weight and body issues, Kristina says. All the girls agreed: “There is nothing glamorous about lying in bed with an IV in your arm.”
Liana speaks for all three when she says: “Our struggles have only made us stronger and now we want to give back. It is an important goal of ours to show sufferers that recovery can be attained, to show teens that there’s more to life than their physical appearance and to inspire people to let go and let live!
For more information go to www.TheProjectHEAL.org. Project HEAL will be hosting their second annual Benefit Brunch on Saturday, Oct. 24th at Carlyle on the Green. If you’re interested in attending, e-mail: email@example.com
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