Kristina Saffran is the co-founder of Project HEAL, an organization that helps those struggling with eating disorders get the treatment they need, regardless of health insurance. Below, she talks about her own battle with anorexia and how she’s discovered a broader, more realistic definition of what health is.
When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with anorexia and struggled with this disease throughout much of my adolescence. Throughout my recovery I met people who had to leave treatment early because their insurance stopped paying. After reaching a healthy place, I revisited how insurance coverage affects eating disorder recovery and learned that 90% of ED sufferers cannot access appropriate care due to lack of insurance coverage. In 2008 (at the age of 15) I co-founded Project HEAL to help people with eating disorders pay for treatment.
We’ve grown tremendously over the past 10 years, and are now the largest grassroots organization in the US delivering prevention, treatment financing, and recovery support for people struggling with eating disorders. We have 40 chapters across the globe and internationally, and recently launched Communities of HEALing, the first peer support and mentorship program for people with eating disorders.
A huge part of my own recovery, and now my work in mentoring others, is truly embracing the idea that health is about more than being skinny. In our appearance-obsessed society, it’s an idea that needs constant repeating. Every time I pull up my Instagram feed, I’m bombarded with clean eating, antioxidant-rich superfoods, detox diets, juice cleanses, and the hippest new workout. We live in a health and fitness obsessed society, and the obsession is focused on a very narrow definition of health.
Today, I’m thankful to be fully recovered. I now have a much broader definition of what health truly is, and want to share with you how you can redefine what it means to be healthy.
- BE AWARE OF YOUR BODY + ITS NEEDS: Actively listen to and honor your body. Sometimes it wants a heart-pumping run, sometimes a grounding yoga class, and sometimes a nap. Exercise can be a stress-reducing activity, but it can quickly become compulsive for some people. Respect when your body is hungry, or tired, and allow all foods in moderation. Eat fresh veggies and produce regularly, but don’t feel bad if you also eat ice cream every night! If you truly allow yourself those “off limits” foods whenever you want them, you’ll notice that you feel satisfied and don’t, in fact, want 100 (insert “bad food” of choice). Restriction is what leads to deprivation and binging.
- HAVE APPRECIATION FOR YOUR BODY: Focus on all the things your body allows you to do – hike mountains, hoist your own suitcase into the overhead bin, do a headstand – rather than what it looks like. Weight is a terrible proxy for health. I’m also a firm believer in set point theory – the idea that our bodies want to be at a certain weight range and will fight very hard no matter what we do to keep us there. Set points are different for every person, and healthy people come in all shapes and sizes.
- BE STRONG, BOTH PHYSICALLY + MENTALLY: Physical strength is important and can be a great conduit to accepting and appreciating your body, as discussed above. Following body-positive bloggers like Healthy Is The New Skinny and Strong Not Skinny can help redefine your own personal image of beauty. Additionally, it’s important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health, and is a muscle that needs to be trained. Practicing yoga, getting enough sleep, meditating, scheduling in meaningful time with friends and family, and saying no are all meaningful practices to cultivate.
- BE FLEXIBLE: The biggest contributor to happiness is meaningful relationships with people. And meaningful relationships with people require some selflessness and compromise. The Instagram wellness craze would have us believe that our “healthiest” days are those when we get to the gym, eat raw veggies, and cut out all sugar. But health also means making room for people and opportunities, and life. Sometimes, skipping the gym for a drink with a friend is precisely the definition of health.
These lessons took me years to learn and truly embrace; they needed constant reinforcement and practice. But they are what brought me into full recovery from my eating disorder. I am a healthier person, and a far happier person, now that I strive for this broader definition of health.
Did Project HEAL’s mission speak to you? Read more about the organization here, including tons of ways to get involved.