Women On A Mission: Project HEAL

Ambitious, committed and passionate. These are the words I use to describe the women of Project HEAL.  I have had the pleasure of hanging out with Kristina, Liana and Ali at various events around the nation and I wanted to give all you warriors a chance to get to know them better. I proudly sit on their advisory board and love actively working with them on a mission that is so pure, powerful and purposeful. Project HEAL: Help to Eat, Accept and Live is a non-profit that raises money for people with eating disorders who cannot afford treatment, promotes healthy body image and self esteem, and inspires people to believe that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.  To date, Project HEAL has raised over $450,000 and sent 21 applicants to treatment, and opened over 40 chapters across the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia. They have one incredible story, I definitely recommend you listen to their interview on the Recovery Warrior Show.

Meet the leaders of Project HEAL:

Kristina Saffran


Kristina Saffran is the cofounder and interim executive director of  Project HEAL. She graduated from Harvard College with a bachelors degree in psychology in May of 2014.  Kristina hopes to pursue her PhD in clinical psychology and go on to treat people with eating disorders.

 What are the top three things that helped you through your recovery?

  1. Redefining my image of perfection – I had to shift my mental image of the kind of person I aspired to be. Physically, the person I wanted to be needed to gain quite a few pounds and add some curves, but even more importantly, I realized that I valued qualities like intelligence, making a difference in the world, having meaningful relationships and being a good friend.  And I realized that none of these values could be realized while I was still engaging in my eating disorder.
  2. Going on autopilot – That said, once I made the decision to recover, it was not an easy process – the thoughts were still very strong.  I  knew how manipulative my eating disorder could be, so I had to make a pact with myself to eat 100% of my meal plan and never restrict, no matter what the thoughts told me. Over time, as eating normally became less novel, the thoughts did begin to lessen
  3. Getting rid of my scale – Enough said =)

In what ways has working with Project HEAL helped strengthen your own recovery?

When Liana and I began Project HEAL, I would say I was 90% recovered – almost 100% physically and behaviorally and 90% mentally.  I credit Project HEAL with bringing me 100% into recovery.  Taking on the responsibility of being a role model to others, coupled with having a positive place to channel my perfectionist nature were amazing things for my recovery.

What is your definition of recovery?

Recovery is living a life that is so full and meaningful that I don’t even really have time to think about food and weight and appearance.  My priorities have shifted to focusing on the rich relationships in my life, my personal and career aspirations, and how I can make a difference in the lives of others.  There are far more important things to focus on than what I ate for lunch or how much I weigh.  I have gotten to know myself in and out, and have learned to be kinder to myself and more forgiving, and have also learned to call my own BS.

While I consider myself fully recovered from my eating disorder, I am a firm believer that we should always to be striving to know and understand ourselves better and continue to work towards growth and improvement.  I still constantly work on the things that predisposed me to the eating disorder: anxiety, perfectionism, and rigidity.  7 years in recovery feels amazing, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of recovery brings!

Liana Rosenman


Liana Rosenman graduated from Hofstra University in May 2014 with a bachelors degree in Education and History, with plans to get her masters in Special Education. Liana currently works as a 3rd grade teacher in New York City. She believes an education should empower a child and help him or her make a positive contribution to our world.

What are the top three things that helped you through your recovery?

  1. Support: Recovery from an eating disorder is a journey that requires support, encouragement and ongoing motivation. I surrounded myself with people who supported me and wanted to see me healthy and happy.
  2. Finding a passion: An eating disorder became my identity. It consumed and masked who I truly was. I made time for activities that brought me joy and fulfillment. I tried things I’ve always wanted to do, developed new skills, and volunteered in my community. I experimented with different ways to nourish my soul because part of recovery is getting to know yourself all over again (or for the first time!).
  3. Setting Goals: It is easy to say you will start tomorrow. Your ED may tell you that it’s okay to follow your disordered eating behaviors today—you’ll begin your recovery meal plan tomorrow. Too often, however, this leads to more and more days with ED in control. Decide to take the control back today. Making small, realistic goals can help you stay focused.

In what ways has working with Project HEAL helped strengthen your own recovery?

Project HEAL solidified my recovery. I knew that I had a responsibility and had to live by the words and the message I was sending.

What is your definition of recovery?

Recovery. The published meaning of this word is to return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. It can also mean the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost. When it comes to eating disorder recovery, there are many different kinds of people. There are those who believe in full recovery, those who believe in full recovery – but not necessarily for themselves, and those who do not believe in it at all.It is a difficult task promoting recovery to those struggling with eating disorders when they are constantly being told that the odds are against them. Trust me, I know – promoting recovery is my life’s work. Why bother trying at all? If you are already deemed to be (and doomed to be) a statistic from the start, what’s the point in paying money for treatment/counseling or getting support from friends, family, etc. Isn’t it all a waste?The short answer is: NO. Not only is recovery completely possible, it’s also worth every effort. Whether you’re involved with a whole treatment team, simply seeing one therapist, using an alternative support system, or going it alone – recovery is possible, real, and wonderful.I know this, because in addition to being a Founder of Project HEAL, I’m a recovered individual myself. It wasn’t always an easy path. In fact, I thought that recovery from an eating disorder would be simple. I always heard analogies about cars- Your body is like a car. If you don’t give it fuel (food) then it will eventually shut down. I thought that when I entered treatment for the first time it would be like I was a car in the auto body shop. You go in, they fix you, and you’re out like brand-new. It doesn’t work like that. Recovery is not something you choose once; you have to choose recovery over and over again. The hardest part was accepting how my recovery would not happen overnight, since I was not accustomed to failing at accomplishing something right away. I soon realized that the only way to defeat the one thing that was, quite literally, eating away at me, was to fight it with all the strength and courage that I had.Recovery has taught me that my life is now is beyond my imagination. I see and experience life in ways I never thought possible. Recovery is more than just overcoming an eating disorder. It is finding beauty everywhere in the world- including myself. It is about acceptance. Acceptance of my body and myself. It’s about accepting that life is not perfect, nobody is perfect but that’s okay. Recovery is a full range of emotions. It is taking those emotions and expressing them in a healthy manner. It is about living life to the fullest, leaving fear behind.

Recovery is about courage. It is about the courage to take small steps, trusting that they will lead to great accomplishments. Recovery is about patience, compassion, and persistence. Most importantly, recovery is about possibility. Being sick may keep you safe, but it also prevents you from experiencing and ENJOYING all that life has to offer. Recovery is choosing to thrive- not just survive.

So I leave you with this, There IS hope – once you “decide you want it, more than you’re afraid of it”.

Ali Hougnou

Chapter Manager

Ali Hougnou is the National/International Chapter Manager at Project HEAL. Upon overcoming both childhood obesity and anorexia nervosa, Ali became particularly passionate about exploring alternative and more effective prevention and treatment approaches for eating disorders, as well as obesity. She intends to obtain a PhD in clinical psychology, and ultimately hopes to strengthen the alliance and collaborative efforts between professionals within the treatment of obesity and professionals who treat eating disorders. Ali is very passionate about her work and has aspirations to facilitate change within the medical and mental health fields.

What are the top three things that helped you through your recovery?

  1. Music is probably my number 1 tool because no matter what it was always there for me. I used (and continue to use) different genres of music to help me work through whatever I was going through. Those songs helped me voice what I felt I couldn’t express in any other way.
  2. Reading “Mans Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown, and “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch gave me the insight and hope I needed to understand that life is filled with good things and bad things, we have a choice of how we interpret those things. Viktor Frankl in particular helped me see that experiencing truly awful circumstances does not happen to individuals simply because they are bad people, nor do those circumstances have to define that individual, rather we can find meaning in our pain and suffering.
  3. Loved ones and treatment providers who continued to believe in me, especially when I struggled to believe in myself. I tried so hard to convince these people that I wasn’t worth their time by being non-compliant in treatment and/or pushing away people I cared about — some relationships unfortunately suffered and some treatment providers gave up on me (none of whom I hold resentment towards), however a select few challenged my efforts to try and convince them of my worthlessness and ultimately helped me to begin contemplating the possibility that I may have been wrong about believing I lacked worth. Eventually they laid all the groundwork necessary to begin my process of healing and it was my turn to take the lead by taking my treatment beyond focusing on the food and weight, and explore the root of my pain. So, this last important piece in my recovery process is a combination of external support and internal strength. The external support saved my life, but I had to make the decision to be vulnerable and authentic with those trying to help me heal if I was going to attain long-term recovery.

In what ways has working with Project HEAL helped strengthen your own recovery?

Working with Project HEAL has helped me in SO many ways:

  • Helping others gave meaning and purpose to my life, which I lacked due to some difficult experiences throughout my life. Since I knew that in order to help others I had to first help myself, I was motivated to continue pushing myself farther in my recovery process, so that I could eventually give back to others and provide them with the hope that recovery IS possible.
  • Being a recovery mentor/face of recovery helped me keep myself accountable and ultimately prevented me from wanting to engage in any unhealthy behaviors because the last thing I wanted to be known as was a fraud.
  • Putting energy into something positive that I was also passionate about significantly decreased the time I had to spend ruminating about other “anti-Ali” things.
  • Being surrounded by positivity and pro-recovery reminders quieted my ED voice/negative mind immensely, eventually to the point that my mind automatically challenged any unhelpful thoughts with pro-recovery reminders.
  • Seeing the difference Project HEAL as an organization has been able to make has helped me realize the power I have to also make a difference, which continues to strengthen my recovery each and every day.

What is your definition of recovery?

My definition of recovery is two-fold:

  1. Recovery is not engaging in eating disorder behaviors and learning to accept and even LOVE you body for all that it continues to do for you. This means nourishing your body with ALL types of food that you as a human being enjoy, without limiting your dietary choices to what society or anyone other than you would like you to eat, while also treating your body well with self-care activities (e.g. massages, yoga, playing sports for FUN, soaking up the sun, etc). In short, recovery is honoring your body’s hunger/fullness cues and taking care of your body by doing activities that you genuinely enjoy, rather than forcing yourself to workout so you can burn calories.
  2. The food and physical aspects of recovery are incredibly important, however equally as important is the mental and emotional side to recovery- this second half of my definition of recovery involves exploring the depths of your feelings and experiences, validating those experiences and feelings, and ultimately allowing yourself to own every aspect of who you are. It’s believing the following quotes:

You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”~Brené Brown


Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. ~Viktor Frankl

Get Involved! LEARN MORE about Project HEAL!

Liana Rosenman
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