New on Campus: Project HEAL Aims to Promote Body Positivity for those who've Experienced Eating Disorders

As early teenagers, Liana Rosenman and Kristina Saffran experienced what many girls between the age of 12-25 experiences: an eating disorder. They wanted to regain control of their lives, so they helped each other recover from anorexia and decided that together, they could help other people across the world.

In 2011, Rosenman and Saffran founded Project HEAL, which stands for Help to Eat, Accept and Live. The organization provides “grant funding for people with eating disorders who cannot afford treatment, promote healthy body image and self esteem, and serve as a testament that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible,” according to their website.  

A major problem girls with eating disorders face is the treatment cost which can be as high as $30,000 per month.  Many insurance companies do not cover costs and some people have issues finding the money to get better.

To be able to provide more scholarships, Project HEAL expanded across the United States, Canada and Japan in various communities such as colleges. The chapters promote positive body image and eating disorder awareness, and they also raise money for the scholarship program.

Alicia McElhaney, a junior journalism major (and former Her Campus writer) and Meghna Balakumar, a junior business major, are the first founders and presidents of the University of Maryland chapter. McElhaney first found out about the opportunity  after seeing the chapter at the University of Pittsburgh, which is near her hometown.

Alicia McElhaney and Meghna Balakumar, Founders of the Maryland Chapter promote Project Heal on Campus

“For me, Project HEAL was a big part of the recovery process. They have an amazing social media presence, and it made me find a lot of different media that were body positive which I needed because I was very ingrained in reading magazines,” McElhaney said.

Balakumar, who also recovered from an eating disorder, wants everyone to realize that “there’s no textbook definition of an eating disorder."

McElhaney and Balakumar applied to nationals before summer, but before they could found the chapter, they had to demonstrate that they were fully recovered from their eating disorder for at least two years. McElhaney said it is because they want to make sure founders can handle the workload.

Although Project HEAL it is still waiting to be approved by the SGA, the members have already begun making plans for the semester. The chapter is open to people of the university as well as people off campus who are interested.

Project HEAL held a fundraiser at Athleta in Georgetown this past weekend and 10 percent of the proceeds went towards their organization. Their next event this month will be a body love photo-shoot where participants can have professional pictures taken of them and receive the prints for $5. People can wear whatever as much or as few clothes as they want, and can also bring props to use.

“It’s meant to be a healing experience. Your body looks good as it is.  We see so much of two specific bodies in the media: very thin and plus size which isn’t actually plus size,” McElhaney said.

Project HEAL will also meet with different instructors at the gym and CHAARG, a health a fitness organization for college girls across the nation, to talk about body positivity. They also plan on having a healing yoga class in November and eventually pairing up with Lush cosmetics to host a party in December.  Project HEAL is still discussing potential body positivity and fund raising events for the remainder of the semester.

The money made from fundraising goes directly to the national level so they can use it for their scholarship program. In order for nationals to use the money appropriately, people must apply for the scholarship and demonstrate that they want to recover. Within only six years, 14 applicants have received scholarships to receive treatment. McElhaney said that while it may not sound like a lot, treatment for one person is expensive.  

McElhaney has personally seen friends who could not pay for full treatment, so fundraising is a big part of the chapter’s goal, but it is not the only one.

“The other goal is really promoting body positivity and awareness of eating disorders and what dieting can do to you. A lot of people in college go on diets and it’s not in a healthy way,” McElhaney said.

A survey on a college campus found that 91 percent of women had attempted to control their weight through dieting, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Laura Whitney, senior psychology major, also believes that more attention needs to be brought to eating disorders.

“I feel like eating disorders is an issue that is so prevalent on college campuses and talked about so little. I think it’s great to be part of an organization that’s bringing awareness to a cause that probably affects way more people on this campus that we realize,” Whitney said.

For more information on Project Heal, check out their facebook page!