On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Project HEAL Co-founder and CEO Kristina Saffran talks about supporting eating disorder suffers for long-term recovery—beyond clinical care. “Peer support has strong evidence of working in other mental illnesses and had never been really utilized for people with eating disorders,” says Saffran. “Just having someone who really shows that [recovery] is hard—and it’s possible, and it’s worth it—really truly makes all the difference.”
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Whereas Project HEAL began by giving financial support to people with eating disorders to seek comprehensive care, the organization now takes a lead through advocacy and connecting patients to The HEALers Circle—a network of eating disorder treatment provides donating their time and services. And to reach as many people possible in the United States—as nearly 1 in 10 Americans suffers with eating disorders and 70 percent of them do not receive treatment—Project HEAL joined with The Kennedy Forum. Since inaugurating their EDequity program in May 2019, the organizations work to understand critical gaps in care and remedy these gaps by forming partnerships, leading appeals, ensuring enforcement, educating patients, and navigating health insurance policies.
According to Saffran, peer support from Project HEAL’s 40 chapters and 100,000 patients and families helps people with eating disorders understand that recovery is possible—even as they face hurdles from poor insurance coverage and societal stigmas against eating disorders. Since the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passed in 2008, insurance companies must cover eating disorder treatment, but Project HEAL works to address a remaining gap in patients’ awareness of the act and the act’s enforcement. “We’ve seen some gains from [the law]… but the problem we’ve been seeing most recently is that… there’s really little outreach and treatment right now,” says Saffran.
Saffran also notes that visibility presents difficulties for eating disorder treatment and recovery. Although many consider white, affluent young women at a much higher risk of acquiring an eating disorder, “people struggle almost equally across race, class, ethnicity, body shape and size—even a third of sufferers are men,” says Saffran. Visibility can be especially difficult considering the little research guiding communities supporting people with eating disorders. “We don’t know a lot,” says Saffran. “[But] new and increasing research shows that bulimia and bingeing disorder is actually more common in Black and Hispanic communities, and as the levels of food insecurity rises in a community, the levels of eating disorders directly rise… We’re going to see a lot more information and understanding in the next couple of years.”