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Project Heal provides funding, support for eating-disorder recovery

Members of Project Heal pose for a photo at their second annual gala on Feb. 18. Credit: Courtesy of Katie Gutman

For those who are either struggling with or recovering from eating disorders, fellow survivors are lending a helping hand.

Project Heal at Ohio State is a chapter of the national organization that raises scholarship money for people to receive eating-disorder treatment.

Erica Magier, a fourth-year in social work and co-president of Project Heal at OSU, said breaking down the stereotypes that surround eating disorders and mental health is the core mission of the organization.

“Project Heal does a really great job of spreading the word and making it known that it’s OK. People have eating disorders, people have mental-health disorders, and these things happen, but it doesn’t define you,” Magier said. “I think that’s their biggest message, like this is part of your life, but you are a person with an eating disorder, you are not the eating disorder.”

Inpatient treatment for eating disorders costs an average of $30,000 a month, Magier said, and typically lasts between six and 12 months. Although the timeline for full recovery can last up to three years, she said health insurance providers rarely cover the cost of treatment for eating disorders.

Madison Swart, a fourth-year in social work and co-president of Project Heal at OSU, said she struggled with an eating disorder throughout high school and during her first year of college. Although her family was able to afford her treatment, she said she met many others who struggled financially because they had to pay for treatment out of pocket.

“So much of recovery is that mental mindset of getting to the point of actually wanting to recover and having the will and desire to recover, but it just didn’t make sense to me that people who had that (mindset) didn’t have the same opportunities,” Swart said.

Project Heal at OSU holds multiple events throughout the year that raise money to create scholarships for eating disorder treatment. The money goes to the national chapter, and individuals can apply for  funds online. She said the organization hosted fundraising nights at local restaurants leading up to its annual gala, which took place in February. The event featured raffles, food, performances and speakers, including Laura Hill, president and CEO of The Center for Balanced Living, and Kirsten Haglund, Miss America 2008 and founder of a namesake foundation that raises awareness for eating-disorder treatment. The gala raised about $12,000 this year, Swart said.

“We wanted to make (the gala) a fun thing, which I think is really important when you’re talking about something like eating disorders, because the topic in itself deters people from getting involved,” Swart said.

Beyond fundraising, Swart said the organization provides a supportive community at biweekly meetings, held on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in the Center for Student Leadership and Service at the Ohio Union.

Magier said all students are welcome to the meetings, as the topic of mental wellness and self-confidence is not limited to people who have suffered from an eating disorder.

“I’ve never had a diagnosed eating disorder,” Magier said. “But, I have certainly struggled with body positivity and body image in general, and I say that to anyone and everyone, because it’s certainly better to normalize it than to just not talk about it.”

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