Body image and personal health, both mental and physical, are incredibly important things to be aware of. Today, eating disorders affect 1 out of every 10 Americans in the United States and has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. These disorders affect women and men, both physically and psychologically. While it is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from clinically significant eating disorders at some point in their life, there is always hope for recovery. With proper treatment, care, and attention, full and long lasting recovery is attainable! This is especially possible with the help of the leading non-profit organization Project HEAL, a group dedicated to helping support the recovery of those suffering from eating disorders.

I had the great pleasure of talking with SUNY New Paltz’s chapter leader of Project HEAL, Danielle, about the importance of spreading awareness about eating disorders and the wonderful benefits of Project HEAL. She answered five questions regarding healthy eating and the ways in which Project HEAL works to help those who need it. Danielle, like all of those who are a part of this amazing organization, works hard to spread the mission statement of Project HEAL, and through her inspiring words, we both hope to continue to spread awareness about eating disorders and the possibility for recovery.

1.) What are some ways to incorporate healthy eating into your diet during college?

Some ways to incorporate healthy eating into your diet during college is to be aware about all of your meal options on campus (i.e, see what food places are open on campus) and what they serve. Keep in mind that your meals should generally encompass most areas of each food group, but you don’t have to be rigid. Make it a point to be conscious of what you eat, and allow yourself to enjoy some sweet or salty snacks.

2.) What are the important aspects of keeping “healthy” that you would recommend for people who are trying to improve their health?

Some other important aspects of keeping “healthy” include being mindful, exercising, and getting enough sleep! I know they all sound cliche, but incorporating this into your college lifestyle really makes the transition (and maintenance) of your time at college smooth. My personal recommendation is to try things out and see what works for you. It took me a while to find my “plan”, but I did and I stick to it.

3.) What do the terms “healthy” and “good health” mean to you?

Keep in mind that each person’s definition is vastly different, so what I say may not be what others define as “healthy” or “good health,” but that does not mean my definition, or others, is necessarily “right” or “wrong”. To me, “healthy” means that because you are doing what you can to balance your priorities and mental health, you are taking care of your body and your mind in any way possible- and you don’t have to be perfect at it! “Good health” means that your body is in good condition, because you do what you can to take care of it.

4.) What type of support do you give to those who are struggling with healthy eating or having a healthy body image?

Being a part of Project HEAL for (going on) 3 years now, I am so thankful that I can give support to those who are struggling. From my own experience, I can attest to how important this is. We give in-person and online support to those who struggle, so definitely check out our social media links, as well as come to meetings if you’re on campus! Some of our support includes online engagement, in which we have chapter members posting inspirational sayings and real stories of the struggles to be in recovery. We host chapter meetings and events, along with the national chapter hosting events, and dedicate a whole week in February (the last week) to eating disorder awareness called NEDA week. Most importantly, we emphasize the importance of getting rid of the stigma of eating disorders, educate people about them, and focus on how to attain a positive mindset and body image. Important to note: Project HEAL coordinates with NEDA, who also provides a hotline for those who need immediate assistance, and fundraise to bring awareness and raise money for those who need treatment.

5.) How do you and your team at Project HEAL manage to embody and promote these ideals?

We make sure to enforce the mantra/motto of “no judgement.” We don’t allow for negative-self talk (though we do encourage people to open up about their struggles) and we ensure that we are as supportive as we can be. We update our social media a lot, and we host events that surround (and focus on) the idea of a healthy body and a healthy mind; we couldn’t be any more thankful for the support we have!