As a child, calories and numbers on a scale took over Liana Rosenman’s life. Barely a teenager at Commack Middle School, she was already spiraling down the dangerous path of an eating disorder.
“I saw my friends do things with their lives that I couldn’t physically. I was losing my friendships. I wasn’t the same person that I had been,” she said.
By the eighth grade, Rosenman was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. She entered treatment in her junior year of high school where her path to recovery would begin. However, Rosenman’s story isn’t just about a girl overcoming an illness. Her story is one that would change the lives of people around country, and even the world.
Having gone through a treatment program, Rosenman saw flaws in the system, the biggest being the lack of insurance coverage for eating disorder treatments.
“We had friends getting kicked out because their insurance either wouldn’t cover it or because they couldn’t afford treatment on their own,” she said. “These were people who wanted to get better, but the financial burden was in the way.”
While in treatment, she met Kristina Saffran. Together, they helped one another on the road to recovery, and in 2008, came up with the idea for Project HEAL. The nonprofit organization raises money for others suffering with eating disorders, but who are unable to afford treatment.
Project HEAL offers two scholarships a year. There are about 200 applicants who apply for the scholarship, Rosenman said. “We look for applicants who have financial need and are the most motivated.”
Also in the program are a doctor, psychiatrist, dietitian and therapist. In addition to providing scholarships, Project HEAL offers mentorship to people living with eating disorders and works to educate about the possibility of recovery.
“We get a lot of people emailing us, asking for advice. I tell them to love your body and embrace yourself,” she said. “In school, I saw no one was being positive about their bodies. All of our friends would throw out their lunches or just eat a yogurt. There was no one to look up to as someone who had recovered from an eating disorder for us to see what life was like after. We had no idea or light of what kind of recovery was possible.”
“But recovery is possible. You’re so much more than the calories you eat or a number on a scale. It was a hard journey, but 100 percent worth it,” she said.
Project HEAL, which will be celebrating its fifth anniversary in June, now has 25 chapters across the United States and four in Canada.
“It’s kind of amazing to see," she said.
"There’s this cliché quote that I really love that, if you have skeletons in your closet, you might as well make them dance. It’s amazing to look back and see that my struggle wasn’t just about struggling,” she said. “It was horrible to go through, but I would do it all again if it would lead to someone else being able to get help.”
Now 21 years old, Rosenman considers herself fully recovered. “Food, calories – they just don’t faze me anymore,” she said.
Rosenman currently attends Hofstra University where she is studying to become a special education teacher. While her career will put her at the front of a classroom, she plans to continue to grow Project HEAL, and hopes to eventually open a treatment center.
The fifth anniversary of Project HEAL will take place June 7 at the Copacobana Rooftop in New York City from 7-10 p.m.