Guest blog: Lived experience with an eating disorder led to life-saving treatment

MHA Admin

Tue, 02/28/2023 – 10:20

by Kristina Saffran, Equip co-founder and CEO

I was 10 years old when I was diagnosed with anorexia. In the years after, I cycled in and out of treatment. I was hospitalized four times for a total of seven months, with the eating disorder quickly regaining control shortly after each discharge. When I began to relapse once again after the final hospitalization, my parents – terrified and desperate – presented me with a choice: I could go to a treatment facility on the other side of the country, or I could stay home and try a new approach: family-based treatment (FBT).

FBT saved my life. As I’ve learned in the years since, it’s the only evidence-based treatment for eating disorders in young people. It is rooted in the idea that families are best suited to help their loved ones through recovery, and it forced me and my family to confront my anorexia together. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it worked.

In some ways, my story is quite common: 30 million Americans will be affected by an eating disorder in their lifetime. But in other ways, it’s startlingly unique: 80% of people struggling with an eating disorder never get treatment, and of those who do, very few get effective care that leads to recovery. The reasons for this are multifold. Many people fall through the cracks of treatment due to pervasive stigma and stereotypes about who gets eating disorders (hint: it’s not just thin, affluent white girls). Traditional treatment requires a young person to uproot their life and go to a physical location, which isn’t geographically or logistically feasible for many families, and the costs are prohibitive. What’s more, these treatment centers don’t always use evidence-based treatment. Patients leave only to come back.

This is a grave problem. Someone dies every 52 minutes as the result of an eating disorder, and the crisis is only becoming more acute. There’s been a 70% surge in reported eating disorders since the start of the pandemic, and they’re hitting kids younger and younger.

FBT helped me reach two life-changing things: long-term recovery and a life mission of making eating disorder treatment accessible to everyone who needs it. At 15, once I reached recovery, I started Project HEAL, which is now the largest grassroots eating disorder nonprofit. But after a decade, I realized that plugging holes in a broken system wasn’t going to help the millions struggling. Rather than working within the constraints of the current eating disorder treatment landscape, I decided to build the treatment that patients and families desperately needed but didn’t yet exist.

To take on this ambitious goal, I joined forces with Dr. Erin Parks of the UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center, who had over a decade of clinical and academic expertise. She had also been trying to plug holes in the system using the FBT model, but knew that she needed to think bigger to get help to everyone who needed it. Together, we designed Equip to be what status quo treatment was not: accessible and effective.

To tackle that first element, we made Equip fully virtual, which research shows is as effective as in-person care. We also prioritized insurance coverage, partnering with more than 13 major commercial plans and Medicaid so that money wouldn’t keep families from care. Our price point is also a fraction of the cost of residential treatment.

As for that second element, we built upon FBT, pairing each family with a dedicated five-person provider team that provides the comprehensive, encompassing support they need. That team includes a therapist, dietitian, and medical provider, as well as peer and family mentors – people who’ve been through treatment and made it to the other side. We built a robust and independent research team to constantly evaluate and improve upon our approach, and it’s working: A full 92% of our patients are getting better.

Equip didn’t exist when I needed help, but I was lucky and privileged enough to have a family who could clear the hurdles to effective treatment. Their efforts made my life today possible. But many don’t have that luck and privilege, and so every day at Equip we work to tear down more hurdles. And once they’re all clear, and everyone has access to the treatment they need, the possibilities for each of those lives will be endless.

Kristina Saffran is the co-founder and CEO of Equip and co-founder and board member of Project HEAL.


The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Code Red
Gunshot Victim
Life Threatening Wounds
Physical Assault Victim
Severely Injured Auto Accident Victim
Burn Victim
Choking & Breathing Obstructions
and more…


Child Sex Assault Victim
Domestic Violence Victim
Drug Overdose
Rape/Sex Crime Victim
Suicide Watch
Trafficking Victim
Nervous Breakdown
and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer/Graphics Training
  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
  • Hospitality Training
  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
  • Violence De-Escalation Training
  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
  • Meal Prep

Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: