National Eating Disorders Association

The Call that Changed Everything

Jenni Schaefer, NEDA Ambassador

My dad didn’t know what to do to help me with my eating disorder.  

So, he did what he’s really good at and passed along some numbers: (800) 931-2237 (He’s an engineer.) I still have that handwritten piece of paper. Thank you, Dad.  

Calling those ten digits for help was a huge leap of faith. At that point in my life, no one knew I had an eating disorder except for my parents and the boyfriend who made me tell them (Now, I can say thanks to him, too.). 

I am not telling anyone else. 

The shame was palpable. I was so embarrassed. Back then, I didn’t know that eating disorders are real, life-threatening mental illnesses. I didn’t know that no one chooses to be sick, but people do choose to get better.  

I chose healing that day. Little did I know then, I would have to choose it again and then again. Repeat. 

I don’t remember much about that conversation with the NEDA Helpline. My brain was so malnourished that making memories wasn’t deemed an important activity. Yet, I know one thing: I hung up that call and had something that I hadn’t had yet, and that was hope. 

Across research studies, hope is shown to be not only a trigger for healing but also fuel to keep us on the recovery path.  

But hope needs action to work.  

That came in the mail a few days later. I am talking about the real mail, as in an envelope and a stamp (it’s that little sticker in the upper right-hand corner!). I received a typed list with names and address and numbers of treatment providers in my area. NEDA went to the trouble to type something for me with a typewriter.  

I still have these papers, too.  

Of course, I couldn’t just look at all of the paper. I had to call those numbers, the therapist, dietitian, and doctor who became my lifelines—the treatment team who guided me in recovery.  

Then, I had to actually do what they said (Gulp.). That took longer than I like to admit. To stay in this whole recovery thing, I figured out that I would need to add persistence to that hope and action.   

Never, never, never give up. 

This became my mantra. Often, I didn’t believe it, but I was determined not to quit. I wanted my life back. I wanted my brain—my memories—back.  

Finally, recovery became a reality. It was nowhere near as easy as that last sentence might make it sound. I would need much more than a blog to convey the nuances, the twists and turns, and the complex puzzle that was my healing journey. 

Over time, recovery did become easier though. Today, I don’t even think about it specifically, as recovery is just woven into my life.  

If you (or someone you love) battle an eating disorder, never quit. Importantly, get help. Like me, one phone call could change everything.  

The fact that I am even writing this is such a full-circle, meaningful moment for me. Remember, I wasn’t going to tell anyone. Not a soul. Well, a few books later, you can see how that story went.  

Now, reaching the NEDA Helpline is easier than ever. You don’t even have to make an old school phone call, but you can just click-to-chat. And, trust me when I say that NEDA’s Helpline volunteers are the best of the best. These folks get it.  

As it turns out, I was wrong. My dad knew exactly how to help me.  

Thanks, NEDA, for answering my call.  

A NEDA Ambassador, Jenni is the author of Life Without Ed, Almost Anorexic, and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will release her next book, which is about fighting through posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD. For more information, visit