Born and raised in suburban Demarest, NJ in the early 1960's Gail was a responsible, friendly and creative child. The oldest of three girls, Gail did well in school, and was well liked by teachers, yet was individualistic and independent from her peers. In high school she was active and athletic, but like most teenage girls she experienced low self esteem. Throughout her adolescence and teen years Gail was a sensitive and conscientious person.
In 1979 she graduated from high school and enrolled in Rider College in Lawrenceville, NJ. It was here that the first destructive eating behaviors developed. She began to diet and skip meals to lose weight. Then, deciding that she did not want to gain the weight back she began to purge the food she ate. Almost immediately Gail became obsessed with eating and purging and her focus was maintained on it.
Gail kept her problem secret from everyone. Toward the end of college, a few concerned friends went to her parents with their suspicions, but they never confronted Gail. Her parents took her to a medical doctor who diagnosed it as merely a "phase" that she would outgrow. Subsequent trips to a therapist were not helpful. Her bulimia went essentially unchecked throughout her college experience, wreaking its toll on her physical and psychological well being. In 1983 she graduated with a B.S. in Marketing and a minor in Art, having won an award for one of her paintings. While outwardly she was entering professional life with a seemingly fresh canvas to apply her creative talents and energy, inside she carried the terrible burden of her illness.
Gail went to work in New York City. For eight years she labored in the financial industry as a licensed securities representative. She was effective in her job but found no creative outlet in the work. She felt trapped in her career and entrenched in her eating disorder. She sought relief in travel, spending time in France and California. Eventually she returned to New York still unresolved about her career, and unsure about her life direction.
In June of 1987 she met Robert Schoenbach in Fire Island, NY, a young successful NY City contractor. In October of 1989 they married, her bulimia still a secret. Over the next number of years they began a family. Their daughter Dana was born in 1991, followed by Jamie in 1993 and a son, Jake in 1997. During these years they moved from NY City to Florida and back to New Jersey. Gail was handling the difficulties of early child rearing with the ever present guilt associated with her eating disorder. She was never symptom free although she did keep it under control during her pregnancies, under close doctor supervision. In 1994 Robert was involved in a serious car accident. He recovered, and in 1996 the family moved to suburban Warren, NJ.
Gail and Robert became active in their new community. Gail joined the preschool committee at Mountaintop Preschool and Kindergarten, ultimately serving as its chairperson for two years. She was elected to the Board of Directors at Temple Har Shalom where she still serves. To these commitments she brought a creative, energetic presence, making many friends in the process. She and her husband Robert enjoyed an active social calendar. She seemed to be a woman in control of a successful happy life, though privately she continued to wage a daily battle against her disease. The disease continually got the better of her.
Throughout the years Gail had quietly sought help. There had been brief periods of therapy and medication, but none of it was to lasting benefit. Then, in 2000, twenty two years into the disorder, two close friends approached Gail's husband about their concern for her health. Robert listened, and researched the disorder. Shortly thereafter he approached Gail with a message of support and a recommendation that she seek treatment at the Renfrew Center in Allendale, New Jersey.
Gail began outpatient treatment at Renfrew in June of 2001. It was a major step in the direction of recovery. The center was a vibrant and committed organization; its staff knowledgeable and well trained. She continued with the outpatient program for a full year, building a support network and establishing new healthy eating patterns.
In September of 2001 Gail had a major relapse. The September 11 attacks in NY were particularly devastating given all her connections with the city. Two days later her pharmacy made a mistake with her medications. Her symptoms became very severe and her functioning and concentration began to diminish. By November Gail knew she was in bad shape and needed to get inpatient help.
She traveled to Coconut Creek, Florida and spent five weeks away from her family at Renfrew¹s inpatient facility. She felt her chances had run out. She needed to end the cycle for the sake of her husband and children, and for her own survival. She knew there would never be a better opportunity to get well.
It was the turning point of her life. With the help of the staff at Renfrew, the support of her family and therapist, Gail gradually gained control of her disorder. She returned home, committed to her ongoing therapy, and with the awareness that she had the power and responsibility to make her own life better.
Four months after Gail's return home from Florida, her husband Robert became ill and was hospitalized for six weeks. It was a time of tremendous stress for the family and an immediate test of Gail's strength and recovery. She was able to maintain her health, support her husband, and hold the family together. It was a defining moment. Never before had she faced a major crisis without lapsing into the harmful pattern of her disorder. This time she met the challenge. Robert recovered, and Gail felt a growing confidence in her own recovery.
She conceived of the idea to create a foundation to educate and provide resources to others suffering from eating disorders. She felt a strong need to tell her story and be an example of how treatment can work. During her recovery she had been surprised and devastated to learn that insurance coverage for eating disorder treatment is extremely limited. She felt fortunate to have had the financial resources to persevere and felt compelled to help reform the system for the benefit of others. Gail's lobbying efforts and the formation of the F.R.E.E.D. Foundation became part of Gail¹s own recovery therapy.
Since that time Gail has pursued her cause with drive and focus. Her story has been featured in national magazines and television programs. She has become an active leader in the Eating Disorders Coalition, and the National Eating Disorders Association. She is a lobbyist, expert panelist, lecturer and tireless advocate for eating disorder causes.
Her goal is to expand the scope and reach of her foundation, to bring educational and financial resources to those in need. With the passion of its founder, a survivor against all odds, the Gail Schoenbach F.R.E.E.D. Foundation is poised to take on the scourge of bulimia, and other debilitating eating disorders, and win.
Kathleen suffered from anorexia, bulimia, body image issues and exercise bulimia for 16 years of her life before she finally realized that her lifestyle of living in and out of recovery, and always just a few pounds under her ideal body weight, was killing her.
Kathleen's life completely changed on June 13, 2002 after she spoke at a Congressional Briefing sponsored by the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action (EDC). At the briefing Kathleen was confronted by her reality through the pain and reality of a few very remarkable people. Those people were: Kitty Westin, whose daughter Anna had committed suicide as a result of her battle with anorexia, Ron and Sally George, whose daughter Leslie had died only months earlier from a ruptured stomach as a result of her bulimia, and Celeste Pickard, an eating disorder survivor. It was realizing herself in Anna's story, seeing the pain and anguish on the faces of the George's, and, after hearing Celeste’s story, feeling the first tiny bit of hope in nearly 20 years, that propelled Kathleen into her finally recovery.
Kathleen left the briefing and vowed to herself that she would do everything in her power not to die from her disease, and...she would do everything she could to Fully Recover. On June 14, 2002 Kathleen began her final recovery and never looked back.
Kathleen devoted the next two and ½ years of her life to overcoming her disorders. She faced triggers, challenged her beliefs, got rid of the 'chains that bound her' --like her scale and small clothes--, and she began practicing living a life Free of her eating disorders.
During her recovery Kathleen became active in outreach and lobbying efforts with the EDC. And it was through the EDC that Kathleen and Gail met. After spending the second year of her recovery solidifying her health and life of freedom from her disorders, Kathleen contacted Gail about partnering with F.R.E.E.D. because F.R.E.E.D.'s missions were exactly what she had hoped to get active in after becoming well. Kathleen became the Education and Prevention Coordinator for F.R.E.E.D. and in this capacity focuses her time on the F.R.E.E.D. Foundation college speaking tour. She also presents at middle and high schools, medical schools, community organizations, etc.
Kathleen has spoken to thousands of students across the country, trained hundreds of doctors on the identification, prevention and treatment of eating disorders, and has educated hundreds in the mental health field on eating disorders. Kathleen also focuses on creating legislation in Michigan to recognize eating disorders as serious and life threatening disorders that require proper treatment, as well as insurance coverage of that treatment.
In April of 2007, Kathleen was fortunate enough to meet one-on-one with the Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, to talk about the issues those with eating disorders face in Michigan. It was through that meeting the idea of forming a Task Force on Eating and Body Image Disorders was born. For her outreach and prevention efforts Kathleen received the Community Mental Health of Michigan Award in 2006.
On the national level, Kathleen continues to devote her time to the EDC and was asked to be the lead author of the Education and Prevention section of The FREED Act, The Federal Response to Eliminating Eating Disorders. Kathleen has been featured in Health Magazine. She shared her story in a documentary on Good Life TV entitled, "The American Family -Eating Disorders". And recently Kathleen was featured in the documentary, "Made Over in America", a documentary about the 'reality' t.v. show “The Swan” –in which she detailed reasons why the perfectionism of body and image produced in “The Swan” are harmful and detrimental to the self-esteem of our culture. Kathleen has been a guest on the Detroit talk show “Urban Connections” to discuss Cross-Cultural Body Image Issues, on NBC’s “Peter’s Principals” and on "The Sports Triad". Kathleen was a featured speaker at the First National Policy Conference on Eating Disorders in Washington, D.C., in April 2004, presenting on "Prevention through Advocacy" at the 2007 NEDA and Renfrew conferences, and received the EDC award for action for 2009.
Kathleen's other focal points remain: serving as an insurance advocate for those in need o treatment and One-On-One client coaching for those seeking fully recovered. She also runs the only free Eating Disorder Support Group in Washington, DC.
Kathleen will continue her outreach and prevention efforts until Eating and Body Image Disorders are eliminated.
Kathleen owes a debt of gratitude to Gail for allowing her the opportunity to be her partner at F.R.E.E.D., the EDC for providing her that first opportunity to use her voice back in 2002, Gretz, her cats, her parents, Jim, and all of her counted friends and colleagues. Together we are a net of compassion in the fight to eliminate these disorders, a fight none of us can fight alone –and together we are making a difference.
To those who are still suffering with the devastation of these disorders, Kathleen offers this message: Never give up hope ---Recovery IS possible! - Kathleen MacDonald
Below are a few samples of Kathleen's Artwork