Nancy Russo remembers coming home from college her first summer to her childhood home in Hotchkiss Grove and refusing to be seen in a bathing suit. “Everyone would be down at the beach,” she said, “and I would be in the house eating everything I could.”
A petite, fit woman in her late 40s now, as a 20-year-old, Russo didn’t have the same self-image. She would eat and binge and still felt horrible about the way she looked. Voted “most desirable to be stranded on a deserted island with” as a senior at in 1979, Russo said, “I was going about life faking it and not showing any insecurity.” Even though she was pretty, popular and a cheerleader, Russo said, “I just had this feeling that I didn’t measure-up to the other girls in my class.”
Battling a food addiction and bulimia for several years after graduating high school, Russo eventually married, had two children, divorced, owned several nail salons in Guilford, re-married, and now has finally found her “calling” as a life coach, working with teenage girls who are afflicted by self-confidence issues and oftentimes, eating disorders.
Russo’s brand new business, The Howland Way, is located in a small but inviting space in the Lighthouse Plaza in Guilford. She offers one-on-one life coaching for girls and meets with them in an intimate setting on comfortable couches. She also holds group meetings for girls every Thursday where walk-ins are welcome though reserving a spot is recommended. The groups of girls sit around a kitchen table, like you might at home, and discuss self-images and feelings with Russo overseeing the conversation. The group discussions are $25 a sitting and run 7 to 8:30 p.m. weekly (call 203-214-6226 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to attend).
Though the business takes its name from a doctor Russo saw the first year she was home from college, her practice is anything but clinical. Misdiagnosed as depressed when she was younger, Russo said her life coaching “is totally different from therapy.” Russo continued, “Therapists want to look at why you are the way you are. We may talk about that on our first or second session but then we cut it off there and we set goals.”
Dr. Howland who was Russo’s first therapist, helped her to understand that her eating disorder stemmed from her father’s alcoholism, but her issues with her own self-image were never discussed, said Russo. “That’s where doctors go wrong,” she said. “They want to treat symptoms. They understand the connection between genetics and environment but they don’t go where life coaching goes.” Adamantly against medication, she said life coaching is “the alternative.”
Though Russo is not a licensed therapist or a doctor, she is working to help area young women become comfortable with themselves and to combat the damage media has done to self-images. “The more people talk about it,” said Russo, “the more a kid can come out with it.”
Offering an inviting atmosphere where girls can talk about their feelings, Russo said, “Sometimes is just takes someone who you are not embarrassed around, to talk about it.”
Russo considers herself a natural therapist and has been listening to people’s problems for years as the owner of a nail salon. In fact, it was her former client’s daughter that sparked the flame for her current business.
Her client’s daughter had recently gone away to college and developed anorexia, shared Russo. The change in body image from gaining some weight combined with the trauma of being away from home for the first time triggered this young girl’s eating disorder. Russo said she began speaking to the girl over the phone and then eventually decided to turn the conversations into her life-coaching business. Just a few years later, the young woman is on her way to finishing school in healthy body and Russo has found her niche in a humanitarian profession.
“I loved what I did before this,” said Russo, “but this is my calling.”
Russo sees clients of all ages but specializes in working with young women. Her goal is to help patients through early intervention rather than waiting for their issues to manifest into long, life-battles. Had her own disorder been caught as a self-image issue in high school, said Russo, it might not have ever become an eating disorder. “I want young girls to learn,” she said, “how important it is to have a good self image.”
For more information stop by the Howland Way at 705 Boston Post Road Guilford, or visit www.thehowlandway.com.