TLC Annual Conference: Keynote Speech: Be Your Own BFRB Hero

On Saturday April 21st, 2018, our co-founder & chief trichster, Aneela Idnani, had the honor of delivering the Keynote speech at the 2018 TLC Conference Annual Family dinner. With tears and joy, Aneela proudly shared her story of overcoming trichotillomania, the trichotillomania treatments that worked for her and the making of the Keen smart awareness bracelet.

This is her speech.

Be Your Own BFRB Hero

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Hi my BFRB family!

My name is Aneela. I am a member of the TLC BFRB community, and I have pulled out my hair for more than twenty years.

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I’m truly humbled to speak with you tonight, because a few years ago I wouldn’t dare disclose that I pull out my hair. For most of my life I’ve hidden my BFRB out of fear of being caught and fear of being shamed for what other people see as “doing this to myself.”

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But the last few years have been life changing. I found TLC, and faced my BFRB to become my own hero. Like a time-traveling superhero, I wish I could go back in time 26 years or so to save my younger self. I know what I would tell myself. With TLC as my companion, I’ve made peace with my hair pulling disorder. And this peace was also made possible because I changed my inner dialogue, I built a force field of self confidence, and I refocused my energy from hiding to healing.

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I wish I had this playbook years ago and hope that by sharing the steps I took in the last few years, it will ease your journey and inspire you to face your BFRB and be YOUR OWN HERO.

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Before I could face my BFRB, I first had to stop caring what other people thought about me & my hair. This was really hard because, like hair pulling, the negative thoughts were so automatic and started when I was pretty young, letting my elementary school classmates tell me who I was: a nerd, ugly, poor, weird.

When you hear something enough, you start to believe it. Even well into my twenties, the labels stuck, masking who I truly was. I had become my own worst critic, focusing on all my mistakes, big and small, and ignoring all of my successes. Doing good wasn’t enough. I was pulling uncontrollably to cope with this personal pressure and work stress.

Recognizing I needed to change or I would stay unhappy forever, I read about self-improvement. I armed myself with an arsenal of daily affirmations. Even when waves of insecurity rush toward me, I say them anyway: "I am happy, health, kind, love, loving, creative, talented and GOOD ENOUGH!"

And the more I affirmed it, the more I believed. I found that my words have power. Like a superhero I defined who I was and what my strengths were. And I grew closer to being able to face my BFRB. If negative self speak, stemming from your BFRB or other insecurities, applies to you, please know you can turn it around with practice. You can change your inner dialogue.  

Listen to how you - and others - are talking about you. If you don’t like what you are hearing, change the dialogue. Write down what you do want to be hearing and say it out loud each day.  In time you will wash off the mask others have mucked onto you.

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Changing how I viewed myself meant I began to care less how others viewed me. Like a superhero, I had built a force field of confidence, able to deflect others’ people’s judgement. But, a part of me still cared & was still scared - Which meant I was still hiding my hair pulling because of the stigma associated with BFRBs. I just didn’t want other people to think lesser of me because of my so-called “choice” to pull.

But the fear of rejection had less power over me because of the force field of self confidence I had built up by changing my inner dialogue. One fateful morning in 2013, Sameer, my husband of three years at the time, caught me before I had a chance to hide my late night pull session with makeup. I was confronted and questioned. And in that moment I didn’t want to lie anymore. So I told Sameer the truth: I pull out my hair and it’s called trichotillomania.

Most heroes have someone who knows their true identity, because even superheroes can’t keep their biggest secrets to themselves. Superman has Lois Lane. Batman has Alfred. I had Sameer. It was his curiosity and questions that helped me let go of the baggage I’d been carrying for nearly twenty years. Sharing my BFRB secret brought us closer in ways I could have never imagined. It gave us both an outlet to share what was going on in our lives, our pains, our hopes, and what we wanted for our future family.

He also encouraged me to see a psychologist -- not just any, but one from TLC’s listing, someone well versed in how to treat BFRBs. Talking with her was like having coffee with a best friend - I unraveled my childhood, found peace with my father’s illness and passing and was able to shine a light on my BFRB.

It was really scary to let my secret out & let Sameer & my psychologist in, but it wound up being the best thing that could have ever happened. It was a weight lifted and I realized keeping my BFRB secret was my Kryptonite, destroying me from within. Hiding my BFRB was keeping me from being my best self. I don’t want it to keep you from being your best too.

Release the heavy burdens you are carrying. Be open to conversations and remind yourself that your loved one’s curiosity, while it may sound accusatory, is really coming from a place of love and understanding.

When Sameer realized that his tone affected my response, he changed it up. Instead of asking “did you pull today?” He would ask, “did anything happen today that created urges?” When we can meet each other in this way, vulnerably, lovingly, we can replace judgment with compassion.

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With my force field of self confidence and my secret out in the open, I no longer had to hide - and could begin to heal. The time and energy spent sweeping my hair pulling under a rug, figuratively & literally, was refocused on talking with Sameer and accepting his support.

Sameer helped me become aware and helped me find healthy ways to manage my BFRB.

When we were together, he would gently reach for my hand when he noticed I was pulling. Those sweet, simple (& sometimes annoying) gestures of his love gave us an idea of how I could develop awareness of my pulling. That idea evolved into us creating a solution, a discreet, programmable bracelet that alerts its wearer when they are engaging in body-focused repetitive behaviors, which we call Keen.

As we developed the first prototype for our Keen awareness bracelet, Sameer and I were united in the cause. He & I would scientifically and objectively discuss my pulling. For the first time in 20 plus years, I could identify my triggers and achieve the awareness to take control and choose healthier behaviors. I replaced pulling with deep breathing, drinking water and walks around the office. Like a superhero honing her new found powers, I refocused my energy spent pulling and hiding on to healing instead. For the first time in 20+ years I found meaning and purpose in my  trichotillomania. It was to overcome it and create a healing tool for myself & others.

< See how our Keen family is making their Dermatillomania & Trichotillomania stop: Our Awareness Bracelet Reviews >

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While both TLC’s supportive community and the awareness honed with the Keen bracelet have been extremely significant to my recovery, I’ve also found peace by owning who I am.

To do this, I changed my inner dialogue, created a force field of self confidence and refocused my energy. I truly believe you can take these same steps to find peace too.

You can change your inner dialogue. Take all that time and energy spent telling yourself you are worthless because of this disorder and shout out loud “I am worthy!”

No seriously, Let’s hear it!

You can create a force field of self confidence. Take all that time and energy spent hiding in fear, and share your BFRB baggage with someone you love to lighten your load and your mind.

You can refocus your energy. Take all that time locked in a bathroom pulling, picking or fighting with wigs or makeup and channel it to healing from within.

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You are meant for bigger and brighter things than hiding and battling this disorder. You are meant to find things that give your life meaning and fulfill you. You are meant for a life where your BFRB doesn’t consume you. I know this to be true because I’ve lived through it.

Honor the hero within you by becoming your own hero!

Christina, Jen, Leslie, Corinne, Kaprece, SAB, TLC! - Without your organization I would never have known this was a mental health condition. Thank you for welcoming me into your family after nearly two decades of not knowing where I belonged. I am honored and truly humbled to have this opportunity tonight to share my BFRB journey.

To my BFRB family, thank you for your time and attention. I hope I planted a small seed of hope and courage when you are ready, in your own time.

I can’t wait to see the heroes you become and the good you create in this world.

I wish you all love, strength & awareness on your heroic journey.

About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:


Tips for Parents of Pullers & Pickers, featuring Natasha Daniels, Childhood Anxiety Expert

Dealing with hair pulling disorder (trichotillomania), compulsive skin picking (dermatillomania), excessive nail biting and other body focused repetitive behaviors, gives us all a greater understanding of the pain and plight. But when it comes to kids, how to stop hair pulling (trichotillomania), skin picking (dermatillomania) or nail biting is made all the more tricky because the parent isn't in control. 

What do you do when your child goes to bed with eyebrows and comes down to breakfast with one missing?

What do you do when your son has a skin infection “out of the blue"?

What do you do when you are making your daughter’s bed and you find hair all over the bedsheets?  

What can you do when you find out these are signs of compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania) or excessive skin picking (dermatillomania)? Or point to a larger issue with childhood anxiety?

Seeing your child like this may be very frightening & confusing. So much so that it may cause you, as a parent, to react in anger or apathy. If your child senses your misunderstanding, your fear, your worry, your sadness, it may cause him to retreat and cause the family dynamic to spiral.

What can you do? Who can you turn to?

 Natasha Daniels, creator of "Anxious Toddlers to Teens"

Natasha Daniels, creator of "Anxious Toddlers to Teens"

Meet Natasha Daniels, child therapist and mother to three vibrant, challenging and insightful children who keep her on her toes.  Having been an anxious kid herself and raising three anxious kids of her own, Natasha gets anxiety and OCD on a very personal level.

Natasha has spent 13 years working with children and families in her private practice Hill Child Counseling in Pheonix, AZ.

BUT you can get access to her expertise thanks to the internet. At Anxious Toddlers to Teens, she explains complex mental health disorders in a way busy parents can quickly get it. Best of all her “just for kids” videos deliver guidance and actionable tips that can help both kids and adults with OCD / anxiety.

Recently Aneela and I sat down with Natasha to talk about:  How to help a Child who Pulls Hair or Picks Skin.  

Natasha shared her personal experience with picking: "One day I saw <my daughter's> little hand digging deep into her skin. My heart sank. “What?” She said staring at me with big eyes. “I like to pick.” She said simply. She is not alone. Many of us have a child who pulls hair or picks skin. And many of us feel desperate to make them stop."

This chat inspired us to write down a few tips for parents with children with hair pulling, skin picking, nail biting or other BFRBs.

Don’t say “stop it”

As much as you want to say “just stop” or show your daughter the pile of hair, it doesn’t help. In fact it makes things worse. The child will feel ashamed and likely do the behavior more. Instead, try encouraging them to take stock of what they are feeling and do something more positive, like deep breathing or playing with fidget toys.

Don't stay in the dark!

You can’t help if you don’t understand.  The very first thing you should do is learn about BFRBs. A few outstanding resources are www.bfrb.org and The Hair Pulling “Habit” and You.

Don't blame your kiddo

It’s not your child’s fault that they are pulling or picking.  It’s not something they want to do. It's something that feels impossible to stop. Work with your child on strategies. Ask them how they want your help.

Don’t be preoccupied with pulling or picking

The more you focus on it, the more they will focus on it.  If you are using Keen bracelet, you can shift your focus on the child’s tracking stats instead of, “did you pull or pick today?”  Keen changes the conversation and allows the child to take control vs the parent. This is very powerful.

Don't praise the progress

Rather than focusing on the physical result of a full head of hair, clear skin or beautiful nails, focus on the PROCESS - the hard work your child is doing to take control and manage the condition.


Do you have a tip that is working for your family?  Please share it by emailing me at ellen@habitaware.com.

 

About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:


Community Spotlight: Liz Atkin: From Compulsive Skin Picker to Compulsive Sketch Artist

Here's our interview with Liz Atkin, visual artist and mental health advocate based in London, UK.

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I didn't meet Liz first, I met her artwork, online, and immediately was drawn to it. Then I met her at the 2016 TLC Conference in Dallas, TX and immediately was drawn to her! I knew what Liz looked like, because social media, and ran into her at a bus stop! She was heading to search for beauty in Dallas, while I was heading back from the print shop. I walked past and thought "Oh wow! That's Liz Atkin...she's keynoting the TLC Conference. Soooo cool." & Then, I was like, "Wait, I should introduce myself!" & I'm glad I did. She is a funny & heart warming soul with so much creativity to give to this world! 

I am grateful to know her and totally wish I was a kid living in her neighborhood to take her art classes!

~Aneela

Here's more about Liz in her own words: 

Q: What's your BFRB story?

"I have Dermatillomania - Compulsive Skin Picking, I’ve also suffered from Severe Depression and Chronic Anxiety.

I am a visual artist based in London. Physicality underpins a creative practice with my skin as a primary source for corporeal artwork and imaginative transformation. Compulsive Skin Picking dominated my life for more than 20 years, but through a background in dance and theatre, I confronted the condition to harness creative repair and recovery. I create intimate artworks, photographs, and performances reimagining the body-focused repetitive behavior of skin picking. I have exhibited in the UK, Australia, USA, Singapore, and Japan.

"I'm widely known for my #CompulsiveCharcoal series of free drawings on discarded newspapers for commuters on public transport around the world. #CompulsiveCharcoal has featured on Huffington Post, Mashable, Channel News Asia, iNewspaper, The Metro, London Live, Buzzfeed, The Londonist and BBC Radio London. I have created my free drawings in London, the New York Subway System, and Singapore's public transport system, so far I have given away in excess of 15,000 free drawings.

As a freelance creative practitioner, I work in therapeutic settings, schools, galleries, prisons, hospitals and arts venues, teaching visual art, messy play for toddlers, set design, movement, and drama. I work across all ages, from early years to adults.

Our brain is the most important organ to manage our bodies and our lives, but when it ‘goes wrong’ or we have problems that are to do with our mental health, it’s stigmatized. That is something that needs to change.

The discrimination of skin picking I'd experience was very subtle, I would see someone's gaze catch sight of a wound or scar on my body and the shame and guilt would flood through me because I'd think they'd know what it was. Sadly, I experienced a lot more discrimination when I got ill with depression and anxiety. I had almost a year off work, and I lost a lot of friends and colleagues at the time. People I'd known a long time, left my life. That was extremely painful. But as I started to get better I realized I could voice things to make a small change for that. Recovery has given me the chance to advocate for mental health and work to reduce the stigma surrounding these conditions. Our brain is the most important organ to manage our bodies and our lives, but when it 'goes wrong' or we have problems that are to do with our mental health, it's stigmatized. That is something that needs to change.

I had no idea what an incredible tool compulsive charcoal-ing would be to stop my compulsive skin picking, but it's become the greatest solution. Someone here said the drawings I create even look very itchy! They are very quick, each one takes one minute, the speed of the mark-making is absolutely akin to the skin picking.

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Since I don't really need the drawings, I just need to do them, I began handing them to curious passengers who'd caught my eye and obviously wondered why I was furiously drawing at that speed in the middle of a packed carriage. An act of kindness for someone? Yes, but I also realized that many people would chat to me, little conversations about mental health were happening with strangers about these drawings. I do a huge number, up to 60 a day. I realized that for every drawing, this was a moment of connection, of advocacy for mental health, and a chance to let others know I am drawing because of Compulsive Skin Picking."

Q: What's your treatment for skin picking?

"Art!! It gets in there without language and provides a channel to express some of the core difficult stuff about living with challenging mental health issues. It can be very hard to put into words what it feels like to live with Skin Picking. But I can perhaps find a way to express this through a photograph, and that becomes very cathartic. Art is a powerful tool for us to also focus our minds — I find it to be extremely mindful, soothing, evocative and emotional, all in the same moment! That's a terrific thing, and it has become something I am passionate about offering to others. Teaching has become a very important part of my life now. I explore the body-focused repetitive behavior of skin picking in my art practice and it's become a daily way to recover. I work with textural materials like latex, clay, acrylic paint to transform the skin. And much more recently, drawing has become one of the best ways of all to channel the illness away from my body... drawing is a tool for me to manage the physical urges of disorder every day. Art is now my biggest tool for recovery.

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Much of this has been a happy accident. I didn't train as an artist, I certainly had no idea how transformative art was going to be in my life. Much of it has evolved organically through the act of doing it. I only started drawing 2 years ago — and I don't think it was a remedy a doctor might have suggested for skin picking... but that's where the other part of my life has become important. Because of the transformative experiences I have had with art, it is now a fully connected part of my life. I teach art and drama in hospitals, hospices, prisons, universities and schools, approaching creativity as a hugely important tool to help others.

I speak out about Compulsive Skin Picking every single day, on the train when I’m drawing, on social media, whenever I am asked to speak or present about my work. I am making public the thing that tormented me in private for more than 20 years, and each day I encounter so many people who suffer in silence and feels utterly alone with this illness. It’s very common - 1 in 25 may suffer, and to be honest some days I meet a number of people who quietly identify with me and thank me for talking about it. If one person that day goes home and googles Skin Picking and seeks help, then job done! Normalizing it and sharing my experience with others is a very important part of reaching out with compassion and that keeps me well.


I love so much that sharing your BFRB has helped you find wellness!

Can't wait to meet again in person.

love + strength + awareness,

Aneela

 

About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:


Community Spotlight: How Lucinda Ellery broke free from hair loss to create a treatment for trichotillomania

Like many women in the US, Lucinda Ellery experienced hair loss at a young age as a result of Alopecia Areata (AA).  She was a 9-year-old girl and almost overnight lost 80% of her hair due to alopecia areata. Lucinda subsequently suffered from this condition throughout her life.

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I started looking into other things when I was out and wearing a wig and someone pulled it off, I never quite recovered from that and subsequently started developing the Intralace System, which to this day helps thousands of women worldwide.

Lucinda started her research into helping women who suffered from hair loss or thinning hair in 1984. It became apparent that there were many techniques available, including hair replacement prostheses, which could help change the lives of women with hair loss issues.

< Ready for positive change? Order Keen, The Awareness Bracelet today> 

Trichotillomania was first introduced to Lucinda over 35 years ago when a girlfriend of hers came to her with hair loss and asked if she could help with her Intralace or hair extension work at the time. The pattern of loss was so unique that Lucinda was intrigued to know more. It turned out, after speaking and opening up, her client confessed to pulling out her own hair. Since that day women came to Lucinda for help with the condition and have ever since.

I still remember the first time I realized the Intralace could not only give these women back the appearance of amazing hair but also act as a barrier in allowing them to pull their hair.

This was a great moment indeed and Lucinda has been privileged enough to watch many women manage their TTM using the Intralace System.

Women who have experienced hair loss know the impact it has on their day-to-day lives. Others may not appreciate the effect such a condition can have.

For some women, wigs and hairpieces may be the most appropriate way to manage their hair loss. For others, using hair thickening products can be a manageable option. However, these approaches to hair loss may limit normal activities. Although distressing, hair loss can be managed with the right support and advice.

Lucinda Ellery’s passion and dedication to helping people with hair loss has resulted in a proactive approach to management options. She started the company in Great Britain and has five regional offices in London England, Manchester England, Edinburgh Scotland, Bristol England, and The Midlands England; employing around a hundred staff in the UK.

Having received a great deal of interest from the US, she felt it was the right time to open our first US location in Los Angeles in 2012, and more recently a second US hair studio in the heart of Manhattan in New York City.

 Photo Courtesy: LucindaEllery.com

Photo Courtesy: LucindaEllery.com

The hair replacement techniques and ultra fine hair extensions (Medi Connections) at the Lucinda Ellery Consultancy are designed to be semi-permanent, working with your existing hair. Thus enabling you to wash and style your hair as you please.

Lucinda's fabulous team recommends HabitAware to their trichotillomania clients so that two things can happen simultaneously: (1) Wearing the Intralace System acts as a barrier to prevent pulling. It also helps cover the bald spots and increase self confidence.  (2) Keen can help build awareness, track the behavior and help retrain the brain away from pulling so that once the regrowth is achieved it can be cared for -- Think wonderful new haircut :)!

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About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:


Conquering with Keen: Stephanie's Story

Stephanie lives in Colorado and has had Trichotillomania for 40 years.  This is how she’s Conquering with Keen Awareness.    

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When I was about 7 years old I started pulling out my eyelashes and eyebrows.  During times of stress, it was always worse and really became noticeable once I started high school.  I enjoyed a busy life with a lot of activities but often also felt a lot of stress during college and into my career.  I would sometimes pull out every single eyelash and nearly all of my eyebrows. My family would tell me I looked like I was in chemotherapy and I wore makeup all the time.

I was constantly checking mirrors to see if my makeup had smudged and I avoided activities like swimming and camping - anything that might require me to go without makeup on my eyes. When I had to have close contact with people it was hard to keep eye contact and I was constantly thinking, "I wonder if they notice?"  Job interviews and dates were particularly stressful. I don't think I let my BFRB limit me but it was something that I always wished I could change about myself.

Finding a Trichotillomania Treatment

Over the years I looked for many hair pulling solutions.  In my 20s I tried medication for OCD which didn't work at all and then some behavioral therapy specific to Trichotillomania.  Nothing worked for any amount of time. A few months ago, I was reading The Washington Post and came across an article about Keen.  It was really well written and described exactly the issues I had.  I immediately went to the HabitAware website and read about the company and what it offered.  I was definitely willing to take a chance on this new product. I ordered two awareness bracelets and set them up.

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I started wearing my HabitAware bracelets and immediately found they were very helpful.  After about two weeks I was hardly pulling out any hair at all. After 3 weeks, my lashes and brows had begun to grow back in.  I was so happy - I thought after pulling them out for so many years they might never come back! After about a month, I stopped wearing the bands on a daily basis and just wore them when I knew I'd be in a situation that typically triggered my hair pulling.

I feel more confident and less distracted in my face-to-face interactions.

Now that my lashes have mostly grown back in, I am more confident and don't worry about putting on eyeliner just to step out of my bedroom.  I feel more confident and less distracted in my face-to-face interactions. I still have some days where I pull out lashes but just knowing that I can start wearing my Keens at any time keeps me on track and lowers my stress levels when I slip.

I highly recommend Keen by HabitAware to anyone suffering from BFRBs, including hair pulling, skin picking, and nail biting!  My advice to someone who just received their Keen is to really keep at the fine-tuning and make sure to wear the bands during times that you know will trigger your habit.  Just the action of clicking the bands on my wrists is very calming.

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I thought that Trichotillomania was something I would have to accept and live with for the rest of my life.  I can't believe I was able to retrain my brain and break free of it after just a few weeks with the help of Keen!

~ Stephanie


Stephanie, the HabitAware team believes it and believes in you!! Thank you for sharing your story of how you conquered with Keen!

love, strength & awareness,

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About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates: