What This Local Entrepreneur Wants You to Know about Eating Disorders
Reba Tobia created the Brave Box as a way to address the shame and stigma around eating disorders, and to give those who are in the recovery process daily reminders of hope.
Reba Tobia was 22 when she was diagnosed with an eating disorder. When she began the recovery process, she says she was in denial and scared. While she grappled with her diagnosis, she also grappled with feeling alone and isolated outside of her treatment team due to circumstances that made it difficult to receive the support she needed. As a result, she felt a strong calling to help others who might be in the same situation.
Five years later, the now-27-year-old Maynard resident is helping others struggling with eating disorders, and changing the way we view the disease, through her company Brave Box. It’s a box, much like the Penny Pack for periods, filled with items that personally help Tobia the most in recovery, as she’s still going through it herself. It also serves as a platform for her to connect with others going through what she has gone through, or is currently going through.
“Most people have this image of a ‘white picket fence’ recovery with a big group of people supporting them.” Tobia says. “I only had 3-4 friends and my treatment team, so I often felt alone and not as connected with other people as I wanted to be.”
Inside the box you’ll find three items—one each for the body, mind, and soul. Each item can act as what is called a distress tolerance skill in therapy, Tobia tells me, or something you can engage with to deal with difficult emotions in a healthy way. Oftentimes in recovery you’re asked to eat foods that your eating disorder tells you are “bad,” Tobia explains, or hurtful thoughts and feelings will come up about your body. Her hope is that these items can help people get through those difficult moments.
For the body, there are 10 self-love body image cards in the box. Each one has a mantra written on it, all of which Tobia wrote in a journal on her treatment journey, with custom-made illustrations. She says these can be taped on your mirror, or put anywhere you can see them often. She even says when she goes into fitting rooms or sees a magazine with hurtful diet culture language on it, she’ll tape the card there. For the mind, Tobia included putty that releases a lavender scent when kneaded in moments of distress, and for the soul, a succulent.
“I like to say we’re very similar to succulents, especially in recovery,” Tobia says. “No two succulents are the same, like humans, and they grow, just as you grow in recovery.”
A favorite in the box (both of hers and current customers), though, is an engraved fork with the words, “I am so okay” which Tobia says she often tells herself when a day feels particularly hard. She adds that if the box is being sent as a gift, she can print out personalized notes and words of encouragement from the sender, something she says gives her satisfaction after not having that for herself.
The most important thing the Brave Box enables Tobia to do is change the way we talk about and approach eating disorders, while also giving those who are suffering a place to connect. In each box there is a welcome card inviting the recipient to join the Brave Box community on Instagram, where Tobia says she can express herself and where she feels others are able to find their tribe in a body positive and accepting space.
Through both this online platform and in her marketing efforts for the Brave Box, she hopes to dismantle the image of eating disorders only happening to well-off white girls in emaciated bodies. “You can live in any type of body and have an eating disorder. You can be any gender or race,” Tobia says. “We grow up in a society where diet culture is everywhere. It’s even in our pet food and it’s crazy. I want everyone to know that all bodies are good bodies, any size is a great size, and you are unique and okay just the way you are.”
A portion of all sales from the Brave Box go to the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association, a center in Newton with the mission to heal, educate, and empower the people, families, and community members impacted by eating disorders. And Tobia says this is a good place to start if you, or someone you know, is suffering. It is a place she has gone, herself, to learn.
“Educating myself about eating disorders and really honing in on the fact that recovery isn’t linear has been monumental for me,” she says. “It’s a massive roller coaster ride. I own up to the fact that I don’t know everything. There are people who live in different bodies than my own and may have a completely different view than me.”
In the future, Tobia hopes to make the boxes subscription-based and customizable. She also hopes to bring them to schools and colleges and share her story with others.
“I am a better person and I have a bigger heart and so much more love to give because of my eating disorder,” Tobia says. “I know that sounds weird, but I’m much more empathetic and patient and I want to empower others to know that something good can come of their diagnosis. You just have to be willing to trust the process.”
For more informatin: thebravebox.com.