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Bulemic Beauty

Two years ago, Allison Kreiger was crowned Miss University of Florida, was a competitive athlete and a good student. She was also suffering from bulimia. Bulimia is an eating disorder where the victim continually binges and then gets rid of the food by either using laxatives or vomiting. There may also be long periods of fasting involved.

“I didn’t even realize what I was doing,” Kreiger said. “It was like a drug.”

Body Acceptance week at the University of Florida was co-sponsored this year by the Student health Care Center and the Pan-Hellenic organization. Although eating disorders are by no means limited to these groups, sorority women are a vulnerable population, said Natalie Arce, the outreach and prevention coordinator of the eating disorders program at UF. A sorority woman herself, Kreiger said regarding sorority women, “They do it to themselves.” She said sorority women put a lot of unnecessary pressure on themselves to look a certain way.

Arce said that while girls can start to feel dissatisfaction with their bodies as early as age 8, college is a big time when eating disorders emerge. About five to 10 percent of college students, male and female, suffer from eating disorders according to Dr. Jaquie Resnick of the UF counseling center. There are a variety of reasons why one might develop an eating disorder. Resnick said eating disorders are connected to self esteem problems. Arce attributes a large amount of the blame to our media and culture.

“We’re constantly bombarded with the message that being healthy is being skinny,” she said.

For Kreiger, who said her parents and coach were directing her life, her bulimic behavior was a way of regaining control. But this method eventually backfired. “Something I was using as a control was then controlling me,” she said.

Kreiger said towards the end of the disorder she had developed anorexic behavior as well and wasn’t eating at all. Standing at five feet, eight inches, she had decreased from about 120 pounds to less than 100 pounds. Anorexia has the highest death rate of all psychiatric disorders, with 4 to 20 percent of people with anorexia dying from the disease, according to the University of Florida eating disorders program Web site.

Kreiger, who makes public appearances talking about her experiences, said people don’t realize the real long term effects involved with eating disorders. During her experience with bulimia Kreiger said she had lost half her hair and had cuts on her hands made by her teeth whenever she “purged.” She also had “shingles,” which are blisters on the skin caused by malnutrition and the blood vessels in her eyes had burst so that they were red with blood. In addition, she had torn her esophagus and had a small tear in her stomach as well. She is still not sure if she will be able to have children. Kreiger invented ways to hide her symptoms like wearing sunglasses and pulling her hair up into a bun. She said her parents never acknowledged the problem.

“With all these signs you would think your parents would notice something was wrong,” Kreiger said.

But when, at her lowest point, she told her parents what she was going through, Krieger said they were in denial about the problem, and put it on the back burner, maintaining her athletics as a priority. While experiencing many of the above symptoms Kreiger continued baton twirling competitively.

“They [her coach and parents] just pushed me harder. They were thinking I lacked endurance, I was thinking I was fat,” she said.

Despite what she went through Kreiger said she is close to her parents. Her mom now attends her public appearances with her and often has to answer questions from an audience that is angry at her from just having heard her daughter’s story.

“Now they wish they had done something earlier,” she said.

Kreiger is now participating in a series of beauty pageants leading up to the Miss America Pageant. She said despite the negative image beauty pageants have of promoting the kind of behavior involved with eating disorders, the Miss America organization is not as competitive, and focuses on you being the best person you can be.

“They still want me to gain weight,” she joked.

Kreiger, who has completed the cycle of recovery said it’s still a process. She has to take several different types of pills on a daily basis and some twice a day. Sometimes her body reverts to reacting to certain situations the way it was accustomed to for such a long time.

“I have to be careful when I’m stressed out or worked up because the food will just come up when I’m walking down the street,” she said. “Yes, it’s embarrassing.”

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