Kirsten Haglund: Former Miss America speaks out about teenage battle with anorexia


'I was living off coffee, Diet Coke and gum': Former Miss
America speaks out about teenage battle with anorexia

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 21 March 2012

Entering a beauty pageant as a recovering anorexic may sound
like the ultimate road to destruction. But for Kirsten Haglund, who was crowned Miss
America in 2008, competing against the country's most genetically-blessed helped kick the disease for good.

The 23 year-old spoke to CNN about her long-time battle
with anorexia nervosa, which reared its ugly head into her life when she was
just 12.

Now completely recovered, she credited the pageant for giving her something else to focus on. But she also admitted healing wasn't easy.

Rising above: The 2008 Miss America, Kirsten Haglund, suffered from anorexia nervosa during her early teens. She showed early signs of the disease at 12

Rising above: The 2008 Miss America, Kirsten Haglund, suffered from anorexia nervosa during her early teens. She showed early signs of the disease at 12

Over three years, the 5ft 8in Michigan-born beauty
queen, who is one of the youngest recipients of the Miss America title after
winning at age 19, lost 30lbs through life-threatening eating habits.

It
was about half of her original weight.

She had been studying ballet at the Central Pennsylvania
Youth Ballet School at the time and hoped to fit in with her fellow dancers.

She said, ‘I looked at what
they were doing and so many of them were throwing away their lunches and not
eating. I thought, “If I can at least be thin, I know I can be successful at
ballet”.’

The striking blonde survived on a diet of less than 900
calories per day, which is less than half the recommended intake for an average woman.
It consisted of coffee, Diet Coke and chewing gum.

‘Every once in a while, I'd have vegetables, fruit or a
spoonful of peanut butter,’ she continued. ‘Internally, I knew there was something
seriously wrong with me, but I didn't know how to stop.’

Then and now: Miss Haglund at National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2012

Then and now: Miss Haglund at National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2012

The disease also affected her social life. Miss Haglund
admitted to searching the internet for tricks to help her avoid eating in
public. She said she regularly clicked through images of celebrities for ‘thinspiration’.

In the image-conscious world of dancing, young
ballerinas are faced with extreme pressure. The now-political science major, who studies at the Emory
University in Atlanta, Georgia, recalled her overwhelming desire to be skinny.

‘It was something that most girls did,’ Miss Haglund said. ‘And
if you ate like a normal person, you were looked down upon.’

Light at the end of the tunnel came when her mother forced
her into the doctor’s office. It took two years of routine nutritionist
meetings, psychology and further meetings with an eating disorder specialist to
steer the teenager back to health.

Healthy lifestyle: Nowadays, Miss Haglund, pictured here in 2008 throwing out at a baseball match in Michigan, believes in healthy eating habits and exercise

Healthy lifestyle: Nowadays, Miss Haglund, pictured here in 2008 throwing out at a baseball match in Michigan, believes in healthy eating habits and exercise

Even when she entered her first beauty pageant, the Miss
Oakland County pageant in Michigan, her doctors kept a careful eye on the 17 year-old.

Miss Haglund rose above the illness. During the Miss America
competition, she even used her struggle as a springboard to discuss how
committed she was to help others who may be struggling.

‘From hearing other people's recovery stories, I learned how
to share my own personal struggles,’ she said. ‘Those who struggle with
substance abuse can get off their drug and never face it again.’