Some women are natural role models, and Kristen Haglund fits that to a tee. The lovely Kristen won America’s heart and the 2008 Miss America crown, after struggling with anorexia as a teen. As Miss America, she made it her platform to educate others about eating disorders. Now a college student and Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Treatment Center, she continues this mission, reinforcing the idea that women have the right and the responsibility to define beauty on their own terms.
nextooze.com recently had a chance to talk with Kristen, who generously shared her life and her wisdom. Her insights are especially relevant for parents preparing to send their children to college for the first time.
Examiner: Could you tell us a little bit about you, and your own struggles with an eating disorder?
Kristen: I am 23 years old, currently living in Atlanta, and in my senior year at Emory. I struggled with an eating disorder from the age of 12 until the age of 15, then spent two years in outpatient treatment. My journey allowed me to discover many things about myself. I had to give up ballet, which had been the main trigger for my poor body image and low self-esteem. Spirituality was a big part of my recovery, and gave me an identity outside of the eating disorder. Because of the support of my treatment team, parents and friends, I was able to heal.
E: Why do you think that young women (especially of college age) are so vulnerable to eating disorders?
K: College is a time in life when everything changes in a young person’s life. It is the first time that many are living away from their parents and experiencing independence. There are also stresses: what to study, what to pursue as a career, etc. With all of these changes, girls yearn for control. They yearn for some sense of order, something they can count on which the eating disorder gives them. It can serve as the thing they can be “good at”, when there are so many pressures.
E: Thanks for your insights. What help is out there?
K: Unfortunately the resources for a young woman on a college campus when she does finally decide to seek treatment are scarce. It is a serious problem. They often need to look for outside resources, like Timberline Knolls.
E: What can parents do to help as they send their girls away to college?
K: It is important to evaluate whether the young woman is mature and responsible enough to go away to school. Some young women may not be quite ready, emotionally, to be away from home. It may be a wise decision to attend a smaller school or community college, and then have the option to transfer. When your daughter does go away to school, check out the counseling center on campus. See if there are resources there to support her should she need any. Moms can usually sense when something is wrong. Ask about friendships and try to encourage good decisions about friends. If needed, don’t be afraid to step in, consider bringing your daughter home and getting her professional help. If a young women begins to develop an eating disorder, that is not a “phase” that she can just grow out of on her own – she needs professional help.
E: What advice could you provide to young women themselves?
K: Take pride and responsibility for your health! Don’t buy into the lies of the media that tell us that deprivation and thinness at any cost is the only formula for happiness. WE decide what is beautiful! Eliminate “fat talk.” The way we will get others to value us based on more than our appearance is if we value ourselves in that way. Create a culture of acceptance.
E: Where are you now in your own recovery?
K: I am fully recovered. I have a great “tool kit” full of tools that I learned in recovery, how to deal with stress, to keep me strong and on a healthy path. I am motivated and encouraged to always take care of my body because it holds my soul, and all of the ability to do and go and help and change and inspire. Being recovered allows me to use my voice to help other young women and be an advocate for greater awareness. It is part of what I do in my work for Timberline Knolls. I love being a part of the team.
Timberline Knolls is a private residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls (ages 12 – 65+) with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. For more information on Timberline Knolls, click here.
Philadelphia support groups
American Anorexia Bulimia Association (AABA) free eating disorder support group held monthly at 4200 Monument Ave, Philadelphia.
Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) is a 12-step fellowship held at JFK Community MH/MR Center 112 N. Broad St, Philadelphia. Individuals are welcome from 3:30-5:30PM, with the group running from 4-5PM.