Miss America mindful of eating disorders
Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan spoke with girls individually about eating disorders and confidence.
Story and photos by Stephanie Smolek, NewsNetNebraska
“Telling someone to get over an eating disorder is like telling someone to get over cancer,” Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan told her young audience during a Monday visit to the Embassy Suites in downtown Lincoln.
Scanlan hoped to leave her youth audience with a renewed hope and a renewed energy to stand up against eating disorder disease. Her talk was part of a fundraiser for CenterPointe Inc., a local organization that specializes in helping people with substance use and mental health disorders.
Scanlan said eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. A big problem, said Scanlan, is that many people don’t understand the disease and believe it’s a person’s own fault if they suffer from an eating disorder. “You never want to have the opportunity to prevent something like that and then have it be too late,” she said.
The 18-year-old Gering, Neb. native became interested in eating disorders at the age of 13. She had a friend who suffered from bulimia. Scanlan knew her friends habits were unhealthy, so she took it upon herself to research the problem. Since then, she’s made it her goal to make others aware of eating disorders.
Focusing on changing attitudes, Scanlan emphasized the importance of having confidence in yourself. “Confidence is thinking nothing is impossible,” Scanlan said.
Scanlan is the first Miss America from Nebraska. Although she said she was nervous to compete, she said she didn’t let fear keep her from succeeding. “When people conquer their fears, they allow for wonderful things to happen,” she said. Scanlan added that winning isn’t as important as following your passions. “When you follow your passion you will find the most contentment in life, not when you follow what people say,” Scanlan said.
Eating disorder information is hard to come by, Scanlan said. People need to help each other fight the problem.
In school systems, it is easy to get caught up following a crowd, Scanlan said. However, everyone was made to be unique.
“You can always be the best ‘you’ (that) you want to be,” she said. “But, you can only be a second rate someone else.”
Scanlan said family and friends are great sources for those with eating disorders because it’s not easy to fight the battle alone. The signs are tough to spot, making eating disorders very secretive, Scanlan said. She suggested following the American Psychological Association method of recognition- watching for changes in attitudes, physical appearance and eating habits.
Scanlan signed autographs and took pictures with the youth. She said a having a positive body image was key.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln takes eating disorders seriously too. Charlie Foster is a medical health practitioner with University Health Services and said “students with eating disorders get the best care they can at UNL so they can remain students. . “A student can be involuntarily suspended,” said Foster, “until they get treatment because they are breaking the code of conduct as a risk to themselves.”
Foster said it can be hard for students to deal with the stresses of being a “small fish” on a large campus. She said friends and loved ones play important roles in helping those who suffer from eating disorders recover from them.
Karen Miller agreed with Foster. She’s coordinator for nutrition education and wellness at campus recreation. Miller is also an advisor to the Eating Disorder Education and Prevention student association.
“In college, disordered behavior is very normalized,” Miller said. In addition to being harder to spot, Miller said intervention for those with eating disorders can take longer in college because parents are not around to notice the physical changes that take place in sufferers. Miller added that friends are afraid to speak up sometimes too or struggle with similar eating disorder issues.
Even students have recognized the problem. Becca Anderson is a senior psychology major at UNL. She is also an officer in the Eating Disorder Education and Prevention student association. Anderson said a healthy lifestyle is important for college students.
“It has almost become normal for girls to call themselves fat or go on diets before spring break,” Anderson said. “That shouldn’t be normal.”
This is not an isolated problem, she said, and people do not realize how dangerous it is.
Miss America Teresa Scanlan said at first she was surprised how deadly eating disorders can be. She challenged Lincoln’s youth to stand up against bullying, to have confidence and to put others before themselves. “It’s a preventable disorder,” Scanlan said. “And, you never want it to be too late.”