Saturday, December 16, 2017
Health

Former Miss Florida talks about her struggle with eating disorders

ST. PETERSBURG — Allison Kreiger's eating disorder started when she was just 13 and continued until she was a senior in high school. She didn't set out to lose weight, but to gain control over a life that felt out of control to a young girl.

Anorexia can cause dramatic weight loss, making it more visible. But Kreiger, who would go on to be crowned Miss Florida in 2006, started out with the binging and purging condition bulimia.

Her weight seemed stable until anorexia took over in her senior year. Kreiger, already slim, quickly dropped 30 pounds, making apparent the damage years of purging had caused. She lost much of her hair, her eyes were bloodshot from chronic vomiting, her teeth were corroded by stomach acid, her heart was weak.

"I am very lucky to be alive," says Kreiger, now 29, who is married, a new mother, and a recent law school graduate.

As Miss Florida, the Orlando resident adopted eating disorder awareness as her service platform. "It's a scary disease with a lot of shame," said Kreiger, "and eating disorders are rampant on school campuses everywhere."

Kreiger's advocacy continues at the University of Florida and her nonprofit organization, HOPE, Helping Other People Eat. She is on the board of the National Eating Disorders Association and will be at its annual conference, today through Saturday at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg.

Kreiger spoke to the Times this week about her work and her recovery.

Why did your life feel so out of control at age 13?

I was a competitive baton twirler from the age of 5. You had to train like gymnasts several hours in the gym every day and take dance classes at night. We had school performances on Fridays, competitions on Saturdays and Sundays we traveled home from competitions. By the time I was 13, I was over it.

But I didn't say anything because I didn't want to disappoint anybody. My mom competed in baton; her former coach was coaching me. This was our family sport. My parents never criticized me or said I was a failure if I didn't win. I was doing that to myself.

How did the eating disorder start?

One time, after an intense practice session that I thought didn't go well, I got so worked up and upset that I got sick (vomited). And I felt better after doing that. Something was triggered in my brain that told me I felt better when I got sick. It became my relief, my way to cope with stress. It quickly became a "go to" behavior. I had to eat lots of food in order to have something to purge, so I started binging. I was 13 and didn't even realize what I was doing. I didn't know there was a name for it.

When did you realize you had a problem?

I tried to stop (purging) on my own my senior year in high school, but I was so conditioned that I couldn't stop myself. That made me very scared. I was aware that I was sick. I started researching it and figured out what was going on. That's when I talked to my parents, but they didn't get it and they didn't understand what they needed to do to help me. That was 13 years ago. Now we know you have to get help, treatment right away. We didn't know that back then.

What was your treatment?

My parents took me to our family doctor who put us in touch with several experts who became my treatment team: a psychiatrist, a therapist, a nutritionist and the family doctor. I saw someone several times a week. I stuck to it because I wanted to be well enough to go to college. In hindsight, I should have entered an in-patient treatment program, but it wasn't offered to me as an option at the time. My recovery may have come sooner.

What was recovery like?

It was a hell of a battle, one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my life. A big part of it was building a relationship with food again. When dealing with a drug or alcohol addiction you remove the thing you're addicted to entirely. With an eating disorder, you have to face that disorder at least three times a day, every day. So you have to work through it including the anxiety leading up to meal time, meal time itself, the anxiety after eating. That took a lot of time.

What's your advice for others in your situation?

They need to get help. Let go of the shame and allow help in. Talk to the people around you, don't hide it. People tend to relapse when they don't get the help they need. You will learn the tools and skills you need so you don't relapse later in life. Recovery is challenging but it's worth it.

Irene Maher can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
City Council sinks deal to alter ownership of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

City Council sinks deal to alter ownership of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — After months of tense negotiations and weeks of political impasse, the City Council on Thursday derailed a proposal that would have changed the ownership structure of the city’s largest hospital, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.The 5-...
Published: 12/14/17
Florida hospitals call for more funding in effort to address looming doctor shortage

Florida hospitals call for more funding in effort to address looming doctor shortage

The number of doctors practicing in Florida has not kept up with the state’s surging population growth, and more money is needed to recruit and keep them here, hospital leaders said Wednesday.The shortage is particularly acute in four speciality area...
Published: 12/13/17
An overlooked epidemic: Older Americans taking too many unneeded drugs

An overlooked epidemic: Older Americans taking too many unneeded drugs

Consider it America’s other prescription drug epidemic.For decades, experts have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, often prescribed by multiple doctors, for dubious or unknown reasons. Researchers estimate that 25 per...
Published: 12/13/17
How is Florida’s health? Not so great, report says

How is Florida’s health? Not so great, report says

Florida slightly improved its national standing this year, rising from 36th to 32nd overall in the annual America’s Health Rankings report. But the takeaway for the nation’s third-largest state is that it has a long way to go in many important health...
Published: 12/12/17
Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows are heavily tinted and the inside is hidden behind rows of curtains. Security cameras monitor every corner, and only patients with an appointment and valid identification can pass through the intentionally cramped e...
Published: 12/12/17
Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Jimmy Kimmel was absent from his ABC late-night show last week while his 8-month-old son, Billy, recovered from his second heart surgery. Ever since Billy was born with a heart defect and required immediate surgery, Kimmel has become an outspoken adv...
Published: 12/12/17
Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

With just four days left to enroll for health insurance on the federal exchange, advocates for the Affordable Care Act say Florida is headed for a record-breaking year. In week five of the six-week open enrollment period, about 823,180 people signed ...
Published: 12/12/17
A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?" he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. "Why do you find joy in taking in...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17