April 22nd, 2009
06:53 PM ET

All for a sash and a crown

By Jessica Silvaggio
CNN Medical Intern

When I was a freshman at the University of South Carolina, I became a peer health educator. The health topics we promoted on campus included body image and eating disorders. This hit home for me.

Since I was 13 I have been competing in beauty pageants. One pageant director told me I would never win if I didn’t lose 20 pounds. I obsessed about my weight, cut my 1,200-calorie diet in half, and worked out twice a day. All of this just to be the girl who walked down the runway, waving, with the bouquet in my arms and the crown on my head. When I came to college I compared myself with other girls on campus, continued to count calories and wore oversized clothes to hide what I thought was a heavy body, which, in fact, was far from true. I just didn’t like the way I looked.

According to the University of California Davis, approximately 15 percent of college women and a rising number of men suffer from eating disorders. A distorted body image and dieting can contribute to eating disorders. Two ruling passions in my life were too little food and too much exercise. This had to stop.  Surely there was a way to build confidence and feel good about my body. I had to strive to value myself for other strengths such as intelligence, my outgoing personality and dancing abilities.

While training as a peer health educator, I learned to cope with my unattainable pursuit of perfection. I realized I had to learn to praise myself and have a positive attitude to boost my self-esteem. Exercise was good for me but not for weight loss – instead to reduce stress, promote strength, balance, and flexibility. I learned that eating well-balanced meals was healthier than cutting calories. And support from friends and family members was vital.

After seeking counseling on campus and realizing that God had blessed me with a healthy body, I was able to educate my peers on an issue that was personal. I have overcome my body image battle. Through the process, I learned that I have to be comfortable in my own genes or should I say jeans?

Do you have an issue with your body image? We’d like to hear about it.

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