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Miss UNC Colleen Daly fights against eating disorders, promotes awareness

Miss UNC Colleen Daly has rebounded from an eating disorder that she said made her unrecognizable to her family, and now she’s back in action — in a healthy way.

Daly, a senior, has devoted her time at UNC to combat eating disorders, saying that she hopes her story inspires others struggling with body image issues.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs this week and is promoted by the National Eating Disorders Association, aims to provide information about how eating disorders are triggered and treated.

According to the association, between 10 and 20 percent of female college students and between 4 and 10 percent of male college students have eating disorders.

Daly said she had never considered losing weight until an assignment in her freshman year LFIT class required her to track her caloric intake.

“It just triggered a thought in my head that my body was different than everyone else’s,” she said.

Daly said her eating disorder spiraled out of control when she studied abroad in Spain and became obsessed with exercising.

“It was the most heartbreaking time of my life because I just wasn’t myself,” Daly said. “It took my life away completely.”

According to a survey released this month by the association, eating disorders usually begin between 18 and 21 years of age.

Claire Mysko, manager of, said many factors explain why eating disorders are so prevalent on college campuses. The website, under the umbrella of the National Eating Disorders Association, is geared toward promoting positive body images.

“It’s a very high pressure environment, and oftentimes it’s the first time that young people have been away from home and away from their support systems,” Mysko said.

Antonia Hartley, a clinical nutrition specialist for eating disorders at UNC’s Campus Health Services, said she’s seen more men in her practice this year than ever before.

“Any time we are talking about eating disorders, we can’t ever think that it’s a white female problem,” Hartley said. “It affects all genders and all races.”

Some of the most commonly cited eating disorders are binge eating, anorexia and bulimia.

Mysko said a large portion of eating disorders are a combination of the three and referred to as “eating disorders not otherwise specified,” which is what Daly was diagnosed with.

Mysko said eating disorder screening is hard to come by for many college students.

“If there were more mechanisms on college campuses, we would be in a much better place, but unfortunately it is not happening,” she said.

Recovery began for Daly with the help of two of her close friends, who encouraged therapy sessions.

She said it was a scary process, but the therapy sessions at UNC Campus Health helped her get to a healthy place.

“What I wanted most in the world in recovery was to let my dreams and desires for the world run my passions — rather than running them on a treadmill,” Daly said.

Her recovery inspired her to create Embody Carolina, her Miss UNC service program that focuses on training people to help friends suffering from eating disorders.

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Daly recently collaborated with four UNC a cappella groups to create a mashup that focuses on self-confidence.

The mashup, titled “Soul Within,” was released online and in fitness classes Monday.

Ben Barge, Daly’s friend and president of the a cappella group the Achordants, said the message of “Soul Within” unified the a cappella groups.

“I think it’s an important message,” Barge said. “I just see it as having pride in who you are.”

Daly said she hopes the track makes people think about eating disorders.

“Ultimately, I hope it motivates people to love and respect who they are.”

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