Kaitlyn grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to Washington, DC in 2009 to attend college at American University. While in DC, she found herself. Not only did Kaitlyn reach full recovery from her eating disorder, but she also became an eating disorder awareness activist, began indoor cycling and found her passion for nutrition and fitness. She has also held two titles as Maryland Miss 2011 and Miss DC US International 2012. And we were lucky enough to catch up with her for this interview! Don’t forget to check her and many other amazing women out in our newest magazine, The Women’s Issue! What makes you so passionate about eating disorders, nutrition and body image issues? Kaitlyn WozniakI was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when I was 14 and a sophomore in high school. It started as a simple “diet” to lose a little weight but, due to a genetic predisposition, it spiraled out of control and I couldn’t tolerate food or the thought of weight gain. Before I knew it I was skipping nearly every meal, passing out at school, getting terrible pains in my joints, losing hair and I was unable to participate in the sports I once loved. I entered inpatient treatment twice and went through many years of outpatient therapy before stabilizing my weight. Coming to American University was a huge step for me in my recovery. I started volunteering with the Wellness Center, got involved with NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) and started lobbying on Capitol Hill with the Eating Disorder Coalition. Pretty soon I found that it was mental health awareness, and eating disorders in particular, that really fueled my life. Conversely, nutrition and fitness found me. I was invited to a ZenGo Fitness indoor cycling class in November of 2011 and by January 2012 I was working at the studio! By May I was certified as an instructor because I really fell in love with what the activity did for me, mentally and physically. This allowed me to see that fitness was just as much mental as it is physical and that any physical activity should be FUN! But most importantly, your body is your most valuable possession and it deserves to be treated with respect, which includes not only feeding it well, but moving it also. What steps did you take to become healthier? Well first and foremost, coming to college was a huge factor for me. I always wanted to be independent and I knew that if I was unwell, I would not be able to go away for school. I came to realize early on that I needed to find it within myself to be strong and fight for my independence and health. I had been face to face with death and never wanted to walk that path again. By being alone in DC, I saw that life had so much to offer and that I had so much more to learn. I had to fight my disordered thoughts every day. There were plenty of times that I stopped myself from going to the gym because I knew it was becoming compulsive instead of healthy. I also had to separate myself from the people who had skewed perceptions of health and beauty and began surrounding myself with people who were truly healthy and respected and supported my recovery. While being at American, I realized there were so many ways to be involved in the field. I became a Body Image Peer Educator, a NEDA Walk coordinator, a Body Image Awareness Week coordinator, ED Coalition lobbyist, public speaker, intern with Rock Recovery, and also a mentor to many women with eating disorders. And as Miss DC, I use my title as a platform to share my personal story and spread awareness about eating disorders, to promote positive body image and healthy self-esteem in women and girls of all ages. These things all remind me of why I stay strong and healthy. I would never feel comfortable preaching this message if I didn’t practice it myself. What was the NEDA affiliated Eating Disorder Awareness Walk and what was the outcome? NEDA Walk BannerPrior to my involvement with the American University Wellness Center, the program hosted a Body Image Awareness Walk on campus. The walk raised a couple hundred dollars and hosted a few dozen walkers. When I came on board I purchased the NEDA Walk Toolkit and took it to Alan Duffy, who was the Eating Disorder specialist at AU at the time, and asked if we could partner with NEDA to take the walk to a new level. Together we worked to bring a couple hundred walkers to AU in 2010 and we raised thousands of dollars! Today, the walk is run by Leah Siskin, previously our lead fundraiser, and is held on the National Mall in DC, raises over $35,000, and hosts hundreds of walkers! It blows my mind at how far it has come and I’m truly proud of, and grateful to, everyone who has been part of the success of the DC NEDA Walk. Tell us about “Beauty to the Core” and your future plans for it! Beauty to the Core came to me one night as I was laying in bed thinking about new ways to spread my message of healthy, confident, dynamic living for women of all ages. I love women, I love helping them feel sexy, beautiful, confident and successful in all capacities and somehow God brought this idea to me and I knew I should run with it. Beauty to the Core is all about empowering women to feel those things; it is about spreading positive and healthy messages to women about everything to do with wellness. Right now it is really just a work in progress while I am still in school, but my hope is that it will take off and really reach a wider audience once I graduate and can focus more on it. I would love to see it reach a nation-wide audience so that more and more of my sisters can hear a positive message about being a strong, powerful woman who isn’t afraid to feel beautiful. What kind of work are you doing now to promote women’s health? Currently I am pursuing my degree in Psychology and am applying to graduate programs to get my masters in Clinical Psychology. My ultimate goal is to open a private practice and specialize in eating disorder therapy. Aside from school, I am working as a mentor, I intern with Rock Recovery doing community outreach and education, I coordinate several eating disorder awareness events and I also do public speaking events to share my personal story. And until May, I will continue serving DC as Miss DC U.S. International while promoting eating disorder awareness and self-esteem building! I love what I do, and I have no plans to stop. I hope to keep shedding light on these highly stigmatized and misunderstood illnesses so that the millions of people struggling can find peace, and so that future generations will avoid the feelings of unworthiness pushed on them by society. What is one piece of advice you could give to women? Oh wow, that’s tough… If I can only pick one, I’d have to say: Ladies, remember that you are so much more than a number; you are a body, a mind AND a soul that has potential to change the world, regardless of what you look like. So make sure your inner beauty shines brighter than your outer beauty, because that is what will leave a lasting impression when you leave this Earth. You can follow Kaitlyn Wozniak on Twitter (@kaitlyndinneh) and on facebook. And don’t forget to check out the Beauty to the Core website and twitter page (@beautytothecore)!