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Miss Georgia opens up about eating disorder

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ATLANTA -

Over the last year, Leighton Jordan has become the face of Georgia, competing in the Miss America pageant. But she's also been living a hidden life, battling an eating disorder for the last eight years.

Leighton has spent the last year in a role thousands of little girls dream about. When she wasn't making public appearances, she was privately going through treatment.

But Leighton has decided she's ready to use her spotlight to share her real story.

It's been a pretty incredible year for the 20-year-old.

In almost every small town Georgia festival and parade, she's been there with her crown.

She's also a girl with a secret, no one knew about, not even her family.

"And I thought, 'Gosh, everyone thinks that you're perfect.' Everyone thinks that you have your life together, because from the outside, that's what it looks like," Jordan said.

But by 12, Leighton, a dancer, had begun starving herself,

"And so those perfectionist tendencies turned into 'How can I get better?'  And part of getting better in my mind was losing a lot of weight and having the perfect ballet body," Jordan said.

By 14, she'd developed full-blown anorexia.

"And after reaching a pretty dangerous weight, my mom took me to the pediatrician and I was put on appetite stimulants," said Jordan.

As her weight normalized, Leighton began to feel, and dance, better, joining the Houston Ballet.   

But her recovery didn't last.

"And before I knew it, my eating disorder was back in full swing, in the form of bulimia," Jordan said." "Constantly hated myself.  I was constantly wondering, 'How did I get here?  How did I allow myself to get here,'" she said.

After winning Miss Georgia, Leighton began treatment with Dr. Linda Buchanan, the founder of the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders.  Buchanan says Leighton, like a lot of people with eating disorders, is wired to be more sensitive, to want to please, which can lead to perfectionism.

"Because they very much want to decrease stress around them. They want everything around them to be happy or better," said Buchanan.

Leighton had grown up with a disabled brother and she began to realize she'd pushed herself hard, so she wouldn't be a burden, and would make her parents proud.
      
"So her self-esteem was oriented and developed around trying really hard to do something she couldn't really do, which was make this all OK. Which almost irrationally let to her believing that she wasn't good enough," Buchanan said.

It was a huge revelation. But recovery was complicated.

In the middle of treatment, Leighton competed in the Miss America pageant and had a setback. So she went home and intensified her treatment.  

About a month ago, things started to click.

"I still battle this disorder, every second of every day.  But now I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Jordan said.
     
And beginning to see, that even without the crown, she was always good enough.

Buchanan says Leighton is doing very well and has a good chance of making a full recovery.

About a third of eating disorder survivors fully recovery, and another 30 percent get better but face challenges.

Leighton says she wanted to talk about this because eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness. About 10 percent of people struggling with them die.

If you want to read more about eating disorders, visit the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders' (ACE) at: www.eatingdisorders.cc

To read more about eating disorders, check out: nationaleatingdisorders.org

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