Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Teen helps others deal with anorexia

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kristen Renzi is working this summer as a lifeguard at Lou Eves Municipal Pool in Mason.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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        When Kristen Renzi talks, other kids listen. When she talks about diet and over-dieting, they understand.

        “Everybody was pretty receptive,” she said, recalling her three presentations before health classes at Mason schools. “I think it was very helpful for them to see.”

        To see what?

        That anorexia is “not something you have to be ashamed of,” she said. “But it is something you have to deal with.”

        That, “probably, in their lifetime ... they'll know at least one person who dealt with an eating problem.”

        For many of them, Kristen, 18, is the one they know.

Renzi was one of 18 area Girl Scout Gold Award recipients for helping people understand anorexia.
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        As a sophomore and junior at Mason High School, she was treated for anorexia nervosa, a condition that had her looking like skin and bones.

        When excessive dieting results in body weight at least 15 percent below normal, it qualifies as anorexia. Recent studies have shown that one of every 100 women between 10 and 20 years old is starving herself — sometimes to death. The condition is at least 10 times as prevalent in women and girls as in men and boys.

        “It takes so much of their energy,” said Jennie Wade, registered and licensed dietitian and owner of Nutrition First, a private practice in Kenwood.

        “That whole year and (a) half...was basically spent in doctors' offices and things like that,” Kristen said.

        Today, as a recent high school graduate and entering freshman at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, she looks normal and fit. And content.

        Last month, she was honored by the 30,000-member Great Rivers Girl Scout Council as one of 18 Gold Award recipients for career-orientation and community-service projects.

        Kristen's project included her talks to underclassmen and a guide she organized for understanding anorexia and anorexic behavior. She gave the book to a high school counselor “so, when they do have a girl come in ... if they don't know a lot about eating disorders, they can give it to them as sort of a reference,” she said.

        A little background on eating disorders can be valuable to boys and men, too, she says. “At some point, they'll know somebody — a sister, a girlfriend, just a friend, or even a guy friend” caught up in the disorder.

        “It's just a good thing to know about.”

        “You have to give her a lot of credit,” Ms. Wade said. “It takes a lot of courage to admit you're dealing with a problem like that.”

        Her bout with anorexia, Kristen says, came to an end when “They told me, if you drop (weight) any lower, we'll take you out of school and put you in a hospital.” She was seeing two psychologists and a nutritionist at the time.

        “Swimming was the real reason I never got any worse than I did,” she said. “I loved it too much. I refused to be put in a hospital and quit swimming.”

        At about the same time, she said, “I became less concerned about what everybody thought of me and stopped worrying about it.”

        “She's unbelievable,” said Sharon Turner, a counselor at the school, who became familiar with Kristen's case. “She's one of my favorite students.”

        As for the project, Ms. Turner said she wasn't surprised because, “That's the kind of student she is. She goes beyond what is required of her in any realm...and likes to help others.

        “And she's the type that won't brag about doing things.”

        In high school, Kristen was a four-year-letter member of the swim team. She was an editor of the school's literary magazine and an active participant in modern dance, drama and show chorus. She graduated as salutatorian.

        This summer, she is working as a lifeguard at the Mason municipal pool.

        “She was able to tap into her strengths,” Ms. Turner said. “She looks great and she's doing fine”

        Her anorexia, Kristen says, was pretty much a secret for the first year. Then she wrote a story about it in a school publication.

        “It's not something a lot of people talk about, I guess,” she said. “Generally, people usually don't know about that kind of stuff. I wanted to make it something you could talk about.”

        Ms. Turner says of Kristen, “She finds it very important to disperse the information she acquired on her own ... and there was a lot of it. It will be very useful.”

        “I'm not a dumb person,” Kristen says, matter-of-factly. “I would like to think I'm smart enough not to let something like that happen to me.

        “But that's what everybody thinks,” and “It's not about how smart you are.”


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