Real Life

I’m a beauty queen binger

This model has a prize appetite!

Three litres of milk, a monster two-kilo burrito, 120 chicken nuggets, a 1.5 metre- long sandwich and 50 dumplings – these are just a few of the things competitive eater and pageant queen Nela Zisser has polished off in a matter of minutes.

It’s an unlikely hobby for this Auckland-based beauty, who earns her crust as a model. She signed on to Major League Eating, the international federation for competitive eaters, earlier this year and it’s gained her worldwide attention. But though she’s now in the global spotlight, 23-year-old Nela admits putting herself out there hasn’t been easy.

The pint-sized bombshell reveals for the first time to Woman’s Day that she has Asperger’s syndrome. “I always felt different growing up,” she explains. “I hit all my major learning milestones very early and have always been painfully shy. I never liked speaking to anyone.”

Nela’s mum had her assessed when she was younger and was told she was gifted. But two years ago, the Bachelor of Science student researched the condition online and decided to get tested again.

She recalls, “As I was reading things, I was just like, ‘That’s me!’ “Being diagnosed was the best thing to happen to me. Now I know why I am the way I am, and it’s helped me to know what my strengths and weaknesses are.”

Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterised by difficulties with social interaction, although the effects can vary from person to person. Nela, who is high functioning, excels academically but finds socialising hard. School was difficult, but Nela got by with a few friends and the bullying she suffered has made her stronger as an adult. “I just try my best to get on with it,” she says. “I feel like there are way more positives in my life than negatives now.”

Model myth

Nela has been modelling since she was 16. In 2013, she was crowned Miss Earth at the international beauty pageant that promotes environmental awareness. The competition saw the beauty with a big appetite travel to the Philippines for the final.

“It was really fun,” she recalls. “Such a cool experience. People always say that models are really bitchy, but I don’t think that’s the case in New Zealand. “All the models I know are really nice and they do eat – a lot!” Although perhaps not as much as Nela, whose entry into the competitive-eating scene came when her mum suggested she enter a contest run by a pizza company in 2013.

She laughs, “I’ve always eaten a lot and Mum thought I’d be in with a shot. I didn’t know that in pizza-eating competitions you’re meant to just get a cheese pizza, so I ordered a chicken one, figuring that if I was going to be eating a lot, I may as well enjoy it!”

But the extra topping turned out to be no handicap, with Nela beating all 19 men in the final contest. She smiles, “Everyone totally underestimated me, so it was awesome to win.”

Nela was first encouraged to enter an eating contest by her mum.

Since then, Nela’s been busy uploading videos to her YouTube channel and even travelled to the US earlier this year to compete in the world’s most prestigious eating competition, the famous Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, in New York.

She didn’t make it to the finals, but the experience inspired Nela’s new goal – to become the top-ranked female competitive eater in the world. Currently ranked sixth, she has a few more hot dogs to get through yet!

Nela, who eats healthily most of the time, and also enjoys surfing and yoga, says the biggest risk in competitive eating is choking. “But if you’re careful and you know what to do in bad situations, you’ll be fine. There’s danger in any sport. When I’m surfing, I could get attacked by a shark, drown or get injured – it’s about knowing how to minimise the risk.”

A YouTube video of Nela completing the 1.5-metre Subway Footlong Sandwich Challenge went viral.

Surprisingly, the lightweight stunner says she wakes up hungrier than usual after a competition day because her stomach has stretched.

“My body just seems to bounce back, though,” she insists. “People assume I’m doing long-term damage, but your body can’t process that many calories in one go – most of it just passes straight through.”

Nela isn’t sure what she’ll end up doing in the future, but with competitive eating, a science degree and a career in modelling, she’s got options!

The beauty queen devoured 100 pieces of sushi at an Auckland eatery in under nine minutes.

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