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Food fight

Local teen worked through eating disorders

Local teen worked through eating disorders

November 06, 2007|By EVA NIESSNER and DARCY SHULL

Seeing is not always believing. And seeing Hagerstown resident Brittany Tesla, 24, would not lead you to immediately believe that four or five years ago, she was so skinny she could barely walk.

When we sat down to interview Tesla, who describes herself as outdoorsy and loves country music and cooking, she looked healthy and vibrant. But she assured us that it has been difficult to get to where she is today.

Her life took a dive in 2001, when she was a senior in high school. She was worried about going to college and then through a breakup with a longterm boyfriend. She had to find a way to deal with all that. She put it frankly: "I stopped eating."

In the months and years ahead, Tesla dropped from 120 pounds to a gaunt 80 due to anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that involves extreme dieting, which sometimes leads to serious ill health and even death.

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That fall, she started college at James Madison University. She said that during the school year, it was hard for her to focus or be active. The summer after her first year at college, her eating still wasn't healthy.

Tesla withdrew from JMU in fall of 2002, during her sophomore year of college, because the classes and the anorexia were taking their toll. But she had no health insurance, and without that, she couldn't get admitted to a hospital. She would also swing between anorexia and another eating disorder, bulimia, which involves eating but then attempting to get rid of food by exercising too much or self-induced vomiting.

Tesla said she was very unhappy.

"I pushed away friends. I became angry, and never wanted to go out," she said.

She said her eating problems began with her emotions related to the breakup, but morphed into an entirely new issue.

"It's an addiction, an obsession," she said. "It's a control issue. It's one thing that you can control when you feel you don't have any control in anything else, and you feel like you need to do it, even though everyone else tells you that you don't."

Things finally began to look up, she said, when she began dating a new guy and he urged her to get help. In the summer of 2004, Tesla was finally admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Towson, Md., for anorexia and bulimia.

"I think it took me so long to go to the hospital because I was ashamed." she said, looking back.

She also attended counseling to help with her conditions. Since then, she has recovered and when we spoke with her, she appeared wonderfully healthy and full of life.

Now she has undergraduate degrees from Salisbury University and a master's in social work from the University of Maryland-Baltimore.

Anorexia is a serious issue. According to revolutionhealth.com/conditions/men tal-behavioral-health/anorexia, 5 percent of all who suffer from anorexia die from it. It can cause heart problems and serious loss of bone mass. Bulimia can cause dental, throat and mouth problems, along with cardiovascular abnormalities.

Many anorexics and bulimics are frightened to come out with their dark stories. Tesla was ashamed of her eating habits. But now she wants to let others know about her fight with food.

"People hide this, and get embarrassed about it," she said. "I've seen plenty of people in Hagerstown who obviously have been hiding their disorder, and it's really something that you need help with. I was lucky to have gotten some."

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