The Dangers of Obsessive Exercise and Calorie Tracking
For a young woman in Georgia, an ‘obsession’ with tracking her exercise and calories led to several serious health issues. Dani Fernandez, a 25-year-old content creator and fitness enthusiast, ended up in the hospital twice for heart issues and an eating disorder.
The Compulsive Need for Exercise
Dani, always active growing up, developed an overwhelming need to constantly workout and meticulously monitor her activities through her fitness watch. So much so, that she often cancelled plans or skipped vacations to maintain her workout routine. Feeling ‘guilty’ if she didn’t exercise, Dani admitted, “My identity was in how much I was working out. I was obsessed with it. It’s all you can think about.”
Dani’s Journey with Over-Exercise and Eating Disorder
As a child, Dani was active in soccer but had to stop at age 15 due to her significantly reduced weight. Instead of soccer training, she turned to daily gym sessions, focusing on burning calories and limiting her diet. This resulted in a cycle of increasingly lengthy exercises, with Dani revealing, “The day became scheduled. I’d walk for 30 minutes a day, but if the next day I walked for 45 minutes, I’d have to keep that up. It kept increasing.”
Not only did she have a controlled diet and workout regimen, but she also meticulously tracked her workouts and calorie intake using a fitness watch and app. However, her obsession led to hospitalization for chest pains and heart issues, diagnosed as bradycardia – a condition where the heart beats less than 60 times a minute.
The Effect of Bradycardia
A slow heart rate can cause lasting damage as the heart is unable to pump sufficient oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Over-exercising can cause the heart rate to drop significantly, leading to bradycardia. This condition may not always be noticeable, but symptoms can include chest pain, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, fainting, and shortness of breath.
Recognizing the Need for Help
Post her diagnosis, Dani admitted she needed help, saying, “I wanted to change. I was miserable. I thought if I don’t gain weight and recover and heal, you’re going to die.” She checked herself into an eating disorder clinic in November 2017, where she was diagnosed with anorexia.
Anorexia, the most common eating disorder in adolescent girls, gives sufferers a warped view of their body. While factors such as a fitness tracker can’t cause the disease, dieting and calorie counting are known contributors. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with anorexia are 10 times more likely to die compared to peers without the disorder.
Road to Recovery
During her treatment, Dani had to ‘retrain’ her brain to focus less on extreme exercise and calorie restrictions. She spent six months in the clinic, during which she had to take supplements and drink calorie-heavy shakes to gain weight and regain her health.
Now, although she still exercises, Dani has taken up other hobbies like reading and is back to eating three balanced meals a day. “I feel in a better place. Now I want to move to feel better rather than to lose calories. I feel free,” she shared.