- Dani Fernandez, 25, developed anorexia following a calorie tracking ‘obsession’
- She eventually developed a slow heartbeat and needed hospital treatment
- READ MORE: Trendy fitness apps may give you an INJURY, trainer warns
A young Georgia woman who was ‘obsessed’ with tracking her exercise and calories ended up in the hospital twice – being treated for heart issues and a deadly eating disorder.
Dani Fernandez, a 25-year-old content creator, had always been athletic growing up but began to develop an all-consuming need to hit the gym any chance she got and track it all on her fitness watch.
Ms Fernandez would even cancel plans or skip vacations in order to keep up with her workouts, feeling ‘guilty’ if she didn’t exercise.
‘My identity was in how much I was working out,’ she said. ‘I was obsessed with it. It’s all you can think about.’
Dani Fernandez, 25, became obsessed with working out as a teenager and developed heart issues and an eating disorder
Ms Fernandez realized she needed to seek help after she was hospitalized with bradycardia, a slow heartbeat (left). Though she still works out (right), she now has other hobbies like reading
Ms Fernandez grew up playing soccer, though she had to stop at age 15 when her weight had dropped considerably. ‘I looked very fragile,’ she said.
She swapped the training for daily gym sessions to keep burning calories and restricted her diet, working out as much as possible and going on long walks. She then kept increasing length of her exercises.
‘The day became scheduled,’ she said. ‘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.’
‘I felt I had to deserve food by burning as many calories as I could.’
Ms Fernandez also ‘was very calculated’ and tracked all of her workouts and calories on a fitness watch and app. ‘I wanted to control everything in my life,’ she said.
She was eventually hospitalized with heart issues and chest pains, which doctors diagnosed as bradycardia.
Normally, the heart beats anywhere from 60 to 100 times a minute during periods of rest. However, in bradycardia, it beats fewer than 60 times.
A slow heart rate can lead to lasting damage, as the heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.
The condition is not always noticeable, but symptoms can include chest pain, confusion or memory problems, dizziness or lightheadedness, becoming easily tired during physical activity, fatigue, fainting, and shortness of breath.
Exercise causes the heart to work harder to keep up with the extra effort. Once you start working out, heart rate increases to keep oxygen-rich blood pumping to muscles that need it.
Over time, this improves circulation, which means that the heart eventually doesn’t have to pump as hard. This lowers resting heart rate.
However, over-exercising can cause heart rate to drop considerably and into the threshold for bradycardia.
After this diagnosis, Ms Fernandez realized that she needed help. ‘I wanted to change,’ she said. ‘I was miserable.’
‘I thought if I don’t gain weight and recover and heal, you’re going to die.’
Ms Fernandez checked herself into an eating disorder clinic in November 2017, where she was diagnosed with anorexia.
Anorexia is the most common eating disorder in adolescent girls, and gives sufferers a warped view of their body.
While no single factor, such as a fitness tracker, can cause the disease – which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness – dieting and calorie counting are known contributors.
Three-quarters of Americans with anorexia are female, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Experts believe one to two percent of females in the US will develop it.
Anorexia is also common in teens and young adults. In fact, young people between the ages 15 and 24 with anorexia are 10 times more likely to die compared to their peers who don’t have the disorder, NEDA estimates.
According to the Mayo Clinic, those with a first-degree relative who had anorexia are more likely to develop the condition. Additionally, those who are going through a transition in life, such as starting a new school or mourning the loss of a loved one, are more susceptible to anorexia.
After six months in a clinic for anorexia treatment, Ms Fernandez was able to return home. ‘I feel in a better place,’ she said. ‘Now I want to move to feel better rather than to lose calories’
If left untreated, anorexia can lead to serious health problems like anemia, heart issues, osteoporosis, and kidney problems. At its worst, the condition can be fatal.
At the clinic, Ms Fernandez had to learn to ‘retrain’ her brain to not focus on extreme exercise and calorie restriction. She also had to start taking supplements and drinking calorie-heavy shakes to gain weight and give her the nutrients she was missing.
She spent six months in the clinic before being able to return home. ‘They saved my life,’ she said.
Though she still works out, Ms Fernandez has taken up other hobbies like reading. She’s also back to eating three meals a day.
‘I feel in a better place,’ she said. ‘Now I want to move to feel better rather than to lose calories.’
‘I feel free.’