A young Georgia woman who was “obsessed” with tracking her exercise and calories ended up in the hospital twice: being treated for heart problems and a fatal eating disorder.
Dani Fernandez, a 25-year-old content creator, had always been athletic growing up, but she began to develop an urge to hit the gym any chance she got and track it all on her fitness watch.
Fernández would even cancel plans or skip vacations so he could continue with his workouts, feeling “guilty” if he didn’t exercise.
“My identity was in how much I exercised,” he said. ‘I was obsessed with it. It’s all you can think about.
Dani Fernández, 25, became obsessed with exercising as a teenager and developed heart problems and an eating disorder.
Fernandez realized she needed to seek help after being hospitalized with bradycardia, a slow heartbeat (left). Although she still exercises (right), she now has other hobbies like reading.
Fernández grew up playing soccer, although he had to quit at age 15 when his weight had dropped considerably. “He seemed very fragile,” he said.
He switched training to daily gym sessions to continue burning calories and restricted his diet, exercising as much as possible and taking long walks. She then continued to increase the duration of her exercises.
“The day was scheduled,” he said. ‘I would walk 30 minutes a day, but if I walked 45 minutes the next day, I would have to continue like that. “It continued to increase.”
“I felt like I had to earn food by burning as many calories as I could.”
Fernandez was also “very calculated” and tracked all of her workouts and calories on a fitness app and watch. “I wanted to control everything in my life,” she said.
She was eventually hospitalized with heart problems and chest pains, which doctors diagnosed as bradycardia.
Normally, the heart beats between 60 and 100 times per minute during rest periods. However, in bradycardia, it beats less than 60 times.
A slow heart rate can cause lasting damage as the heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.
The condition is not always noticeable, but symptoms may include chest pain, confusion or memory problems, dizziness or lightheadedness, easy tiring during physical activity, fatigue, fainting, and difficulty breathing.
Exercise makes the heart work harder to keep up with the extra effort. Once you start exercising, your heart rate increases to keep oxygen-rich blood pumping to the muscles that need it.
Over time, this improves circulation, meaning that eventually the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard. This lowers your resting heart rate.
However, excessive exercise can cause the heart rate to drop significantly and reach the bradycardia threshold.
After this diagnosis, Mrs. Fernández realized that she needed help. “She wanted to change,” she said. “I felt miserable.”
“I thought if I don’t gain weight, recover and heal, you’re going to die.”
Fernández entered an eating disorder clinic in November 2017, where she was diagnosed with anorexia.
Anorexia is the most common eating disorder among teenage girls and gives sufferers a warped view of their bodies.
While no single factor, such as a fitness tracker, can cause the disease, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, diet and calorie counting are known to contribute.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), three-quarters of Americans with anorexia are women. Experts believe that between one and two percent of women in the United States will develop it.
Anorexia is also common in teenagers and young adults. In fact, young people ages 15 to 24 with anorexia are 10 times more likely to die compared to their peers without the disorder, NEDA estimates.
According to the Mayo Clinic, those who have a first-degree relative who had anorexia are more likely to develop the condition. Additionally, those who are going through a life transition, such as starting a new school or grieving the loss of a loved one, are more susceptible to anorexia.
After six months in an anorexia treatment clinic, Fernández was able to return home. “I feel in a better place,” she said. ‘Now I want to move to feel better instead of losing calories’
If left untreated, anorexia can lead to serious health problems such as anemia, heart problems, osteoporosis, and kidney problems. In the worst case, the condition can be fatal.
At the clinic, Fernandez had to learn to “retrain” his brain to not focus on extreme exercise and calorie restriction. He also had to start taking supplements and drinking high-calorie shakes to gain weight and get the nutrients he was missing.
He spent six months in the clinic before being able to return home. “They saved my life,” she said.
Although he still exercises, Fernández has taken up other hobbies such as reading. He is also back to eating three meals a day.
“I feel in a better place,” he said. “Now I want to move to feel better instead of losing calories.”
‘I feel free.’