When Exercise becomes Excessive
Veronica Peterson has always been active.
“Basically since the age of two, I’ve almost been involved in some sort of highly competitive, lots of hours, lots of time commitment sport,” the college student says.
After years of high-level gymnastics,Veronica shifted her focus to running once she entered high school. But the lack of a rigorous training schedule worried her and she began to workout more and more in the hopes of maintaining her fitness.
“I would run nine miles a day, do workouts three times a day, and I didn’t see it as excessive,” she says. “I just saw it as, ‘Oh, I need to make up for all the time that I used to be working out.”
But Veronica didn’t increase her calorie intake in order to match her demanding workout schedule. She started to lose weight rapidly, dropping down to under 90 pounds. She became tired, irritable and suffered eight fractures in her back and feet.
“I think I knew that something was kind of wrong but as part of having the eating disorder I didn’t really want to see that,” Veronica says.
Dr. Holly Benjamin of University of Chicago Medicine says Veronica’s experience is unfortunately not uncommon and is categorized under the Female Athlete Triad. She says the triad has three components: athletes not getting enough calories, amanoria (lack of a monthly menstrual period), and issues with bone health such as fractures or osteoporosis.
Dr. Benjamin set Veronica up with a nutritionist and the road to recovery began. Veronica learned what foods to eat, how many calories she needed, and the damage she could do to her body if her behavior continued. Dr. Benjamin says in some cases, athletes just don’t know how many calories they truly need.
“Most of the time, the athletes that I deal with are probably eating enough calories for their day-to-day life but they’re not eating enough for the amount of exercise that they’re doing,” she says.
Dr. Benjamin says that for every hour of intense exercise, athletes should ingest 1,000 more calories.
Veronica overcame her disorder and now helps others struggling with the Female Athlete Triad.
“I learned a lot through it, just like making choices that make me happy,” she says. “I think that people just realizing that everyone has their own body shape and has their own size is really important versus comparing everything to the thin ideal.”