'Anorexia and exercise addiction caused my broken foot'

By Anna Hodges
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
Hope after a marathonImage source, Hope Virgo

"I broke my foot as soon as I pushed off from the starting block for an 800m run. My anorexia had caused a severe calcium deficiency, making my bones really weak."

Hope Virgo, 29, developed an eating disorder when she was 13. She had a lot going on at home but couldn't find a way to shut off from it all, so she started skipping meals.

Long distance running also became an obsession: "The more exercise I did and the less food I ate the better I felt about everything."

Image source, Hope Virgo

This week, a study which was done by the Anglia Ruskin University said that people with an eating disorder are almost four times more likely to suffer from an addiction to exercise than those without. They tested more than 2,000 people with an average age of 25.

Mike Trott was involved in the research at ARU: "Those with eating disorders are more likely to display addictive personality and obsessive-compulsive behaviours."

That's exactly what happened to Hope: "Every evening I would spend hours and hours in my bedroom just working out until the early hours of the morning."

But her addiction to exercise without enough food was so severe that her heart almost stopped working. Her body had so little fat left, it was trying to use the muscle instead.

"When doctors saw there was a problem with my heart after an electrocardiogram (ECG) I was admitted to hospital within an hour, I was so lucky."

According to Mike, monitoring the exercise levels of people with eating disorders should be a priority for health professionals. This is because they could be suffering from "serious medical conditions as a result of excessive exercise, such as fractures, increased rates of cardiovascular disease in younger patients, and increased overall mortality."

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It took three days of lying down to conserve her energy before Hope was finally encouraged to eat solid food by her doctors. But eating a normal diet wasn't the only thing Hope struggled with during her recovery - exercise had been such a huge part of her life and she wasn't allowed to do it.

"After 10 months in hospital they let me start running three times a week with one of the nurses. They wanted me to start to understand how to exercise in a healthy way and not for the wrong reasons."

Hope recovered enough to be able to go to university when she was 18, but not long after she started she broke her foot in that 800m race.

She was back to her obsessive exercising and was so scared to face up to it she didn't go to A&E for a week. Her doctor told her that her body lacked so much calcium, her bones weren't strong enough to support her.

Image source, Hope Virgo
Image caption,
Hope has learned to exercise in a "healthy way"

It wasn't until Hope ran her second marathon in 2014, that things finally started to change for her. "I wanted to train properly and not get into an obsessed state so I did it in a healthy way."

"I got my best marathon time and could see the evidence that not overtraining and fuelling myself right had on my body."

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help and support is available here.

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