Teenager sectioned after developing exercise 'addiction' and orthorexia, now wants to help others

Marie Claire Dorking
·6 min read
Lisa Fouweather during the time she was addicted to exercising. (SWNS)
Lisa Fouweather during the time she was addicted to exercising. (SWNS)

A teenager has described her journey to recovery after revealing she was sectioned due to developing an 'addiction' to exercise. 

Lisa Fouweather, 19, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, initially hoped to improve her running personal bests and excel at the running club she'd joined, but says she quickly became obsessed.

Soon she was running before school, on top of taking part in daily ab workouts.

She also started to develop orthorexia, which according to Beat though not clinically recognised, refers to an unhealthy obsession with eating “pure” food.

Fouweather was barely eating and would try to emulate, or beat, the training regimes posted on Instagram by professional athletes twice her age.

Having seen her weight drop significantly, Fouweather was sectioned and thanks to receiving professional help, managed to put a stop to her extreme exercise and dieting, and is now a healthy weight.

Read more: How the pandemic has impacted eating disorders

Lisa Fouweather and her dad Roy in the Peak District. (SWNS)
Lisa Fouweather and her dad Roy in the Peak District. (SWNS)

She is now opening up about her recovery in a bid to help others who could be experiencing orthorexia.

"I was running every day for miles and miles, despite feeling so so tired, both mentally and physically," Fouweather explains. 

"I can remember one night doing a warmup at my athletics track and just crying as I was running.

"Looking back, I think that was my body pleading with me to let it rest, but I never did."

Fouweather believes the trigger to her orthorexia was taking up competitive running and joining an athletics club in September 2016. 

She attended every session and practiced, but still found herself coming last in races, so decided to change her diet.

Avoiding what she described as her "fear foods", Fouweather soon noticed the change in her eating habits, coupled with her extreme running regime, was having an impact on her education and mental wellbeing. 

"My running finally felt as though it was starting to come together, when in fact, my whole life was falling apart," she said.

Read more: Christopher Eccleston admits life-long anorexia and depression battle 'could have killed him'

Her parents, Joanna and Roy Fouweather started noticing something was wrong at the start of 2017, and decided to take their daughter to hospital. 

She was referred to the Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for the next day where doctors explained about orthorexia and encouraged her to stop exercising. 

But Fouweather found it difficult to stop and told her parents that she would commit suicide if they stopped her from running.

"CAMHS were threatening to get social services involved if I continued going, because they said I was at risk of having a heart attack, or worse," she says. 

"I didn’t think my life was worth or even capable of living if I couldn’t run.”

Watch: Psychologist reveals what you should never say to anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder. 

At the age of 16, Fouweather was sectioned and taken to Doncaster Royal Infirmary by ambulance where she spent three weeks getting her weight back up.

"I was in denial for a very long time," she explains. "I told everyone, including myself, that I was just eating in this way and exercising so much because I ‘took my running seriously.’

"I would think that my parents, CAMHS and my GP all wanted me to stop running because of problems they had.

"I thought that me exercising made them feel guilty because of their lack of exercise."

Having been transferred to specialist eating disorders clinic Riverdale Grange, in Sheffield, Fouweather spent seven months in 'chair rest' and attending therapy sessions.

She has now been in recovery for nearly three years and has to be careful not to exert herself due to her low bone density.

"I want people who are going through or who might know someone who is going through an eating disorder to know that there is help and support out there, and you don’t have to wait until you’re at breaking point to seek that help," Fouweather adds. 

Read more: Andrew Flintoff opens up about battle with bulimia in BBC documentary

Fouweather (right) with friend Shannon at a music festival. (SWNS)
Fouweather (right) with friend Shannon at a music festival. (SWNS)

Excessive exercising and 'orthorexia'

According to eating disorder charity Beat, excessive exercising isn't an eating disorder in its own right, but it can be a symptom of an eating disorder and is most commonly seen in those affected by anorexia, bulimia or other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED).

Orthorexia isn't currently medically recognised as an eating disorder, which means that it wouldn't be someone's official diagnosis, but the term might be brought up by their doctor - depending on the patient's precise symptoms. 

Beat says orthorexia refers to an unhealthy obsession with eating “pure” food. 

"Food considered 'pure' or 'impure' can vary from person to person," the site explains. "This doesn’t mean that anyone who subscribes to a healthy eating plan or diet is suffering from orthorexia. 

"As with other eating disorders, the eating behaviour involved – 'healthy' or 'clean' eating in this case – is used to cope with negative thoughts and feelings, or to feel in control. Someone using food in this way might feel extremely anxious or guilty if they eat food they feel is unhealthy."

Lisa Fouweather pictured in hospital during a visit by her parents. (SWNS)
Lisa Fouweather pictured in hospital during a visit by her parents. (SWNS)

It can also cause physical problems, because someone’s beliefs about what is healthy may lead to them cutting out essential nutrients or whole food groups. 

All eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and should be treated as quickly as possible to give the sufferer the best chance of fully recovering.

Beat has listed some possible signs of orthorexia below, but it is important to remember, a person does not have to show all of them to be ill.

Behavioural signs

  • Cutting out particular foods and food groups from their diet in an attempt to make their diet more healthy. More and more foods may be cut out over time.

  • Taking an existing theory about healthy eating and adapting it with additional beliefs of their own.

  • Poor concentration.

  • Judgment about the eating habits of others.

  • Obsession with healthy or supposedly healthy diet.

  • Increased focus on what they’re eating may interfere with other areas of the person’s life, such as their relationships or work.

Psychological signs

  • Obsession with healthy or supposedly healthy diet.

  • Increased focus on what they’re eating may interfere with other areas of the person’s life, such as their relationships or work.

  • Feeling unable to put aside personal rules about what they can and can’t eat, even if they want to.

  • Feelings of anxiety, guilt, or uncleanliness over eating food they regard as unhealthy.

  • Emotional wellbeing is overly dependent on eating the “right” food.

  • Low mood or depression.

Physical signs

If someone with orthorexia is following a diet that cuts out important food groups or nutrients, this could lead to malnutrition, with signs such as:

  • Weight loss.

  • Feeling weaker.

  • Tiredness.

  • Taking a long time to recover from illness.

  • Feeling cold.

  • Low energy levels.

As with all eating disorders, it is very important to seek help as soon as possible if experiencing any of the symptoms.

For more information on eating disorders call BEAT on 0808 801 0677 or visit www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk for support.

Additional reporting SWNS.

Watch: Children who use social media 'more likely to develop eating disorder'

Subscribe Now
Subscribe Now