11/17/2016 01:35 EST | Updated 11/17/2016 01:36 EST

'Weight Cutting' For Sport Is Eating Disorder By Another Name

sad karate

"I walk through the aisles of the grocery store to just look at food. I watch baking videos over and over, and then plan out exactly what I'm gonna eat as soon as I can eat again. Since I can't eat what I want, I bake the stuff I'm dreaming about so I can smell it and then give it to other people to eat. After starving myself, I give myself a few days to eat whatever junk food I want because I feel like I've earned it, but a few days usually ends up being a lot longer, since it's hard to stop once I start. I think about food 24 hours a day!"

These are some of the statements shared with me by a teenage athlete who was in the middle of cutting weight for a martial arts tournament. Interestingly, they completely echo some of the statements I made when I was in the middle of battling my eating disorder.


Not according to the journal of international study of sports nutrition, which stated, "While many men may outright reject the idea, frequent weight loss and thinking constantly about body weight is a sign of an eating disorder. Many combat athletes think obsessively about their weight, even when their body fat is quite low, and also have a greater tendency to binge. It's no wonder the researchers learned that combat athletes are more obese on average after ceasing participation in sports than other athletes.

Weight cutting for sport. Who does this and why?

There are several sports where athletes need to "make weight" in order to compete. Some of these sports include judo, wrestling, taekwondo and jiujitsu. Weight classes in combat sports exist for the safety of the athletes. The concept is that having athletes weigh the same amount will reduce the risk of serious injury to both fighters. That's the concept, but far from the reality, due to the amount of athletes who try to manipulate the system.

Instead of competing at their natural weights, they seek an advantage by dieting down to a lower weight in time to be weighed in and then quickly regain the weight before they compete, which can be as soon as the very next day. Their goal is to be heavier and stronger than their smaller competitors at the time of their match. As a result, many athletes put their bodies through extreme weight loss regimes before each and every tournament.

Professional fighter and coach, Maureen Riordon, feels very strongly about the dangers of weight cuts. According to Maureen:

"Cutting weight is stupid. Especially since the purpose of stepping on the scales in the first place is to ensure fighters are safely fighting people their same weight. What we do is already hard on our bodies. But now we're adding even more severe health issues that result from severe yo-yo dieting. As long as some fighters are cutting weight, it bullies the rest of us to do the same. If the only way you can reach a weight is through severe nutritional and water deprivation, that means you are not that weight class and it's all just a lie."

As dangerous as these rapid weight-loss practices are for adult athletes, the potential damage to young athletes is even scarier. In some sports, kids as young as eight years old using extreme measures to lose weight before competition.

Dr. Mohsen Kazemi, doctor of chiropractic sports and rehabilitation specialist, states in a journal titled "Weight cycling in adolescent Taekwondo athletes" that what is particularly striking, are the methods used to induce rapid weight loss, which range from nutritional restrictions to extreme physical demands, specifically: restriction, increased physical activity, passive (sauna) and active (sweat suit) dieting, fluid dehydration and even pathogenic methods such as diuretics, laxatives and self-induced vomiting.

Athletes should represent things like speed, strength and endurance instead of starvation, deprivation and manipulation.

Wait a minute... dieting, fluid restriction, laxatives and induced vomiting? Sounds like an eating disorder in the making to me. The fact is that while the motivations for the weight loss are different with disordered eating and weight cuts for sport, the results are often the same; an unhealthy relationship with food and serious, potential life threatening stress on their bodies.

Still not convinced?

Different degrees of dehydration can result in different symptoms. John Berardi, an expert in the field of sports nutrition explains:

"If a person dehydrates themselves by one per cent, they will experience temporary strain on their heart and a short-term drop in aerobic endurance. Five per cent dehydration means reduced strength and motor skills, along with potential fatigue, heat exhaustion and a lowered mental capacity. Hallucinations or heat stroke can occur at 10 per cent. Anything over 10 per cent presents the worst-case scenario; a coma or, in extreme circumstances, death."

Even the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) started making changes to their weight-cutting rules, when the health risks became impossible to ignore.

As a body image advocate and eating disorder survivor, I have personally worked with young athletes who have gone from working WITH their bodies, to fighting AGAINST them when what the scale said, became more important than how their bodies felt.

Athletes should represent things like speed, strength and endurance instead of starvation, deprivation and manipulation.

Something needs to change. There are many athletes and coaches who believe that athletes need to fight at or at least close, to their natural weight, but as Maureen Riordon explains, "As long as one person cuts weight, we're all forced to cut weight."

As the parent of two competitive athletes, I find the "win at any cost" attitude to be a terrifying one. Our kids should be kids first and athletes second. The most important thing we can do is surround them with a community of coaches and teammates who care more about their long-term health than short-term accomplishments. I understand that great achievements often take great sacrifice, but when it comes to health, how much sacrifice is just too much?

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