Unsafe Weight Loss Practices

The following article is excerpted from my latest book, Matt Hoover’s Guide to Life, Love, and Losing Weight by Matt Hoover (winner of “The Biggest Loser” Season 2) and Sheri Colberg, Ph.D.

Fact or Fiction?
“The unhealthy practices that wrestlers often use to make their weight class before a competition, such as dehydration, have no lasting impact on long-term health.”

Fiction. It is widely known that wrestlers, boxers, and other athletes who have to weigh in prior to competing to qualify for certain weight classes have traditionally engaged in unhealthy, short-term weight loss practices, like dehydration in a sauna, avoiding drinking fluids, and eating very little on the day of a weigh-in. The NCAA finally instituted some new rules about weigh-ins and changes in body fat percentages over the wrestling season that have helped reduce some of these practices and deterred some extreme weight loss behaviors.

Coaches and fellow wrestlers are primary influences on weight loss strategies. In a recent study, the primary methods of weight loss were gradual dieting (79 percent), increased exercise (75 percent), fasting (55 percent), sauna use to increase sweating (28 percent), and rubber/plastic suits (27 percent). Laxatives and vomiting are seldom used to lose weight nowadays, but some wrestlers still resort to such extremes.

What you may not know is that some of these common practices can have longer-lasting impacts on your health. In the past, athletes have lost their lives from taking extreme measures to lose drastic amounts of weight. It is unfortunate that such tragedies occurred, even more so because those incidents may have been avoided by using sound weight loss techniques. Wrestling-related incidences largely prompted the NCAA’s changed policies, but these improvements have not necessarily made their way down to high school wrestling or up to international competitions, where extreme and rapid weight loss is still commonplace.

Moreover, frequent, extreme weight cycling in high school wrestlers can delay growth and maturation and lead to future body image issues and eating disorders. Think twice about trying to lower your own body weight in any manner other than by minimally cutting back on calories (no more than 500 to 1,000 calories a day) and exercising moderately.

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