Much of the discussion of cutting weight in wrestling -- on both the pro and con sides -- focuses on the short-term effects of the practice. However, research into eating habits and disorders indicates that cutting weight may have effects that last long after the end of your last competitive match.
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According to health writer and certified health counselor Maya Paul, the eating habits you develop during childhood follow you into your adult life. Cutting weight for wrestling often follows a cycle of strict fasting followed by several days of binge eating — both of which are unhealthy physically and psychologically. If an athlete follows this pattern through his high school and/or college years, it can lead to similar eating patterns as an adult.
More than 75 percent of youth wrestlers have practiced dehydration for weight loss as a competitive practice, according to Vanderbilt University. Although losing a little water weight is part of the natural cycle of your body, severe dehydration can cause lasting damage to your kidneys and heart. As the 1997 deaths of three college wrestlers from dehydration weight loss proved, it can even be fatal -- which is perhaps the longest-term effect of all.
Although most wrestlers use weight cutting as a tool for competitive success and restrict themselves to the "best practices" of water weight loss and calorie restriction, Vanderbilt cited 1995 research that found that as many as 8 percent of competitive wrestlers used purging and 75 percent used frequent fasting to drop pounds. In any other high school students, those practices would be called bulimia and anorexia. A longitudinal study of eating disorders, published in 2001 by Dr. Lisa Kotler and colleagues at Columbia University, showed a direct correlation between having an eating disorder as a teen and continuing that disorder well into adulthood.
The Good News
Most of the long-term effects of severe weight cutting are bad news, but there can be some value in reasonable efforts to make weight for competition. As martial-arts expert and coach John Graybeal writes in "The Art of Empowering Children," the habit of successfully meeting challenges begins during childhood. A wrestler who aims to lose a few pounds to make weight and succeeds through reasonable application of discipline and personal sacrifice is laying groundwork for a successful adult life.
If you or your child are considering competitive wrestling, visit a doctor first to get a clean bill of health and discuss healthy practices for losing and maintaining weight.
- "The Art of Empowering Children"; John Graybeal; 2003
- "Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry"; Longitudinal relationships between childhood, adolescent, and adult eating disorders; Lisa A. Kotler, et al.; 2001
- Helpguide; Healthy Eating for Children and Teens; Maya W. Paul and Lawrence Robinson