Eating disorders and athletes: Purging to make weight in boxing, wrestling and other sports - Sovereign Health Group
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make weight in boxing

In many fighting sports — for instance, wrestling or boxing — athletes are divided into weight classes. Weight classes are used to make sure that opponents are equally matched in terms of heaviness so that neither opponent has a weight-based advantage.

Unfortunately, the use of weight classes often encourages athletes to perform something known as weight cutting. Weight cutting is when athletes attempt to rapidly lose weight prior to the weigh-in so that they are placed in a lower weight class than they would be in otherwise. This places them on the upper end of the weight class, giving them a distinct advantage over their opponents.

Some examples of weight cutting include:

  • Sitting in a steam room or sauna to lose water weight
  • Taking an Epsom salt bath
  • Heavily restricting calories
  • Heavily restricting water intake
  • Purging through self-induced vomiting, laxatives or diuretics

Weight cutting encourages fighters to maintain poor — or even dangerous — eating habits. Often, these unhealthy eating habits can turn into fully-fledged eating disorders.

Dangers associated with weight cutting

Weight cutting poses numerous health risks. Some of these include elevated heart rate (because the body is not properly hydrated), increased blood pressure (again, because the body is improperly hydrated) and an increased risk of injury (due to vitamin deficiency).

In some instances, weight cutting can even lead to death. The recent death of Yang Jian Bing, a mixed martial arts fighter, was attributed to weight cutting. In order to lose weight before the weigh-in, Bing was taking diuretics to quickly lose water weight. He was rushed to the hospital for dehydration and possible heatstroke.

Weight cutting: Ultimately more harm than good

Even though individuals use weight cutting to gain an advantage over their opponents, the methods used to cut weight often have a detrimental effect on their performance. After all, it’s much harder to fight a person if you’re woozy or lightheaded due to poor nutrition.

So fighters, keep this in mind: Since there’s no guarantee it will help you win, it might just be better to avoid weight cutting in the first place.

Sovereign Health of California’s eating disorder program provides treatment for adult women suffering from eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Rather than using a one-size-fits-all method, our belief is that treating patients as individuals provides them with the best possible treatment to reach their goals. We provide our patients with cognitive behavioral therapy, nutrition education, monitored and appropriate physical exercise, equine therapy and regular meetings with a dietitian. We also teach mindfulness skills, stress management techniques, meal prep and cooking, life skills and relapse prevention. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer

To read the previous blog in the series go here: Eating disorders and athletes: Bulimia, body image and ballet

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