Weight Loss by Athletes and Health Concerns
Waking up, sophomore Mike Fumagalli would peel off the garbage bags and layers of clothing he had worn to bed the night before hoping to "sweat away" some extra weight.
Throughout the day, he would ask teachers to use their trashcans and would spit constantly. Sometimes, he would even cut his hair or sit in a sauna, all to lose a couple more pounds.
Many people may wonder why someone would go to such extreme measures just to lose a few pounds.
For Fumagalli, the answer was simply: "Everyone likes to win. That's why you cut weight."
"Cutting weight" is a term that refers to a wrestler's attempt to lose a certain amount of weight in order to compete in a particular weight category in wrestling competitions. Some wrestlers choose to lose weight so they can find a spot on the team, said Keith Healy, varsity wrestling coach of the nationally ranked team at Smallville High School.
Since only a certain number of slots are open per weight class, a wrestler may be beat out of a spot at one weight but perhaps can drop down to a lower weight where more openings are available.
Junior Sean Randich said that cutting weight also could be important because as one moves down in weight classes it is easier to win.
A common weight-loss method among the athletes is to wrap their body in garbage bags during exercise to maximize sweat loss, said Randich.
He added that while the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) prohibits this method, it is still commonly practiced.
JT wrestling coach "Mac" McLaughlin said that although he could not control what athletes did at home, at practice, garbage bags are not allowed. He added that most of his wrestlers, in fact, wear only shorts and a T-shirt to practice.
Taking laxatives is another method of rapid weight loss. Senior Tim Holman said he had "done the whole Ex-Lax thing," and that while he thinks that a "normal person" should not use such weight loss methods, it is okay for wrestlers.
"In wrestling, you're not necessarily going for permanent weight loss. Weight loss isn't the goal but a means of attaining the goal," said Holman.
Rachel Haas, a registered dietitian at Provena St. Joseph Medical Center, says she discourages wrestlers from cutting weight because it is very "detrimental" to the body.
Health complications such as lowered blood sugar, increased use of muscle tissue, reduced ability for muscles to use oxygen and reduced ability for the body to regulate temperature could all result from rapid weight loss, said Haas. In fact, between November 7 and December 9, 1997, three collegiate wrestlers died after trying to rapidly lose weight. The wrestlers were using weight loss methods now prohibited by the NCAA, including the use of vapor-impermeable suits.
A report by Dr. Daniel Remick of the Centers for Disease Control said the three wrestlers, having practiced weight-loss techniques such...