Wrestling with Eating Disorders

Wrestler slamming his opponent

Contributor: Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin Ph.D., Editor in Chief, Addicted Minds & Associates

Making weight for High School Athletes can be quite challenging during a time when their bodies are growing and requiring even more fuel to compete at higher levels of competition. This can also turn into a very dangerous eating disorder in these young athletes that no one involved wants to discuss; however, the situation must be talked about if the athlete is to gain coping skills to regain health and balance.
Young athletes feeling pressure to make weight!

Wrestling is a great sport with a rich history; however, this sport also has one of the worst records when it comes to young athletes feeling the pressure to “make weight” prior to a match or competition. Currently, there are fourteen High School weight classes ranging from 106 pounds to two hundred and eighty-five pounds; there are approximately two-hundred-thousand wrestlers across the country, the idea is to have approximately seven percent of the wrestlers in each weight class.

Often wrestlers try to gain an advantage by competing in the lowest possible weight class; this can put the young athlete’s health at risk.

Dangerous Practices

This sport requires that the coach and athlete pay attention to a daily workout routine, diet, daily weighing, and overall health. The athlete must weigh in prior to competitions at the official weigh-ins. If the athlete does not make weight, they usually have a limited window of time to make weight before the match; typically, an hour to an hour and a half depending on the state and the official High School rules.

Some of the ways that wrestlers have cut weight in the past:

  • Running on the bus
  • Running or riding exercise bike while wearing rubber or plastic suits (Illegal)
  • Spitting constantly dehydrates the athlete
  • Laxatives
  • Throwing up
  • Eating only oranges or not eating for days
  • Running in steam rooms or hot shower
  • Wrestle teammate in rubber or plastic suits
  • Get dropped off two miles from the match and run there

All of these practices are very dangerous and can harm the athlete, possibly even lead to death in certain circumstances. The wrestler would be run down and exhausted before the match ever started; this could lead to injury or worse. These practices often led to eating disorders that the athletes would not discuss with anyone; however, they would binge and purge, utilize laxatives, etc., even in the off-season to keep their weight down.

By season’s end they were worn out!

Two men wrestlingAll of these drastic measures that were done over and over again would cause muscle wasting, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance. All they were really losing was water weight pre-match which could cause damage to the heart if prolonged and done too often. It was very hard on the light and middle-weight guys mentally as well; by season’s end, they were worn out!

Wrestling is one of the toughest sports that there is to start with, it’s just you and your opponent; no one is going to help you, win or lose. It’s up to coaches to make sure that their athletes are not cutting weight in these unhealthy ways.

New Safer Practices

An athlete should not have to lose weight in order to compete; they should be able to compete in their natural weight class. Athletes must learn to say no to cutting significant amounts of weight in order to compete. Wrestlers should be weighed in and out at practice to make sure that they are not losing an unhealthy amount of weight.

No athlete should be allowed to compete with less than a seven-percent body-fat assessment. No athlete should be allowed to lose more than 1.5% of their body weight in a week. All coaches should be keeping a log of all of their athlete’s weights that gets reported to the National Wrestling Coaches Association on their website.

Still Far from Perfect!

Two men wrestling after whistleIt’s better than it used to be; however, it’s still far from perfect. There is no doubt that things have improved and the days of rubber suits on exercise bikes are over. The area that seems to be lacking most today is emphasis on nutrition from both the athlete’s coaches and their teachers. This information would help prevent the unhealthy diet practices going on today.

They need a good course on basic nutrition, eating enough protein to build muscle, calories in versus calories out, simple and complex carbs, good and bad fats, when to eat, the importance of lots of water, and balance in your diet. The instructor should also cover eating disorders and the effects of purging, binging, laxative use, etc. In time, the more experienced athletes will be able to train the younger athletes on healthy eating habits.

I witnessed the problem first hand

Wrestler about to be pinnedI was a varsity High School wrestler for four years in High School 1976 through 1980; back then they had an unlimited or superheavyweight-class which since has been eliminated. I never had to worry about making weight in High School because I was a Super-Heavy-Weight.

I always felt sorry for the little guys trying to make weight; there were injuries and long-term problems caused to some people because of the drastic weight cuts they had to do. Later on, I became a varsity wrestling coach and referee. The rule changes that protected the athletes from drastic weight cuts were a welcomed change.

Imagine how hard it was or is for a male athlete in High School to talk about developing an eating disorder with their coach, or teammates; especially in a sport like wrestling. You are basically in a six-minute street fight with rules with another kid, how do you tell your coach or teammate that you can’t control an eating disorder when they’re counting on you to be all about controlling your body to help win the match!

There is help available!

The thing is that athletes don’t necessarily have to tell their coach or teammates; they can get help elsewhere. The athlete can talk with a therapist in total confidentiality without the coach or teammates ever knowing. The main issue is that they get help for this life-threatening disorder.

No eating disorder should be treated lightly or left untreated; these are dangerous conditions. If you or someone that you care about has an eating disorder, contact a professional in the industry today; there is help available.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Are there other sports that may affect someone susceptible to an eating disorders? Which sports and what activities do you think we should be concerned within those sports?

About the Author: Reverend Dr., Provincial Superintendent Kevin T. Coughlin PhD., is an International Certified Master Addictions Coach, specializing in Drug & Alcohol abuse addiction recovery & family recovery coach, gambling addiction, Life coaching, Christian Coaching, Case Management, Prevention & Relapse Prevention, Lama, Ethics, Spirituality, Sexual Addiction, Anger Management, Domestic Violence Advocacy, Interventionist & Life Recovery Coach, Licensed & Ordained Minister. He is Founder & the Spiritual Director of New Beginning Ministry, Inc., a residential addiction recovery program. He is an instructor at The Addictions Academy and the President and CEO of Phase II Christian Coaching, LLC.

He has been awarded a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Counseling, Master’s Degree in Christian Counseling, and Doctorates Degrees PhD, DCC, DDVCA, DLC, DD, and is a Board Certified by DIT Seminary IN Christian counseling. He is an Associate Professor at Dayspring Christian University and a Board Member, and has been approved by the Board for a year of study to be consecrated a Bishop at the Florida Conference next year.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 23, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com