Answer me this: Do you think it is okay for an otherwise healthy person to diet rigidly, overexercise and sit in saunas to lose every ounce possible before a weigh-in as long as the behavior stopped after a few months?
What if that person was you and people turned a blind eye to your unusual behavior, and even rewarded it, if you hit your goal weight?
I’m not talking about an eating disorder here. I’m talking about the world of wrestling.
Call me on this if I’m wrong, but with the exception of jockeys, I don’t think I can name another male-dominated sport that is so overly focused on weight. And not only is it considered perfectly okay, but “it’s just a part of the sport,” according to a coach in this article.
It sounds like an unhealthy obsession - and an unnecessary hell - to me. This is all just my own opinion, of course, but it seems wrong that high school and college-age boys - the hefty majority of those that participate in the sport - are rigidly dieting, overtraining and sitting in saunas to lose every ounce possible before a weigh-in. All for a number - a number that seems pretty low when compared to the average weight range of others with similar age and height, no less.
Weight has a strange twist in wrestling when compared to other mens’ sports: less weight is better. This goes against the typical standard where being the biggest and strongest is considered ideal for men. In wrestling, if you don’t make weight, you don’t get to compete. With stakes that high, it’s no wonder that wrestlers stick to their diets and exercise until they drop. Forgive the cliche, but it fits: If they wanna play, they have to pay.
Again, I just don’t think this is healthy. And let me be upfront: I am not a wresting fan. I just don’t get it. I wouldn’t willingly enter a gym that is overrun with the strong odor of sweaty guys clobbering each other. My husband’s gym socks are bad enough, thanks. I also feel awkward when I see men in spandex try and pin each other down in the name of competition. There. I got that out of the way.
My distaste of the sport aside, I still think that the lack of objection to weight control measures in wrestling is something to keep an eye on. States have recently put some restrictions on the degree of measures that wrestlers can take to make weight in high schools, but these new regulations are comparable to denying models with a BMI below 18 to walk the runway. It’s a start, but far from a real solution.
But here’s a dilemma that has been running in my head for the last couple of weeks: Why is altering weight such a big deal?
What if it isn’t?
Before you rip me a new one, hear me out. In this day and age, we humans are capable of changing many things about ourselves. If we don’t like the way we handle something, we can work toward altering that behavior. We can train ourselves to think of things differently. Physically, we have endless capabilities. We can change our hair color with a little box of dye. Paleness from the dark days of winter can be cured with some time in the spring sunshine, or a tanning bed. Colored contacts will change eye color the moment you pop them in. The list goes on and on. The physical alterations I listed are not permanent, for the most part. So perhaps changing body shape (weight) is no different. In the context of wrestling, participants in the sport are simply altering their bodies so they can compete. The same could be argued of dieters, although their intent is to keep weight down, whereas that’s not necessarily the goal of wrestlers. The methods are borderline dangerous, but they are temporary measures.