Weight Cutting: The deadly diet fad

Weight cutting. What is it? Why do so many people hate it? And will it become the next big toxic diet-culture trend?

If you follow MMA, or any sport which involves an advertised weigh in, then you will likely know of the phrase ‘weight cutting’. If not, then this term refers to a short period of time in which athletes go through a potentially lethal weight loss regiment, with the aim of fitting into a specific weight-focused category. This could be light, middle or heavy weight depending upon the sport. And just to make things slightly more complicated, each sport has varying weight categories.

Weight cutting has long been the bane of many athletes lives, and as a competitive fighter who has fought in light, middle and heavy weight categories, I feel as though I can provide some unique insight into the whole process.

The brutal cut

Weight cutting can take an athlete’s weight from 170 pounds (12.1 stone) down to 145 pounds (10.3 stone) over the course of just 3 days. But how do athletes do this?

Using a broad assumption, athletes or those who participate in sport competitive are relatively fit. They work out often and look after their food intake, ensuring the are always top of their game. So, when an athlete wants to ‘cut weight’ where does the weight come from? It can’t be fat and it wouldn’t be muscle, as this would be counter productive. So, where is this weight coming from?

Water. The simple answer is water.

The human body is 65% water and so offers the greatest tool for weight loss, when wanting to cut weight quickly, without losing lots of muscle.

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Weight cutting is a torturous process and thus is often shrouded in controversy. Looking at the picture above of McGregor, it’s clear to see exactly how horrendous the weight cutting process is.

How to weight cut

For athletes to lose large amounts of water weight they need to dehydrate using a range of techniques, that also limits their food intake. Athletes will work out in heavy clothing in hot rooms, take extremely hot baths and spend hours in brutal saunas to lose as much water weight as possible by sweating.

At my best, I weigh around 135 pounds (9.7 stone) and am 167 cm (5.5 feet) tall. This naturally places me in a slightly heavier weight category for competitive martial arts (depending on the organisation). Given my height, preferably I want to be middle weight, which involves losing a few pounds 2 weeks before the weigh in. The process to reach this goal isn’t as brutal as water weight cutting. I simply limit my calorific intake and do more cardio. Overall not too soul crushing.

However, in the past I have gotten my weight down to about 119 pounds (8.5 stone) to fit into the lighter categories in 3 days. This process was brutal. For these fights, I had to undergo the water weight cutting regiment. If you want to know what this feels like, it feels like your body is dying around you. It’s a death trial period. You can’t think, you can’t walk. It’s an experience I never want to relive.

Athletes risk increasing their chances of long term brain damage, kidney problems and potential organ failure during dramatic weight cuts. Fighter Cyborg voiced these serious health related problems with weight cutting after she had to be taken to hospital. Cyborg removed so much water from her body that the doctor couldn’t actually extract any blood from her veins, due to her severely dehydrated state.

The new diet trend

From personal experience, whenever I mention weight cutting I’m often met with one of three responses ‘Wow, I could never do that!’ ‘How do you do it?’ and the worst ‘I need to lose a few pounds, can you tell me how to weight cut?

On the surface of it, weight cutting appears to be the ultimate solution to losing a few pounds and getting more toned. But looks are deceiving. Water weight cutting should not be used as a dieting technique. All these athletes you see weight cutting have a team of specialist health professionals that examine them rigorously throughout the whole process. Weight cutting at home can and will kill you, or leave you with long term organ damage, if done incorrectly and without specialist guidance.

Which is why I haven’t specifically included every step involved in weight cutting process. When asked to provide a weight cutting plan, I simply refuse.

Toxic Diet Culture

I know for a fact that even with all of the negatives stacked up against weight cutting, some people will still seek out cutting methods. Why? Because diet culture is toxic. We seem to have this idea that if we eat too much we must ‘punish’ ourselves by not eating or working out for hours, in an attempt to perform damage control. Or we seek out a quick fix that ‘improves’ our physical appearance through fad diets.

Diet culture rarely ever prioritises physical and mental health as a lifestyle. As I mentioned before, I’m the healthiest and strongest at 9.7 stone. I do this by eating and working out frequently. But I’m not on a diet. If I want fast food, I will order it. If I want a rest day, I will take one. And if I put on a few pounds, I’m not crushed. Why? Because being at my healthiest and strongest is a lifestyle, not a trend. Sure some people might want me thicker or thinner but for me personally, I am at my best at this weight and with this amount of muscle. I feel healthy and therefore am happier outside of the sports arena.

Weight goes up and down, and as humans sometimes we just need a break. As long as you feel healthy and are physically healthy in accordance with a medical professional, then that is the diet fad or trend you need to follow.

Written by

Content executive, charity co founder and (almost) published author for 2021.

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