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A loss that is dangerous

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Follow the right rules for losing weight

Wrestling, boxing and bodybuilding are popular competitive sporting events with an ugly side that we rarely hear about. Some competitors in these events try to lose weight rapidly, often with serious consequences to their health. Rapid weight loss in boxing and wrestling helps the person to participate in the lower weight category where his or her size is an advantage. Often, unscrupulous coaches try to goad a youngster into losing weight with the lure of glory or cash. In bodybuilding, rapid weight loss thins the tissues covering the muscles, thereby making the muscles more prominent. Athletes rapidly regain weight once the competition is over. This `weight cycling' occurs many times in a player's career. Rapid weight loss is dangerous at any age. In a youngster, it may also compromise growth. The methods used to lose weight are straight out of a physician's nightmare: diet pills, forced vomiting, diuretics (to increase urine volume and fluid loss), going thirsty for long periods, steam baths, laxatives and starvation. The consequences of such weight cycling by dehydration and starvation can be devastating. In broad terms, such behaviour affects physical and mental health. Dehydration and the methods used to achieve it can cause electrolyte disturbances, the consequences of which can be fatal. Severe dehydration can cause renal failure. Starvation to achieve weight loss can alter hormone status, cause pancreatitis and reduce muscle mass. Over a long term, this behaviour can stunt growth. Youngsters on such regimens do badly on scholastic tests. Youngsters taking up wrestling or boxing should learn what the acceptable and healthy weight ranges are for their height. It is okay to maintain weight at either end of this spectrum, but `competition weight' is less important than their growth or health. The rules for healthy weight loss in an athlete are no different from the rules for the public: lose weight gradually, preferably by a combination of safe dieting and exercise. Parents need to have some idea of their child's weight and ideal weight-height data. A muscled youngster can lose weight and still look bulky; nothing but a weekly weight measurement will reveal the truth.

RAJIV. M

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