HANGING IN T
THE BALANCE “Cutting weight” is different than a simple diet. It is an often-hidden aspect of many athletes’ lives, involving radical dieting and exercise to drop weight as quickly as possible in order to advance in their sport.
rachael sun editor-in-chief
or senior Michael Masset, the locker room means much more than just a place to change in and out of uniform. The locker room is host to the wrestling team’s Tanita-brand scale, designed to detect the slightest change in an athlete’s weight. During the wrestling season Masset checks his weight daily, sometimes twice a day. At any given moment, he must be able to report a number to his coach. “There’s an expectation for us to keep ourselves accountable. At the Varsity level, being weight conscious isn’t really an option. It’s the culture here*,” said Masset. And this obsession with losing weight spans over more than just the wrestling world; ballet dancers, gymnasts, and horse riders all face pressure to slim down as well. For those involved, it seems only natural to fit the mold their sport calls for. Whether that translates to
THIS IS A DAYâ€™S WORTH OF FOOD for a weight-cutting wrestler like Michael Masset, 12. The meal includes a granola bar, diet green tea, and grilled chicken (without the skin). The caloric total doesnâ€™t even equate the recommended count for one meal.
dieting, exercise, or both, the end goal is to be - literally - “in shape.”
During season, his daily diet will consist of a selection of granola bars, diet green tea, and lean chicken (sans skin). Sweets, sodas, and sauces are out of the question. “It’s difficult, of course. But as a wrestler who wants to win, it’s a sacrifice that you have to make*,” said Masset. For wrestlers, dropping enough weight to make it to the next weight class down will often determine a victory during competition. By cutting down on body fat, a competitor can ideally raise his ‘muscle to fat’ ratio higher than that of his opponent’s. “I would say at the Varsity level, it would be beneficial for about 80 percent of the boys to drop down to the lower weight class,” said Jeremy Pletz, wrestling coach. The benefits Pletz refers to range from in-competition performance to locker room status. In many occasions, a team member will only be considered for the Varsity team if he commits to dropping weight (if asked). According to Pletz, this occurs 80 percent of the time. “What I tell the kids is that I’m not going to take them how they are. I’m going to try put them in the best spot for them to be successful,” said Pletz. But while a lower weight class may be the ideal condition for a wrestler,
“If during a company audition two dancers were being compared, one skinnier than the other, I think they would choose the skinny one. Skinny, without any other variables involved.”
cutting weight too rapidly can also catastrophically result in a decline in performance. In order to maintain a competitive edge, Pletz drives home the importance of proper weight loss and education. “This sport has such a bad rep, and rightfully so, of kids wearing garbage bags to lose massive water weight. Once I can educate the parents and kids on that part, such as garbage bags being illegal, they get it,” said Pletz. “The ones that [cut] the wrong way, thinking they can do it just by losing water weight, usually end up falling behind on their performance.” For Masset, this proved true during his last high school season. Pursuant to state policy, wrestlers are only allowed to lose a certain amount of weight each week in preparation for an upcoming competition. The exact number permitted is determined by a formula that uses the wrestler’s body-fat percentage and set standards. Each player gets fat tested at the beginning of the season. Males that have less than six percent body fat are not allowed to compete. As one of the top wrestlers on the team, Masset aimed to make the _____ weight class from his pre-season weight of _____ pounds this year. At his pre-competition weigh in, however, he fell ____ short of the minimum weight he should have been at the time. Combined with mild dehydration, he was pulled out of the competition*.
featu And although disappointing, this sort of occurrence happens relatively often, says Pletz. “The sophomores who go their first time into it think they can lose all that weight the day before the match, and it doesn’t work. And suddenly, they’re not going to be wrestling that weekend. Those are the consequences, but again, it’s a learning experience.”
‘Of course I’m against eating disorders’
Like Masset and Pletz, Evelyn Garrett, 11, has experience in an environment where weight is one of the primary concerns - the ballet industry. Ballet’s obsession with weight and being skinny stems from choreographer George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet company, founded in the 20th century. Based off of his standard leggy
thin ribbed primas, ballet authorities have continued to pressure their dancers to lose excess body mass to this day. “I’ve experienced where an instructor has told a dancer that they need to slim down. Two times actually. Both times it was harmful for the students,” said Garrett. “They started doing harmful things to themselves. The teacher created a negative consequence on the student in both cases.” As potentially harmful as it is, it is common for instructors to pressure their students to lose weight in the ballet world. Because unlike pianists, or vocalists, the only instruments dancers have are their own bodies. For better or for worse, their bodies must therefore be in peak condition. For the dancers who hope to someday enter the ballet industry, weight loss is not an option. While perfect technique is somewhat evened out at the topmost level, a
naturally fatless frame is not. “Spending so much time in front of a full length mirror with a tight fitting outfit on makes you notice the quote on quote ‘flaws’ in your body more. I think that anyone puts up with that would want their bodies to be perfect,” said Garrett. Garrett benefits from a naturally high metabolism, easily the most enviable trait within the entire ballet world. For others, the pressure to match the desirable ballerina body type - thin frame, long neck, short torso - becomes an unavoidable struggle. “If during a company audition two dancers were being compared, one skinnier than the other, I think they would choose the skinny one. Skinny, without any other variables involved. I think that the skinnier one will get the role as long as she doesn’t look sickly,” said Garrett. “Of course I’m against eating
IT’S DIFFICULT, OF COURSE. BUT AS A WRESTLER WHO WANTS TO WIN,
ure disorders. Unfortunately, that’s just how the ballet world works.” And so it becomes a vicious cycle of competition. Dancers strive to fit the the roles companies demand of them, pushing themselves to the edge of physical perfection. Faced with full length mirrors, a select number of spots, and fellow prima ballerinas, those entering the ballet industry hold each other accountable to losing an endless amount of weight.
Fruits and vegetables, a consistent exercise regime, hydration. For Masset and Garrett, it appears that most of their colleagues follow this cookie-cutter plan for weight maintenance. “In dance, you don’t eat carbs. You’re going to have to choose between eating a salad or a bowl of ice cream every day. And it’s not going to harm you by not eating
a piece of cake. That’s not what’s going to make you have an eating disorder,” said Garrett. At the same time, Garrett advises a gradual modification to eating habits. “You need to fuel your body to help you exercise. Exercise - in smart, effective, and efficient way - helps a lot with keeping you in shape.” In the professional ballet industry, dancers work six to seven days each week. Each day, they spend four to twelve hours dancing. “During that time, it’s hard to sit on the couch and eat chocolate,” said Garrett. Masset and Pletz agree. According to Pletz, it is possible to lose up to five pounds (excluding water weight) during one of their two-hour wrestling practices. “It’s about portion size,” said Pletz. “Once you get to that you’re not actually sacrificing that much. Eat maybe three, four meals a day but cut down on portion size. You
actually can have that many meals because you end up burning it off.”
And so it boils down to: How much are these athletes really giving up? By subjugating themselves to what their sports call for, wrestlers and dancers, gymnasts and horse riders, may lose a little of the freedom that our society may otherwise term ‘acceptance.’ Acceptance of appearance. Acceptance of lifestyle. But by embracing the other culture that resides within their respective fields, these athletes gain discipline, perseverance, and strength. “It’s always their choice to cut weight,” said Pletz. Through a proper education and a knowledgeable approach, athletes may just as well be able to, willingly, hang in the balance. l
IT’S A SACRIFICE YOU HAVE TO MAKE.