Many competitive Jiujiteira view weight cutting as a necessary evil of the sport. I used to cut weight before every competition, even the local ones where there weren’t enough female competitors to create weight classes.
The first time I talked to my coach about cutting weight I thought, “Maybe you should tell him about your eating disorder.” But I had been in recovery for years (so I thought at the time), so I didn’t think it was relevant information. I never mentioned it to him or to any of the other coaches I worked with over the years that I trained as a competitor.
During the last weight cut I ever did, in preparation for my first Muay Thai fight, I crossed the line between cutting weight and relapsing into my eating disorder. I was eating far less than recommended by my coaches. I was doing three or four workouts every day. I was constantly in a dangerous caloric deficit and I knew it. But I kept telling myself that it was fine because I was a competitor and weight cutting was part of being a competitor.
Eventually, I got an injury so severe that I couldn’t train, and my opportunity to fight went out the window. When I couldn’t train anymore, my eating disorder got worse. I finally had to admit that I needed help.
Now that I’m training again, after taking a multi-year hiatus to get my body and brain healthy, I will never cut weight again. And, as anyone at my gym will tell you, I’m pretty vocal about how I believe that weight cutting is a dangerous practice that should be eliminated from combat sports. But I know that it’s a central part of the sport for a lot of people, so I understand why competitors still do it.
That being said, I think it’s important to be aware of the signs that your weight cut may be headed into the danger zone.
You Become Obsessed With Food
Weight cuts require meticulous attention to your diet. However, there’s a difference between paying close attention to your diet and becoming obsessed with food.
If you’re constantly thinking about when you’re going to eat, what you’re going to eat, and how many calories or macronutrients are in your food, that’s food obsession. This kind of fixation on food is a result of calorie cutting. When your body is hungry, it sends signals for you to eat. If you ignore those signals, your body becomes more insistent, forcing you to fixate on food. Maintaining a long term caloric deficit can actually trigger the kinds of thoughts and behaviors that lead to eating disorders.
You Start Bingeing Uncontrollably
Another side effect of cutting calories, especially over an extended period of time is bingeing. You might think that binges are a result of lack of discipline, but they’re actually a biological response to a caloric deficit. When you maintain a caloric deficit over a long period of time, your body will respond by demanding that you eat, which often manifests in binge eating. Falling into a cycle of sticking to your meal plan religiously and then bingeing uncontrollably is a sign that your weight cut could be headed into the danger zone.
You Start Ignoring Your Body’s Signals
Hunger, fatigue, and pain are all messages from your body that tell you what it needs. As Jiujiteira, we’re often encouraged to work through the pain, push through the fatigue, stick to the meal plan even if we’re hungry.
But ignoring what your body is telling you is what food issues thrive on. The line between dieting and an eating disorder and between compulsive exercise and training is ridiculously thin. So, it’s important to listen to your body and meet its needs, even if that conflicts with your weight cut and your training plan.
You Start Shaming Yourself
Yes, competing requires dedication and toughness — both mental and physical. But when your weight cut and your training start to cause more negative feelings than positive, it can have awful long term impacts. Feeling shame every time you “cheat” on your meal plan or skip a workout to rest isn’t healthy.
Eating disorders and compulsive exercise thrive on shame. They thrive on you feeling bad enough about yourself to treat your body and your mind poorly. When shame becomes your motivator instead of love for the sport or a desire to test your skills, you’ve crossed a line.
If you notice any of these thoughts or behaviors during your weight cut, it’s possible you’re headed into the danger zone. I would encourage you to talk to your coaches about how you’re feeling and assess whether it’s appropriate to back off your weight cut. No competition is worth sacrificing your mental and physical health.
Robin Zabiegalksi i is a writer and editor from Vermont. Her work has been published in several digital media publications and literary magazines. She’s been training BJJ for several years and she is a 2 stripe blue belt, currently training at Combat Fitness MMA in Winooski Vermont. When she’s not writing or training, she can be found playing with her toddler, hiking or snowboarding depending on the season, or bingeing her latest TV obsession.