cotton balls

Over the years, people have tried some crazy (and dangerous) things in the name of weight loss. Cotton balls are just one of the latest.

The cotton ball diet is so called because those in search of a smaller waistline eat cotton balls soaked in juice to curb their appetite and dramatically cut their daily calorie intake. But eating cotton balls isn’t just unappetizing. It’s potentially deadly.

According to news sources, the cotton ball diet trend emerged in the modeling industry, where women are encouraged to stay dangerously thin in the name of fashion. Eating cotton balls flavored with juice can help them feel full without consuming food.

The Cotton Ball Diet as an Eating Disorder

Eating cotton balls, or any non-food item, in an effort to lose weight is not a “diet.” It’s disordered eating. And like eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and bingeing, the cotton ball diet comes with serious potential health risks.

Did You Know?
About 20 million American women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). But this estimate could be on the low side because many people with eating disorders are never treated.

Eating disorders typically stem from body dissatisfaction. About half of people treated for eating disorders also suffer from depression. In other words, people who use approaches like the cotton ball diet could be dealing with some very deep-seated issues.

Fatal Complications

Extreme dieting always comes with risks, and the cotton ball diet is certainly no exception. Here are just four ways it can cause you significant harm.

1. Intestinal Obstruction and Bezoars

Your body can’t digest cotton balls, so they’ll remain in your stomach or intestines. They may mix with mucus and other food particles, creating a mass known as a bezoar.

When something can’t be digested, it can obstruct the digestive tract. Initial signs of an obstruction include:

  • nausea
  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • abdominal distention

An intestinal obstruction prevents food and liquids from passing through. Left untreated, it can lead to the death of healthy tissues and infection. An intestinal obstruction is a medical emergency, and bezoars must be surgically removed.

2. Anorexia Nervosa

An eating and psychological disorder, anorexia nervosa involves an “extreme fear” of gaining weight. People with anorexia will go to potentially deadly extremes in order to lose weight and keep it off. This includes starvation by a diet of cotton balls.

Though excessive weight loss may be one of the early signs of anorexia, symptoms can include:

  • bloating
  • abnormal hair growth
  • absence of menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • fatigue
  • osteoporosis
  • abnormal heart rhythms

Among mental disorders, eating disorders have the highest death rate. The death rate for anorexia is 4 percent. It’s often caused by heart or other organ failure.

3. Toxicity

Cotton balls aren’t pure cotton, picked off an organically grown plant. The fibers are often processed with bleach and other chemicals. This processing results in the creation of dioxins.

According to the World Health Organization, dioxins that come naturally through the food chain can lead to reproduction and developmental problems. They may also disrupt hormones, damage immune function, and even cause cancer. Dioxins are particularly dangerous because they’re chemically stable and can remain in the body for 7 to 11 years.

While we all consume some dioxins by eating animal products, the level of dioxins consumed in the cotton ball diet is likely much higher.

4. Malnutrition

Malnutrition occurs when the body is unable to get the nutrients it needs for survival. Symptoms include:

  • pale skin
  • rashes
  • bruising
  • achy joints
  • thinning hair
  • bleeding gums
  • sensitivity to light

Long-term malnutrition, like that which may occur with disordered eating, can lead to increased risk of infection and even death.

The Takeaway

Long-term weight loss and maintenance can be achieved through a healthy diet and regular exercise. The cotton ball diet isn’t only a bad weight loss approach, but a potentially deadly one.