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.
In the cotton ball diet, 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 nonfood item — in an effort to lose weight isn’t 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.
Eating disorders typically stem from body dissatisfaction. Nearly half of people treated for eating disorders are also living with mood disorders such as depression, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. In other words, people who use approaches like the cotton ball diet could be dealing with some mental health conditions.
Extreme dieting always comes with risks. 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:
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. 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 also include:
- abnormal hair growth
- amenorrhea, or the absence of menstruation
- abnormal heart rhythms
Among mental disorders, eating disorders have one of the highest death rates. According to the National Institute of Health, the death rate for anorexia is 10 percent. It’s often caused by heart or other organ failure.
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 (WHO), 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 many of us consume some dioxins by eating animal products, the level of dioxins consumed in the cotton ball diet is likely much higher.
Malnutrition occurs when the body is unable to get the nutrients it needs for survival. Symptoms include:
Long-term malnutrition, like that which may occur with disordered eating, can lead to increased risk of infection and even death.