Diet and nutritional experts say the so-called “cotton-ball diet” has been around for quite some time now, but a string of recent YouTube videos and social media shares has turned it into a growing diet fad. Now health care professionals are worried that this new diet craze among teenagers could be the most dangerous one yet.
“You're really kind of playing russian roulette when you use these types of diets,” treatment professional at the Eating Recovery Center of California, Jennifer Lombardi, told KCRA. “The biggest concern is it can cause a blockage in the digestive system, and if that happens to a certain extent, they are going to end up in surgery. Just like with any extreme diet, it is very dangerous because you’re depleting your body of needed nutrients.”
What exactly does the cotton-ball diet entail?
In videos posted to YouTube, girls soak cotton balls into orange juice or lemonade in order to add taste. The cotton balls are consumed to either limit the amount of food the individual eats throughout the day or to act as a meal replacement. Extreme dieters believe the expanding cotton in the stomach will trick the body into thinking it is full.
Experts who have come across this dieting fad are worried about its immediate and long term consequences for teenagers. By ingesting a material such as cotton, doctors say a person can put themselves at risk for a number of health issues ranging from choking to intestinal blockage. Some don’t consider it a diet fad at all and relate it more to some type of eating disorder.
“The problem being that taking the non-nutritive foods is you're not getting the vitamins, the minerals, the calories, the proteins, the fats that our bodies need to survive off of,” manager of Fairwinds Eating Disorder Program, Kourtney Gordon, told WTSP. “So you can have a lot of growth and development issues, you can have complications of being malnourished."
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 40 to 60 percent of young girls begin to show anxiety over their body size or shape by the age of 6. Approximately 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Clinically recognized eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders.