What Is The Cotton Ball Diet And Is It Safe For You?

Losing weight can be difficult and time-consuming, but that's not an excuse to starve yourself. Despite this, more than 22 million Americans go on fad diets each year, reports the American Council on Science and Health. The cabbage soup diet, juice cleanses, and other crash diets can take a toll on your health, leading to nutrient deficiencies. Some require cutting out entire food groups or skipping meals, which can result in disordered eating. Others involve questionable practices, like eating baby food or cotton balls dipped in juice.

You've heard right — some models and teen girls resort to the cotton ball diet to get leaner. This crazy diet became popular in 2013, spreading like wildfire on social media. "When we talk about something like this we certainly aren't talking about health anymore," said Lynn Grefe, president of the National Eating Disorders Association, in an interview with ABC News. "We're talking about weight and size and certainly something that is potentially very, very dangerous."

Fad diets are not sustainable in the long run and can deprive your body of vital nutrients, causing electrolyte imbalances, heart problems, muscle loss, infertility, or even death, notes Oklahoma State University. The same goes for the cotton ball diet, which carries serious health risks.  

What's wrong with the cotton ball diet?

The cotton ball diet claims to suppress hunger, making it easier to lose weight. You're supposed to dip the cotton balls in fruit juices or smoothies and eat one at a time. "Since cotton is non-digestible and has something of a sponge-type effect, it might be an initial feeling of fullness in the stomach," explained Dr. Fred Campbell in an interview with Local 3 News. This practice, however, may cause a blockage of the intestines and have fatal consequences. Dieters may also develop gastrointestinal bezoars, or masses of undigested material in the bowel, says Healthline.

Another problem is that most cotton balls are heavily processed and may contain harmful chemicals, warns ABC News. What's more, cotton balls can be contaminated with dioxins, a class of compounds linked to cancer, infertility, and hormonal imbalances, notes Healthline.  

Last but not least, this diet trend can lead to malnutrition. Cotton balls have no nutritional value, whereas fruit juices are low in protein, fiber, and fats. From meal prep to food journaling, there are safer ways to lose weight and keep the pounds off. 

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).