Liposuction, Laxatives: Military Struggles to Make Weight

Like many in the U.S. Marine Corps, Gunnery Sgt. Torres, 34, looks like the model of a great build. For 15 years, his career has been defined by ruck marches, long runs, and physical demands of deployment. And for many years Torres body built to keep up his strength.

After all, he is among the so-called few and proud.

"I'm not trying to sound arrogant, but I've been the best at almost anything I've done," said Torres.

Anything, that is, except for remaining within the Corps' regulation weight standards.

Under the Marines height and weight protocol, Torres, who stands five feet six inches tall, is required to weigh less than 170 pounds. Torres says he's around 178 pounds, mostly because of his muscle build. But that's not a good enough reason for the Marines, said Torres.

"Your career could be on the line if you don't make weight," said Torres, adding that he's always struggled to stay within the limits. "So you'll go through extremes if you don't make weight."

Although most marines look physically fit, many crash diet, and some resort to starving before physical tests, so they can meet the weight standards. Appetite suppressants, laxatives, and other supplements run rampant within the military.

A 2009 study by officers at the Naval Post Graduate School found that nearly one in three Marines turned to excessive and at times unhealthy methods to meet the weight standards.

In fact, Torres is now considering liposuction, a procedure which is becoming an increasing trend in the military.

Servicemembers in every military branch undergo routine physical fitness tests and are measured for regulation height and weight standards. If they fail height and weight standards, the circumference of their neck and midsection are tape measured for body fat percentage – a process known as 'making tape.'

Dr. Robert Peterson, a plastic surgeon who runs Athena Clinic in Honolulu, estimated nearly three-fourths of about 50 servicemembers he consults ask for liposuction specifically so they can make tape.

"Liposuction is not going to make difference on the weight, just on the tape measurement. It takes off inches in the middle, between the skin and stomach muscle, and gives you a more favorable ratio," said Peterson.

According to Peterson, for many, only about two or three pounds need to be taken from the midsection to accomplish the tape circumference standards.

"It's not the amount of weight but where the weight is that'll make the difference," said Peterson. "If they're active duty military, they're usually healthy. And if you don't take out a lot of fat, liposuction is incredibly safe."

Making Tape to Keep Career

While the military offers naturally healthier and less costly ways to drop the extra pounds, some fear the ultimate cost of their career.

When servicemembers fail to meet tape standards, many are sent through a strict lifestyle regimen called a body composition program, or BCP. But according to many in the military, BCP is considered a symbol of failure.

According to Torres, promotion boards many times overlook those who have a record of going through BCP. And failing the program can end military careers.

"You have a better chance at recovering from a DUI than being on BCP," said Torres.

Torres is scheduled to be evaluated for a promotion early 2011.

"Even though I technically look within standards, they will see I'm over my max [weight]," he said. "They will always prefer others over me."

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