Last spring, Misty Shaffer gathered with her family at the airport and waited anxiously for the arrival of her husband who had been stationed in Afghanistan for 12 months. When Larry scanned the crowd for his wife, his jaw dropped when he spotted her. After secretly losing 100 pounds while he was deployed, all Misty could do was smile.
When he finally remembered to speak, the Army Specialist simply said one word, “Wow!”
I spoke with Misty by phone from her home in North Carolina. In a deep southern accent she confirmed that almost one year after surprising her husband, she has maintained her phenomenal weight loss. The story of how she lost the weight and why is still just as captivating as it was last year.
“I just wanted him to pick me up,” she said. During the long months without her husband, while she struggled with food cravings and cared for their young daughter, Misty held that vision in her mind. For the first time ever, she wanted to be swept into his arms.
The United States Army is investigating whether certain dietary supplements marketed towards athletes may have played a role in the deaths of two U.S. soldiers.
Top dietary supplements like Jack3d and OxyElite Pro were removed from military bases after two soldiers died last year from heart attacks during exercise, according to a spokesman for the Army’s assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. Last summer, a 22-year old soldier collapsed during a training run with his unit. Last fall, a 32-year old soldier at the same base collapsed after a physical fitness test. Toxicology reports show they had active ingredients from these supplements in their system, although they will not identify which ones.
These types of supplements are so popular among athletes because they contain the ingredient dimethylamylamine (DMAA), which is advertised to increase energy and metabolism. As a precaution, the Defense Department has removed all products containing DMAA from stores on military bases pending an Army safety review, said Peter J. Graves, an Army spokesman.
Makers and retailers say that DMAA is a dietary supplement, but many medical experts said it should be classified as a drug, which would require it to earn approval from the Food and Drug Administration before it could be marketed to consumers. Many sports organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Authority, who regulates drug use by Olympic athletes, and several professional sports leagues have listed DMAA as a banned stimulant. In Canada, where the government health agency actually has already classified DMAA as a drug, companies cannot sell products containing the stimulant if they are marketed as diet supplements.
First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign for a healthier nation is taking on a new field. She visited Fort Jackson outside Columbia to urge the members of the armed forces to be exemplary of a healthy lifestyle. Mrs. Obama said that a lack of physical fitness among Americans is “not just a health issue but a national security issue.”
The national obesity crisis has created recruitment problems for the military, which struggles to train unfit recruits. Although the U.S. Army has deployed new fitness tactics to cope with the issue, Lt. Gen. Mark Herling says the unhealthy habits start very early. He cites too much time in front of TV and computer screens and the rise of soft drinks as particular problems. The changes in the program include healthier foods and more emphasis on core-muscle training, to prevent injury.
An Army Times article reported this week that soldiers are taking drastic steps to meet the military’s weight standards. Soldiers have admitted to taking diet pills and laxatives, starving themselves and getting liposuction in order to meet what some see as impossibly low weight standards.
“Liposuction saved my career — laxatives and starvation before a PFT sustains my career,” an anonymous soldier told the weekly paper. “I, for one, can attest that soldiers are using liposuction, laxatives and starvation to meet height and weight standards. I did, do and still do.”
Almost half of all uniformed men and women in the US Army do not meet the weight standards, according to a 2009 military fitness report, and those officers are then made to use tape measurements to determine body fat percentage. If the percentages are too high, the soldiers cannot earn promotions or hold leadership roles. A further failure to lose weight is grounds for job loss. More than 24,000 soldiers were discharged between 1992 and 2007 for failure to meet weight standards.
Soldiers at Fort Jackson. Image via The New York Times.
The Army has long had rigorous fitness requirements, but today new recruits need to shape up more than ever. The top reason recruits are rejected by the Army is because they are overweight. “What we were finding was that the soldiers we’re getting in today’s Army are not in as good shape as they used to be,” Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling told The New York Times. “This is not just an Army issue. This is a national issue.” The problem the Army is facing reflects the rise of obesity in America.
This year, the Army has rolled out a new fitness program, designed to get recruits in shape. The new fitness regime has incorporated exercises from yoga and pilates, and is de-emphasizing old staples of Army physical training, like long runs and sit-ups. The new program is in use at five training posts, and has 145,000 participants.