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Desert Diet

25 Mar 2003 | Cpl. Veronika Tuskowski

Marines and Sailors here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, are quite surprised by the drastic transformation their bodies have endured since arriving in country.

Marines are shedding pounds and noticing they have more energy and their camouflage utilities are fitting looser. 

Chief Petty Officer (FMF/SW) Franklin J. Jensen, independent duty corpsman and Navy personnel officer for 1st Marine Division, believes he knows why Marines and are slimming down.

"There are a number of reasons why people are losing weight out here," said Jensen, a Ruston, La., native.

"The heat factor plays a big role in weight loss," said the Devil Doc.

Temperatures in Kuwait are known to rise to 120 degrees during the summer months.

"If it's hot outside in California, people start to get sweaty and get into shorts and tank tops to evaporate sweat and cool themselves off. But in the desert, in long sleeves, trousers, flak jacket and Kevlar helmet, sweat is harder to evaporate. The lack of air circulation makes you sweat more, burn more energy and lose water weight," said Jensen.

"That's why we keep informing Marines and Sailors to keep pushing the water while they are here -- so they don't dehydrate," he said.

Even though the heat increases the water intake for Marines, it decreases the food intake.

"Being in the heat actually suppresses your appetite, and you don't eat as much," said Jensen, who lost 16 pounds in 4 1/2 months on his last field operation.

With a suppression of appetite, your stomach decreases in size.

"Your stomach most likely will shrink here," said Petty Officer 1st Class Frank E. Guerra, a corpsman and personnel administrative clerk for 1st Marine Division.
"When you do eat, there is less food intake. Nine times out of 10 you leave the mess hall feeling full and won't go back for seconds," said Guerra, a Corpus Christi, Texas, native who lost 40 pounds in three months eating Meals, Ready-to-Eat in Desert Storm with 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

Another factor of the weight loss is the food itself.

Back in the rear junk food is more accessible, and this can encourage unhealthy eating habits.

"There is less junk food and soda here for servicemembers to snack on," said Jensen. "If a heavy soda drinker stops indulging in soda, they could lose up to ten pounds a year."

One Marine believes his weight loss was from the limited amount of junk food.

"I have lost 10-15 pounds in five weeks," said Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Tyykila, a Racine, Wis., native and cryptic graphic technician with 1st Marine Division, Headquarters and Support Battalion.

"It's definitely because I am not eating as much junk food. That's all I ever ate back in the rear. I never went to the chow hall --I ate at fast food restaurants," said Tyykila, excited about his weight loss.

Tyykila's goal is to lose 25 pounds by the time he leaves.

Kuwait is a dry country and the lack of empty calories could possibly be additional grounds for shedding pounds.

By consuming a 12-pack of regular beer a week, at approximately 145 calories a can, in six months you consume up to 45,540 calories.

Along with the lack of beer, the lack of transportation is yet another reason.

Unlike back in the states where Marines have the luxury of riding in cars to work, the lack of transportation here has Marines hiking to and from work. This is additional exercise to their normal physical training.

"I walk three miles a day, and I normally wouldn't be walking this much," said Jensen.

On average, Marines on camp walk 45 minutes to an hour everyday with 20 to 30 pounds of gear on their person.

A 150-pound person walking three miles per hour burns 320 calories per hour, according to lifeclinic.com.

Even though Marines are losing weight, where they lose it differs between males and females, said Jensen.

"Males have a harder time getting rid of the fat in their bellies and love handles while females tend to hold their fat in their hips," Jensen said.

"For most people you normally see weight loss in the face first, before you see results in the rest of the body," said Jensen. "That's because you are losing the same amount of weight all over, but your face shows it more because there is less fat and your muscles are closer to the surface."

"Many people come out here expecting to lose weight, but they have to be careful not to hurt themselves, and lose just water weight," said Jensen.

With such high temperatures Marines and Sailors have to be extra cautious about themselves and fellow servicemembers to ensure everyone is properly hydrated and nobody falls out of the fight.

With all the new high tech weight loss diet plans promising a slimmer figure for a costly price, the Marines have the best plan - hard work and a lot of sweat.