Home Lifestyle Researchers Find Cheat Meals Associated With Eating Disorders

Researchers Find Cheat Meals Associated With Eating Disorders

Researchers Find Cheat Meals Associated With Eating Disorders


Over the course of a year, more than half of men, women, and transgender or gender nonconforming participants engaged in at least one “cheat meal” – the practice of deviating from one’s established dietary practises to consume “prohibited” calorie-dense meals, only to return to previous dietary practices later, according to a new study.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Eating Disorders.
Among women, engagement in cheat meals in the previous 12 months was
associated with all seven types of eating disorder behaviours.

Among men it was associated with binge-eating, compulsive exercise, and fasting behaviours. Finally, among transgender or gender non-conforming participants, it was associated with overeating and binge-eating behaviours.

“Research hasn’t fully explored eating behaviours purported to increase
muscularity and leanness, such as cheat meals,” says lead author Kyle T.

Ganson, PhD MW, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-
Inwentashaculty of Social Work. “This is particularly important given the
popularity of cheat meals that is well documented on social media. We needed
to explore whether there are associations between cheat meals and eating
disorder psychopathology.”

Ganson and his colleagues analyzed a national sample of over 2,700
adolescents and young adults from the 2021-2022 Canadian Study of
Adolescent Health Behaviours.

Their findings also revealed that engagement in cheat meals was highest
among men.

“Cheat meals have been conceptualized and promoted within men’s muscle-
building and fitness communities. As a result, men in this study may be
strategically using cheat meals to catalyze muscle growth,” says Ganson.

“Similarly, among women, the use of cheat meals may be used to prevent or
curtail binge-eating episodes or alleviate cravings for restricted foods.”

While cheat meals consisted of calorie-dense foods across the entire sample,
significant differences were found between the types of cheat meals consumed
by men and women.

Specifically, men reported consuming foods higher in protein, whereas women consumed dairy, salty, and sweet foods.

“Clinical professionals should be aware of the common occurrence of cheat
meals among adolescents and young adults and the sanctioned nature of these
behaviours in fitness communities and on social media,” says Ganson.

“Future research should continue to conceptualize these types of eating behaviours and their implications for public health,” he added.

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