‘Cheat Meals’ Linked to Eating Disorders in Adolescents and Young Adults


Overview: Young people who consume “cheat meals,” or meals that break a normal diet as a treat, are more likely to develop eating disorders, a new study reports.

Source: University of Toronto

A new study published in the Diary of Eating Disorders found that over the course of a year, more than half of men, women, and transgender or gender-nonconforming participants indulged in at least one “cheat meal” — the habit of deviating from one’s established dietary habits in order to ” prohibited” high-calorie meals to consume, to later return to previous dietary habits.

In women, involvement in cheat meals in the past 12 months was associated with all seven types of eating disorder behavior. In men, it was associated with binge eating, compulsive exercise, and fasting.

Finally, in transgender or gender-nonconforming participants, it was associated with overeating and binge eating.

“Research has not fully explored the eating behaviors purported to increase muscle strength and leanness, such as cheat meals,” said lead author Kyle T. Ganson, Ph.D., MSW, assistant professor in the Factor-Inwentash faculty of the University of Toronto. Work.

“This is especially important given the popularity of cheat meals that has been well documented on social media. We needed to investigate whether there are links between cheat meals and eating disorder psychopathology.”

Their findings also found that involvement in cheat meals was highest among men. Image is in the public domain

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

Their findings also found that involvement in cheat meals was highest among men.

“Cheat meals have been conceptualized and promoted within the muscle-building and fitness communities of men. As a result, in this study, men can strategically use cheat meals to catalyze muscle growth,” Ganson says.

“Similarly, cheat meal use in women can be used to prevent or reduce binge eating or reduce cravings for restricted foods.”

While cheat meals consisted of high-calorie foods in the entire sample, significant differences were found between the types of cheat meals consumed by men and women. In particular, men reported consuming foods with a higher protein content, while women consumed dairy, salty and sweet foods.

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

“Future research should continue to conceptualize these types of eating behaviors and their public health implications.”

About this research news on psychology and eating disorders

Author: press office
Source: University of Toronto
Contact: Press Office – University of Toronto
Image: The image is in the public domain

Also see

This shows a scale and a tape measure

Original research: Closed access.
“Characterizing cheat meals in a national sample of Canadian adolescents and young adults” by Kyle T. Ganson et al. Diary of Eating Disorders


Characteristic of cheat meals in a national sample of Canadian adolescents and young adults


“Cheat meals,” described as short eating episodes that deviate from established dietary habits of consuming prohibited foods, represent a new and increasingly common eating behavior with particular focus in adolescence and young adulthood. However, knowledge gaps remain regarding the frequency and characterization of foods and calories consumed during cheat meals, and their associations with eating disorder behavior and psychopathology. Thus, the aim of this study was to delineate involvement in cheat meals among a large, national sample of Canadian adolescents and young adults.


Participants (N = 2,717) were from the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviors. The frequencies of involvement in cheat meals and accompanying foods and calories consumed in the past 12 months and 30 days were determined. The associations between cheat meal involvement and eating disorder behavior and psychopathology were determined using modified Poisson regression analyses.


Involvement in cheat meals in the past 12 months was highest among males (60.9%) compared to females (53.7%) and transgender/gender non-conforming (TGNC; 52.5%) participants. Cheat meals that were between 1,000 and 1,499 cal were the most commonly reported by all participants. The average number of cheat meals in the past 12 months was equal to > 1 per week, which was comparable to engagement in the past 30 days. Finally, involvement in cheat meals over the past 12 months and 30 days was associated with patterns of eating disorder behavior and psychopathology in all participants, including binge eating-related behaviors.


This study further characterized and expanded the knowledge of cheat meal involvement between sexes, in agreement with previous research by showing that involvement is associated with greater psychopathology of eating disorders.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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