How a fitness trend can impact young people

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Young adults and teens can be negatively affected by diet and fitness trends. Cavan Images/Getty Images
  • Researchers have studied the link between ‘bulking and cutting’ diets and mental health in adolescents and young adults.
  • They found that “bloat and cut” is linked to a higher incidence of eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia.
  • They conclude that their findings have important implications for clinical and public health efforts.

Adopting muscle-focused eating and weight-control behaviors is common in adolescents and young adults and varies according to genre.

Grouping and cuttingis a dietary technique in which individuals alternate between periods of high calorie surplus – “bulking”, and periods of calorie restriction – “cutting”, to increase muscle definition.

So far, few studies have explored the link between bulking and cutting cycles and psychological factors such as the search for musculature, eating disorders and muscle dysmorphism.

Recently, researchers conducted a study to understand the prevalence of bulking and cutting cycles between genders and to recognize any links to mental health issues.

They found that nearly half of young men and one in five women who are transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people have engaged in “loose and cut” cycles in the past 12 months.

They also found that “bloat and cut” was linked to an increased incidence of muscle dysmorphism and eating disorders in all genders.

The study was published in Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies in Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity.

For the study, the researchers used survey data from 2,762 people from the Canadian Adolescent Health Behavior Study. The participants were between 16 and 30 years old and were recruited between November and December 2021 via advertisements on Instagram and Snapchat.

Survey topics included:

  • Commitment to bulking and cutting cycles in the last 30 days and 12 months
  • Drive for muscle
  • Eating Disorder Assessment
  • Muscle dysmorphism
  • Demographic factors, including race/ethnicity, level of education, gender identity

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that men were almost twice as likely as women and TGNC people to engage in bulking and cutting cycles in the past 12 months and 30 days.

However, they conversely found that women and TGNC participants tended to perform more bulking and cutting cycles than men.

They further found that in men, women, and TGNC participants, bulking and cutting were associated with increased muscularity, eating disorders, and muscle dysmorphism.

Engaging in bulking and cutting cycles in the last 12 months and 30 days was also linked to a higher incidence of eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia in both men and women.

However, eating and cutting cycles were only correlated with muscle dysmorphia in TGNC participants over the past 12 months.

“Muscle dysmorphia is also known as bigorexia or reverse anorexia”, Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco and senior author of this study, said Medical News Today.

“Muscle dysmorphia occurs when an individual becomes obsessed with becoming muscular. They may view themselves as underweight even though they are objectively muscular.
— Dr. Jason Nagata

To explain their findings, the researchers noted that men’s commitment to bulking and cutting – averaging three cycles per year – generally aligns with diets promoted by the fitness industry to achieve body ideals. .

They added that women may be more pressured to engage in shorter bulking and cutting cycles – leading to more completed cycles – to ensure a more consistent body image without excessive muscle gain or body fat.

They also noted that the higher number of completed bulking and cutting cycles in TGNC people could be evidence of a higher level of eating disorders to align with gender-specific body ideals.

Asked about the limitations of the study, Dr. Rebecca L. Pearlassistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida, said DTM:

“Because ‘loose’ and ‘cut’ cycles have received little attention in the research and treatment of eating disorders, there is not yet a standardized way to screen for this in young people. It is possible that the questions used in the current study to assess “en masse” and “cut” behaviors did not measure exactly what the authors intended to measure in all participants. »

“As the authors pointed out in their article, it is possible that some participants – particularly women, transgender and gender non-conforming people – thought of times when they alternated between binge eating and subsequent calorie restriction. (symptoms of bulimia nervosa) when they endorsed questions about the cycle between “over-consumption” and “under-consumption,” she said.

“[P]Participants in this study were recruited via social media. People who are active on social media may be more exposed to and/or more interested in posts related to fitness ideals and bodybuilding-focused weight control and eating disorder practices. [than those less active on social media]. Thus, the prevalence of “en masse” and “cutting” behaviors in the study sample could potentially be higher than in the general population. »
— Dr. Rebecca L. Pearl

The researchers concluded that their findings have important implications for future research and clinical and public health efforts.

When asked what those implications might be, Dr. Kyle T. Gansonassistant professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, said DTM:

“Given the popularity of this dietary practice and the fact that it is supported and highlighted in many communities (i.e. online, social media, fitness), we have to consider it an overlap potential with serious mental and behavioral health problems that can have significant adverse effects.

“Healthcare professionals need to be aware of this unique behavior and not just screen for ‘typical’ eating disorder behaviors, such as food restriction and binge eating, or ‘typical’ attitudes and behaviors body-oriented, such as [a] drive for thinness.
— Dr. Kyle T. Ganson

“Overall, we need to highlight bulking and cutting, which is part of the broader framework of muscle-focused eating and weight-control behaviors, and the potential problems associated with these behaviors, within our society. and among health and mental health systems,” he added.

Dr. Ganson said DTM that eating disorders are characterized by intense fears of weight gain, significant body dissatisfaction, and problematic eating behaviors such as food restriction, bulimia, and purging.

“If people feel that their psychological, social and/or occupational functioning is hampered by their focus on the body and on food, this may be an indicator of a potential eating disorder,” he said.

“It is important to note here that eating disorders can affect anyone, including all genders and sexual identities, races and ethnicities, people of all sizes and incomes. People should not assuming they don’t have an eating disorder because they don’t fit the mold that society has prescribed as having an eating disorder: white, young, skinny, affluent, female.
— Dr. Kyle T. Ganson

Dr. Ganson noted that muscle dysmorphia has similar psychological, behavioral, and functional symptoms to eating disorders. However, he said it differs because he is primarily driven by significant muscle dissatisfaction and an intense desire to gain muscle.

“This can manifest as excessive and compulsive strength training and exercise, dietary practices aimed at increasing muscularity (i.e. bulking and cutting), and the use of drugs and body-enhancing substances. appearance and performance, like anabolic steroids,” he pointed out.

To treat eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, Dr. Pearl said talking with someone is a good first step.

“Many people keep these behaviors a secret from loved ones due to shame and fear of judgment, which can lead them to feel even more ashamed and alone. It is important to seek professional help, which could include talking to your doctor or finding a mental health professional or nutritionist who specializes in body image and eating disorders,” he said. she declared.

“Nonprofits and advocacy organizations such as the National Eating Disorders Association offer resources to get accurate information, understand treatment options, and connect with others who have had similar experiences,” he said. -she adds.

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