How a fitness trend may be impacting youth

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Young adults and adolescents can be adversely affected by diet and fitness trends. Cavan Pictures/Getty Pictures
  • Researchers looked at the link between bulk-and-cutting diets and mental health in adolescents and young adults.
  • They found that bulking and cutting is associated with higher incidences of eating disorders and muscular dysmorphia.
  • They conclude that their findings have important implications for clinical and public health efforts.

Muscle-building eating and weight-control behaviors are common among adolescents and young adults and vary by gender.

“Bulking and cutting” is a nutritional technique in which individuals alternate between periods of high calorie excess – “bulking” – and periods of calorie restriction – “cutting” to improve muscle definition.

To date, few studies have examined the relationship between bulking and cutting cycles and psychological factors such as muscle pursuit, eating disorders and muscular dysmorphia.

Recently, researchers conducted a study to understand the prevalence of bulk and cut cycles between genders and to identify potential links to mental illness.

They found that nearly half of young men and one in five women, transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals have participated in bulk-and-cut cycles in the past 12 months.

They also found that bulking and cutting was associated with an increased incidence of muscular dysmorphia 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 Study of Adolescent Health Behaviors. Participants were between 16 and 30 years old and were recruited via ads on Instagram and Snapchat between November and December 2021.

The survey topics included:

  • Engaged in bulking and cutting cycles in the past 30 days and 12 months
  • Strive for muscularity
  • Eating Disorder Assessment
  • muscular dysmorphia
  • Demographic factors, including race/ethnicity, level of education, gender identity

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that men were almost twice as likely to participate in bulk and cut cycles over the past 12 months and over the past 30 days as women and TGNC subjects.

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However, they found, conversely, that women and TGNC participants tended to complete more bulk and cut cycles than men.

They further found that in males, females, and TGNC participants, bulking and cutting were associated with a higher drive for muscle, eating disorders, and muscular dysmorphia.

Participation in bulk and cut cycles over the past 12 months and 30 days was also associated with higher incidences of eating disorders and muscular dysmorphia in both males and females.

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

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

“Muscular dysmorphia occurs when a person becomes obsessed with getting muscular. They may see themselves as puny even if they are objectively muscular.”
– dr Jason Nagata

To explain their findings, the researchers found that men’s commitment to gaining and losing weight — averaging three cycles per year — is generally consistent with regimes promoted by the fitness industry to achieve physique ideals.

They added that women may be more compelled to engage in shorter bulk and cut cycles – resulting in a greater number of completed cycles – to ensure a more consistent body image without excessive muscle gain or body fat.

They also found that the greater number of completed bulk and cut cycles in TGNC individuals could be evidence of higher levels of eating disorders to align with gender body ideals.

When asked about the limitations of the study, Dr. Rebecca L. Pearl, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida MNT:

“Because ‘mass’ and ‘cut’ cycling has received little attention in the research and treatment of eating disorders, there is not yet a standardized way to study it in young people. It is possible that the questions used in the current study to assess bulk and cut behavior did not measure exactly what the authors intended to measure in all participants.”

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“As the authors pointed out in their paper, it’s possible that some participants — particularly women and transgender and gender non-conforming individuals — may have reflected on times when they’ve alternated between binge eating and subsequent calorie restriction (symptoms of bulimia nervosa). advocated the questions about switching between “overconsumption” and “underconsumption,” she said.

“[P]The participants in this study were recruited through social media. Individuals who are active on social media may have greater exposure and/or interest in messages related to fitness ideals and muscle-focused eating disorders and weight management practices [than those less active on social media]. Therefore, the prevalence of ‘bulk’ and ‘cut’ behaviors could potentially be higher in the study sample 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 these implications might be, Dr. Kyle T. Ganson, assistant professor at the Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study MNT:

“Given the popularity of this nutritional practice and the fact that it has support and emphasis in many communities (e.g. online, social media, fitness), we must remember that it can potentially overlap with serious mental and behavioral health issues and be significant.” have adverse effects.”

“Health care professionals need to be aware of these unique behaviors and not just look for “typical” eating disorder behaviors such as food restriction and binge eating, or “typical” body-centered attitudes and behaviors such as overeating [a] striving for slimness.”
— dr Kyle T Ganson

“Overall, we need to bring bulking and cutting, which fall under the larger umbrella of muscle-oriented eating and weight control behaviors, and the potential problems associated with these behaviors, into focus in our society and in health and mental health systems. ” he added.

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said dr ganson MNT that eating disorders are characterized by intense fear of weight gain, significant physical dissatisfaction, and problem eating behaviors such as food restriction, binge eating, and depletion.

“When people feel that their mental, social, and/or occupational functioning is being compromised by their focus on their body and food, it can be an indicator of a potential eating disorder,” he said.

“It is important to note that eating disorders can affect anyone, including all genders and sexual identities, races and ethnicities, people of all body sizes and across the income spectrum. People shouldn’t assume they don’t have an eating disorder because they don’t fit the mold that society dictates as an eating disorder: white, young, skinny, affluent, female.”
— dr Kyle T Ganson

dr Ganson noted that muscular dysmorphia shares similar psychological, behavioral, and functional symptoms as eating disorders. However, he said it differs as it is primarily driven by significant muscle dissatisfaction and an intense desire to build muscle.

“This can manifest itself in excessive and compulsive exercise and strength training, dietary practices to increase muscle mass (e.g., gaining and losing muscle), and the use of appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs and substances such as anabolic steroids,” he pointed out.

To treat eating disorders and muscular dysmorphia, Dr. Pearl that talking to someone is a good first step.

“Many people hide these behaviors from loved ones out of shame and fear of judgment, which can make them feel even more ashamed and alone. Seeking professional help is important, which could include talking to your doctor or finding a psychologist or nutritionist who specializes in body image and eating disorders,” she said.

“Nonprofits and advocacy groups like the National Eating Disorders Association provide resources to get accurate information, understand treatment options, and connect with others who have had similar experiences,” she added.

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