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Kyle Ganson finds links between eating disorder symptoms and dieting practices promoted in muscle building and fitness communities


Kyle Ganson headshotTwo recent studies by Assistant Professor Kyle Ganson have found links between dieting practices promoted in muscle building and fitness communities and eating disorder symptoms. His research illustrates the importance of building awareness of dietary methods that may go unnoticed by healthcare and public health professionals.

The first study, published in the Journal of Eating Disorders found that, in course of a year, over half of men, women, and transgender or gender non-conforming participants engaged in at least one “cheat meal” — the practice of deviating from one’s established dietary practices to consume “prohibited” calorie dense meals, only to return to previous dietary practices later.

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.

“This is particularly important given the popularity of cheat meals that is well documented on social media,” said Ganson, whose research interests often focus on eating disorders among boys and men.

His findings received extensive coverage in local and international media, including Montreal Now (CJAD 800AM), CTV News, CNN-News 18, Neuroscience News and the Hindustan Times, among other publications.

In a second study, published in the Journal Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, Ganson found that nearly half of men, and one in five women, transgender and gender non-conforming participants, engaged in a “bulk and cut” cycle in the past 12 months.

“Bulking and cutting” — a dietary technique characterized by alternating between periods of consuming surplus calories (bulking) and restricting calorie consumption (cutting) in order to optimize the growth of lean muscle mass and reduce body fat — is a practice that aligns with current body ideals. Ganson’s study showed that engagement in bulking and cutting was connected with a greater desire to become more muscular, among all groups of participants, underscoring the link between this dietary method and desires to change one’s body. The practice was also linked to eating disorder psychopathology.

“It is important that healthcare professionals screen for a vast array of dietary practices that may be harmful for young people, not just clinical eating disorder behaviors, like food restriction,” Ganson says. “We need to continue to research these forms of muscularity-oriented behaviors to better understand them and implement effective strategies to protect the health and well-being of Canadian young people.”