‘Bulk and cut’ dieting trend linked to eating disorders, study finds

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New research has examined the prevalence and incidence of “bulk and cut” cycles among Canadian young adults and found that nearly half of men, and one in five women, transgender and gender non-conforming participants, engaged in this diet cycling in the past 12 months.

The study, published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, was conducted by investigators at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work in Canada. Researchers set out to determine the associations between bulk and cut cycle engagement and the drive for muscularity, eating disorder, and muscle dysmorphia psychopathology.

According to the study, “bulking and cutting” is 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.

The research team analyzed data from more than 2,700 Canadian adolescents and young adults and found that engagement in bulking and cutting was connected with a greater desire to become more muscular, among all groups of participants, revealing the link between this dietary method and desires to change one’s body.

“Our findings also showed that engagement in bulking and cutting was associated with symptoms of eating disorders, as well as muscle dysmorphia, which is characterized as the pathological pursuit of muscularity, for men and women in the study,” said lead author Kyle Ganson, PhD, MSW, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work in a statement. “These findings are particularly salient given the documented increased prevalence of eating disorders and related behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Ganson, it is important that healthcare practitioners screen for a vast array of dietary practices that may be harmful for young people, not just clinical eating disorder behaviors, like food restriction.