- Researchers investigated the link between bulking and cutting diets and mental health among adolescents and young adults.
- They found that “bulking and cutting” was associated with a higher incidence of eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia.
- They conclude that their findings have important implications for clinical and public health.
Muscularity-oriented eating and weight control behavior is common among adolescents and young adults and varies by gender.
“Bulking and Cutting” is a diet technique in which individuals switch between periods of high excess calories — “bulking” and periods of reduced calories — “cutting” to improve muscle definition.
So far, only a few studies have investigated the relationship between mass and cutting cycles and psychological factors such as muscle urge, eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia.
Researchers recently conducted a study to understand the prevalence of mass and cutting cycles between the sexes and to identify associations with mental illness.
They found that almost half of young men and one in five women, transgender and gender-specific (TGNC) people have completed “bulk and cut” cycles in the last 12 months.
They also found that “bulking and cutting” was associated with an increased incidence of muscle dysmorphia and eating disorders among all sexes.
The study was published in Eating and Weight Disorders — Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity.
Bulk and Cut Nutrition Survey
For the study, the researchers used survey data from 2,762 people from the Canadian study on adolescent health behavior. The participants were between 16 and 30 years old and were recruited via ads on Instagram and Snapchat between November and December 2021.
Survey topics included:
- Engagement in bulking and cutting cycles over the past 30 days and 12 months
- Promoting muscularity
- Evaluation of eating disorders
- muscle dysmorphia
- Demographic factors, including race/ethnicity, education level, gender identity
After analyzing the results, the researchers found that men completed mass and cutting cycles almost twice as often as women and TGNC people in the last 12 months and in the last 30 days as women and TGNC people.
Conversely, however, they found that women and TGNC participants tended to complete more mass and editing cycles than men.
They further found that in men, women, and TGNC participants, bulking and cutting were associated with a higher drive for muscularity, eating disorders, and muscle dysmorphia.
Performing mass and cutting cycles over the past 12 months and 30 days was also associated with a higher incidence of eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia among men and women.
However, eating and cutting cycles only correlated with muscle dysmorphia among 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, told Medical News Today.
“Muscle dysmorphia occurs when a person is obsessed with becoming muscular. They can think of themselves as puny, even if they’re objectively muscular.”
— Dr. Jason Nagata
Diet for men versus women
To explain their findings, the researchers found that men’s commitment to bulking and cutting — with an average of three cycles per year — is generally higher than that used by the fitness industry to achieve body ideals.
They added that women may be more forced to complete shorter cycles of mass and cut — resulting in a larger number of completed cycles — to ensure a more consistent body image without excessive muscle growth or body fat.
They also found that the greater number of completed mass and cutting cycles in TGNC people could be an indication of higher levels of eating disorders to match gender-specific body ideals.
What that means for the future
The researchers concluded that their findings have important implications for future research and clinical and public health efforts.
Asking what those implications might be, Dr. Kyle T. Ganson, assistant professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, told MNT:
“Given the popularity of this dietary practice and the fact that it supports and emphasizes in many communities (i.e. online, social media, fitness), we must assume that this may overlap with serious mental and behavioral health conditions that cause significant negative Can have an impact.”
“Health professionals must be aware of this unique behavior and not just look for “typical” eating disorder behaviors such as food restrictions and binge eating, or “typical” body-oriented attitudes and behaviors such as [a] quest for thinness.”
— Dr. Kyle T. Ganson
“Overall, we need to focus on bulking and cutting, which is within the wider range of muscularity-oriented eating and weight control behavior, and the potential problems associated with these behaviors, in our society and in terms of health and mind health systems,” he added.
detected symptoms of eating disorders
and explained to MNT that eating disorders are characterized by severe fears of gaining weight, significant body dissatisfaction, and problematic eating. Behaviors such as food restriction, binging, and purging.
“When people sense that their psychological, social and/or professional functioning is hampered by their focus on body and food, this may be an indicator of a possible eating disorder,” he said.
“It’s 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 that they don’t have an eating disorder because they don’t fit in with the molds that society has prescribed as an eating disorder: white, young, thin, wealthy, female.”
— Dr. Kyle T. Ganson
Dr. Ganson found that muscle dysmorphia has similar psychological, behavioral, and functional symptoms as eating disorders. He said, however, that it is different because it is primarily driven by significant muscle dissatisfaction and an intense desire to build muscle.
“This can be manifested in excessive and compulsive exercise and strength training, dietary practices to increase musculature (i.e. bulking and cutting), and the use of appearance and performance-enhancing drugs and substances such as anabolic steroids,” he said.
Eating Disorder Treatment
To treat eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, Dr. Pearl said talking to someone is a good first step.
“Many people keep these behaviors a secret from their loved ones out of shame and fear of judgment, which can make them feel even more ashamed and alone. It is important to seek professional help. This includes talking to your doctor or finding a psychologist or dietitian who specializes in body image and eating disorders,” she said.
“Nonprofit organizations and advocacy organizations 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.