‘'Cheat Meals' Habit Can Be a Symptom of An Eating Disorder: Research

‘'Cheat Meals' Habit Can Be a Symptom of An Eating Disorder: Research

‘'Cheat Meals' Habit Can Be a Symptom of An Eating Disorder: Research

A study published in the journal Eating Disorders suggests a connection between cheat meals and eating disorders. The research consisted of large sample size and was conducted over a period of one year, findings of which show that more than half the males, females, transgender persons and persons identifying as agender engaged in at least one cheat meal during the year. It was observed that among women, engaging in cheat meals was associated with all the 7 types of eating disorders while in men it was mainly linked to binge-eating, compulsive exercising and fasting behaviours. Finally, betwixt the transgenders and genderless participants, it was associated with overeating and binge-eating behaviours. The findings also revealed that engaging in cheat meals was more prevalent among males. Further studies demonstrating cheat meals and their relation with eating disorder psychopathology are underway.

What are eating disorders?
An eating disorder is a behavioural condition characterized by severe and persistent disturbances in the eating patterns of an individual accompanied by distressing thoughts and emotions. They generally develop in and around adolescence or young adulthood and often co-exist with other psychological disorders such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, mood disorders or those related to substance abuse. A person excessively conscious about his body weight, shape, facial expressions, dealing with anxiety issues or going through a rough patch is more prone to fall prey to an eating disorder.

The following are the types of eating disorders:

• Bulimia Nervosa: People with this disorder eat unusually large chunks of food in a short time frame or in other words indulge in binge-eating. This overeating behaviour is secretive and draws in feelings of shame and embarrassment. Later, these people try to engage in compensatory behaviours like forced vomiting, fasting, and excessive exercising in order to prevent weight gain.

• Anorexia Nervosa: People with anorexia nervosa are obsessed with their body weight to the extent that they may starve themselves to death just to look presentable. They follow extremely restricted dietary practices as they feel they have gained too much weight when in reality they are dangerously underweight.

• Binge-eating disorder: Individuals suffering from the binge-eating disorder have recurring episodes of eating oddly large portions accompanied by a feeling of guilt or shame but this condition is different from bulimia in a way that the person does not undertake any compensatory behaviours in an attempt to stabilize his weight.

• Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: People under this disorder are said to be picky eaters as they engage in selective eating. Although these individuals are not as concerned
about their body image or weight, they significantly face nutrition deficiency due to their avoidant or restrictive diets.

• Pica: Individuals with pica are those who are in the habit of consuming items other than food having no real nutritional value but can rather be fatal for their health like paper, chalk, and lead.
Intake of such toxic substances can have invariably dangerous effects on the person in the long run.

• Rumination disorder: People diagnosed with rumination disorder indulge in re-chewing and re-swallowing swallowed food. This disorder is typical of infancy or childhood period.

• Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder: People who show certain signs and symptoms of the other mentioned eating disorders but do not yet completely classify them can be put under this category.


Common symptoms of eating disorders:

- Being overly obsessed with your body weight

- Repeatedly checking yourself in the mirror

- Forming a pattern of binge-eating or purging

- Excessive worry and intense fear arising from the thought of getting “fat”

- Indulging in rigorous physical exercises to avoid weight gain

- Following extremely restricted diet plans to the extent where one even starves himself

- Having a distorted body image

- Avoiding socializing with people due to body insecurities

- Feeling guilty and embarrassed after eating food

- Eating post-depressive episodes as a defence mechanism

- Developing digestive issues and other psychological or psychical illnesses


Why do these eating disorders develop?

Although it is difficult to point out the exact reason behind developing these eating disorders the following causes can be anticipated:

• Genetics: Studies have revealed that a person with a family history of eating disorders is also prone to developing one.

• Disturbing emotional and mental health: The psychological and emotional wellbeing of a person surely has a role to play with respect to developing eating disorders. For example, an individual having low self-esteem, problematic relationships, or facing career hurdles is on the verge of engaging in unhealthy eating habits as his last resort.

• Stress: People undergoing heightened levels of stress are usually vulnerable and show signs and symptoms of one or the other mental health disorders.

• Personality traits: People with certain personality types like narcissistic personality or histrionic personality are self-obsessed and constantly engage in attention-seeking behaviour like deviating from normal diet patterns.

Other mental health disorders: People suffering from mood, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders are at a greater risk of adopting unhealthy eating patterns.

What could be done?

• Close relationships: Parents, siblings, and partners can help a person with an eating disorder manage his excessive urge to control his weight.

• Friends: Friends prove to be the most important support for a person and can help them overcome their insecurities and preconceived flaws about themselves.

• Psychotherapy: Individual or group therapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help a person with eating disorders change his thoughts and regulate unhealthy behavioural patterns.

• Counselling: Receiving proper guidance from a professional counsellor makes a person understand his or her incorrect actions or thoughts and effectively work on improving them.

• Medications: If required, mental health professionals can prescribe medications in order to deal with severe cases of eating disorders.

It shall be noted that cravings are but normal to occur every once in a while and satisfying a mere craving rather than devoting a whole day or a complete meal per se can be beneficial. It is important to be mindful of what you eat even when not dieting. This not only helps you stick to your goals but also saves you from the burden of guilt you may carry when giving in to your pleasure foods. Also, instead of calling it a cheat day or a cheat meal, one can simply see it as a meal to celebrate an established goal through which you reward yourself.

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Psychologs Magazine

India's First Psychology Magazine 

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