“Cheat Eating” Linked To Eating Disorders In Young Adults

April 3, 2023

Summary: Cheat eating is when people eat meals apart from their regular meals. The new study shows that cheat eating is relatively common in the western population, with most young adults reporting one or more cheat meals a week. Unfortunately, doctors often fail to consider cheat meals and thus understand the cause of obesity or metabolic disorders in young adults.

Obesity is on the rise globally, but more so in developed nations like the US, where the vast majority are obese. Data shows that more than 70% of US adults are obese or overweight. Wrong dietary choices and the faulty eating pattern is the prime cause of obesity and metabolic disorders. What is worrisome is that obesity is on the rise in children, adolescents, and young adults. However, it also means that the incidence of eating disorders is rising in young adults. This is because they are not just choosing the wrong kinds of foods, but also eating when they should not be.

Cheat eating is a common practice in the Western population, with most young adults reporting one or more cheat meals a week. Unfortunately, this unhealthy eating pattern can lead to obesity and metabolic disorders. One study analyzed the prevalence of cheat eating in Canada and found that most cheat meals add 1000 to 1500 calories and contain high-calorie and unhealthy foods. This can lead to severe health issues, including pancreatitis pain management. It’s essential to address the issue of cheat eating to prevent obesity and related health problems.

One study analyzed how common “cheat eating” is in Canada. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Eating Disorders. The study analyzed the data of 2,700 adolescents and young adults from the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviors. This was data regarding eating habits reported by adults between the year 2021-22.

The study had many interesting findings. First, it found that “cheat eating” is relatively common among young adults. It found that most young adults engaged in cheat eating at least once a week or more. However, what was worrisome was the number of calories in each such cheat meal. Researchers found that when cheat eating, people generally choose high-calorie food. Thus, on average, a cheat meal adds 1000 to 1500 calories.

The study found that “cheat eating” was relatively more common in men (about 60%) compared to women (about 54%) and transgender (53%). However, men were more likely to consume healthy food and engage in physical activity. Thus, cheat meals consumed by men were protein-rich. However, cheat meals consumed by women were more likely to be rich in carbs and fats. The reason is simple: Men engaged in cheat meals to meat increased nutrition requirements due to physical activity.

The people who engage in cheat eating are more likely to be living with various other eating disorders like binge eating, compulsive eating, and so on. In addition, there were individuals who found it more difficult to control their urge to eat more food. These findings are relevant in many aspects. Many doctors are not aware of cheat meals. Thus, when they are treating those living with metabolic disorders, they focus on regular eating habits. However, they often fail to take cheat meals into consideration. 

Many obese or metabolically unhealthy adults may report their regular eating habits, which may sound more or less good. However, “cheat eating” is a very common problem. Thus, if we need to overcome obesity and the pandemic of metabolic disorders, we need to reduce cheat eating and associated eating disorders.

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Medical Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the content provided is not direct medical advice for patient care, but is provided for thoughtful discussion.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP