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Appetite. 2018 Nov 1;130:274-278. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.08.026. Epub 2018 Aug 23.

Cheat meals: A benign or ominous variant of binge eating behavior?

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health, University of Tasmania, TAS, Australia.
Centre for Emotional Health, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia; School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State University/University of California San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego, CA, USA.
Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



Engagement in "cheat meals" has been recently documented as a socially endorsed dietary practice oriented towards pursuing physique ideals, and which bears qualitative semblance to disordered eating behavior. However, the clinical significance of this dietary practice remains unclear.


We recruited a sample of young adults (n = 248; 56% women; Mage = 19.29 ± 0.58) and examined the prevalence and characteristics of cheat meal engagement, including its associations with eating disorder pathology, psychological distress, and impairment in role functioning.


Findings revealed that 89.1% of participants engaged in cheat meal consumption that was either planned or spontaneous, with planned cheat meals being predominantly aimed at managing food cravings and sustaining strict dietary regimens. Among men, the frequency of cheat meal engagement was positively associated with global eating disorder symptoms (p = 0.04), and objective binge episodes (p = 0.03), however cheat meals were not associated with psychological distress or clinical impairment for either gender (p > 0.05).


These preliminary findings suggest that cheat meal engagement is commonly endorsed among young adults, and particularly among men. Moreover, cheat meals may reflect psychopathological properties akin to binge episodes, although do not confer psychological distress. Future research is urged in elucidating the definitional properties of cheat meal engagement, and examining clinical implications for this widespread dietary practice.


Binge eating; Cheat meal; Eating behaviors; Muscularity-oriented disordered eating

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