University of São Paulo: Risk of binge eating is higher in those who diet without professional supervision

A survey carried out at the Faculty of Medicine (FMUSP) with undergraduate and graduate students at the University sought to understand the eating behavior and the presence of intense food cravings and eating disorders in dieters without professional supervision.

From an online questionnaire answered anonymously by more than 800 university students, covering the period before the pandemic and also the current one, it was possible to find alarming data on the relationship between the unsupervised practice of diets and the greater occurrence of risk behaviors. for eating disorders. The study was carried out by researchers Jônatas de Oliveira, Leandro Figueiredo and Táki Athanássios Cordás.

Jônatas de Oliveira, nutritionist and collaborating researcher with the Eating Disorders Program (Ambulim) of the Institute of Psychiatry (IPq), explains to Jornal da USP that 25% of university students responded that they had adhered to a low-carb diet , with a low proportion of carbohydrates, in last three months and 7.5% said they had practices that compensated for this diet, such as the use of laxatives and induced vomiting. None of them were accompanied by a professional.

In addition, more than half of the low-carb dieters expressed that they felt guilty after eating carbohydrates and that they were concerned about weight and body shape, and this group of people showed higher consumption of foods such as chocolate and lower intake of rice and French bread. , compared to the group that did not adhere to the diet.

The researcher says that high levels of intense desire for food were found in low-carb and so-called intermittent fasting adherents. “This desire can be defined as a cognitive event in which there is an appetizing target, recruiting a series of neural components”, says Oliveira.

However, as it is a context of restriction of consumption of certain foods, thoughts of self-control arise in the individual, generating the so-called cognitive restriction. And this restriction mobilizes attentional processes aimed at a food that cannot be ingested.

“We were able to show in this research that the conflict between food cravings and cognitive restriction was supporting the occurrence of food compulsions, simply because people were on a low-carb diet without professional supervision”, comments the researcher.

According to him, previous research carried out in Brazil already pointed to the high prevalence of eating disorders in university students, which was confirmed by the new study.

The covid-19 pandemic has become an aggravating factor in this scenario, favoring the occurrence of disorders. In a more recent development of the research, individuals who were in social isolation were evaluated and those who practiced diets during quarantine showed a high prevalence of risk for eating disorders and intense food cravings.

“Most of them were people who had weight loss plans; the pandemic came, and they continued in this practice in a context of restriction due to the health crisis itself, which contributed to the occurrence of disturbed behaviors”, explains Oliveira.

Possibilities of action
As the researcher points out, although the study was based on a questionnaire with self-completion by the participants, which does not allow a definitive diagnosis, for him, it is necessary to rethink the institutional approach to this issue.

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Jônatas de Oliveira points out some possibilities for action by the University to alleviate the situation: “Forming care groups for these patients, prioritizing the health of university students and recognizing that such disturbed practices and the resulting suffering can worsen their academic and professional performance, in addition to bring this topic to the daily debate.”

The data on the presence of psychological distress and depression in the university community are better known, but there is an urgent need to pay attention to cases of inappropriate eating behavior of students, as many are unaware that they need help, according to the specialist.

“The professional prescription of the low carb diet , in turn, must be carefully evaluated by nutritionists, according to the patient’s conditions”, says Oliveira. “Popular and unsupervised practice exists and with the research it was possible to realize how harmful it is to the mental and physical health of students.”

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