Eating disorders are typically associated with women, but a new eating disorder has emerged that targets men. This disorder is called “muscle dysmorphia” and can sometimes be known as “bigorexia” or “reverse anorexia”. Of these three, the third, “reverse anorexia” is somewhat misleading as muscle dysmorphia includes an obsession with muscle building and extreme dieting. This condition also affects women but on a much smaller scale.
Men who have this condition have an intense focus on developing the “perfect” body. They spend many hours of their lives getting big and muscular. While men without this disorder may spend 40 minutes each day thinking about their physique, men with muscle dysmorphia may spend 5 or more hours obsessively focused on their physique. They are never muscular enough, whereas those with anorexia are never thin enough. They may check their bodies in the mirror 12 times every day, compared to 3 times for weightlifters who do not have muscle dysmorphia. This, like other eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, can consume their lives. Currently, there is controversy over whether it should be considered an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder as it involves components of both disorders.
Body dysmorphic disorder is an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder where a person is excessively concerned with a perceived defect of their appearance. This condition shares many symptoms with anorexia and the core differences are directly related to the desires for opposing physiques.
Muscle dysmorphia is highly under-diagnosed as muscular men and women are considered to be strong. Men who have this condition either are proud of their habits or may go very far to hide the condition.
Research that was taken many years ago showed that around 10% of bodybuilders may have had muscle dysmorphia. Most likely, the rate of muscle dysmorphia mirrors those of anorexia nervosa, which means millions of men have this condition. Commonly, the condition begins at the age of 19.
Men with muscle dysmorphia may have an excellent body as determined by outsiders but feel that he is small, even if he really large.
SYMPTOMS OF MUSCLE DYSMORPHIA
You or a loved one may be suffering from the condition. It is much more than just working out and a dedication to weightlifting. Signs to keep an eye on include:
- Preoccupation with the notion that your body is not muscular or lean enough
- Following an excessive exercise program that includes long hours of weight lifting
- Extreme focus on a diet that targets healthy foods and protein
- Missing social activities and work-related activities because of the need to follow a workout or diet schedule
- Working out when injured
- Continuously scrutinizing your body in the mirror or avoiding all mirrors
- Excessive anxiety when a workout is missed
- Immense use of supplements rather than food
- Avoid eating meals with others
- Compare self to other men negatively
- Wear baggy clothes to hide their bodies
- An intense focus on body fat, not weight
Young adults may see men in the magazines, buff and ripped, and try their hardest to become like them. They may not realize these men have “mature muscles” which is five to 15 years of weight training that has made them look the way they do in the magazines.
Many men who abuse steroids may come off a steroid cycle, lose a decent amount of muscle in a few days, and experience emotional instability including mood swings. They may become suicidal and must be watched for suicidal behavior.
Studies have found that 50 – 100 percent of men who have body issues have said they abused steroids.
Though they may experience acne, increased breast size, aggression, baldness, impotence, and shrinkage of the testicles, men with this conditions may continue using steroids.
Like other eating disorders, there is a wide range of factors that can interact to make a person susceptible to this condition which includes biological, social, and psychological factors. Some men’s genetics predispose them to this condition, while others suffer from low self-esteem. In addition, society (sports, media, etc.) can place a great deal of pressure on men to maintain an ideal body.
Low self-esteem can be a big trigger for body issues. These men may have been bullied about their body when they were young and want to feel better about themselves, so become preoccupied with perfecting their bodies. This image they have in their mind is not achievable and constantly striving for it may lead to feelings of emptiness and a lack of identity.
Olivardia completed a study in 2000 that showed 29 percent of men with this condition had an anxiety disorder or a history of an anxiety disorder while 59 percent had a mood disorder of some kind.
DIET AMONG MEN WITH MUSCLE DYSMORPHIA
Due to their extreme obsession with their weight, men with muscle dysmorphia follow an extremely strict diet. Because they do not know the exact composition of the food, they rare eat at restaurants or at others’ houses. This control can keep them stuck in their homes obsessing over every little thing that crosses their lips. This isolation can greatly affect their outcome.
RISKS OF MUSCLE DYSMORPHIA
There are many risks of this condition including:
- Frequent injuries because of overexercising
- Damage to tendons, joints, and muscles
- Kidney and liver damage
- Heart problems
TREATMENT FOR MUSCLE DYSMORPHIA
The biggest challenge related to muscle dysmorphia is getting the sufferers into treatment. Like other eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia responds well to the treatments that may include normalizing exercise and eating patterns and reducing obsessional thoughts. If steroid abuse is a feature of a man’s condition, than extra care will be needed to ensure his safety.
There is hope for men who have muscle dysmorphia. Getting them into treatment is the first step.