Muscle Dysmorphia

What is Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia 

Eating disorders are seen as a condition women experience but, more research is being done into one that affects men. Muscle dysmorphia, or bigorexia, is a pathological obsession with muscle building and extreme dieting.

Muscle dysmorphia mostly affects men but woman call also experience it, although the numbers are much smaller. Men with muscle dysmorphia focus their entire lives on the goal of developing the perfect body. It can be an all encompassing, singular goal.

This eating disorder is different from others because the desired body is large and muscular as opposed to the anorexic ideal of a thin body.

Research shows they people with Muscle Dysmorphia disorder really do perceive themselves as being small and frail. This could indicate that something is wrong with the brain’s ability to map the body. In order to fix this perceived frailty, people with Muscle Dysmorphia life weights and exercise compulsively. They may take steroids or muscle enhancing drugs with little worry about health consequences. To them, getting a perfect body is a singular obsession.

Muscle dysmorphia is under-diagnosed. It likely goes underreported and men who have the disorder either try to hide it or don’t view it as a problem.

Men with Muscle Dysmorphia may find their lives spiraling out of control as their body fixation becomes their only goal. They can begin to jeopardize their careers and relationships.

Body dysmorphic disorder

Muscle dysmorphia isn’t an official disorder. Some doctors think it should be categorized as a type of body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder is on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. It is when a person fixates on a part of their body. This perceived flaw is minor or completely imagined but the person cannot let it go.

Body dysmorphia can be coupled with disorders like anorexia because no matter how much weight a person loses, they still see themselves as overweight. This is why Muscle Dysmorphia can be seen as a sub-category. No matter how muscular the person gets, they will always perceive themselves as small.

What is Adonis Complex 

The Adonis Complex isn’t a medical term. It’s a term that is used to describe an increasingly common fixation on achieving the perfect body in boys and men.

The term Adonis comes from Greek mythology. Adonis was a half man, half god and he was the ultimate in male beauty. He was representative of a perfect male physique and he even won the love of Aphrodite. That’s a pretty big deal in Greek mythology. Men with the Adonis Complex are obsessed with achieving a perfect, Adonis like body.

The funny thing about Adonis himself is, if you look at artist renditions of Adonis he would look big and out of shape to our standards. It just goes to show that ideal body type in society is constantly changing. We still use the term “Adonis” to talk about the perfect man, but the actual look has changed drastically.

Bigorexia Symptoms 

Muscle Dysmorphia, or Bigorexia, has a lot of symptoms to watch out for. Also, although many of them have to do with achieving a perfect Adonis-like body, there are also other fixations. Common things men worry about like height, baldness, and penis size can also become fixations.

Some symptoms to be aware of:

  • Obsession that your body isn’t muscular enough
  • Extreme anxiety or panic over missed workouts
  • Extreme exercise programs
  • Long hours of lifting weights
  • Missing work or social obligations in order to workout
  • Never satisfied with muscle mass
  • Working out with an injury
  • Excessive use of food supplements and proteins
  •  Anabolic Steroid abuse
  • Mood swings
  • Constant looking in the mirror or avoiding mirrors
  • Extreme dieting
  • Other body obsessions like hair or penis size

Causes of Muscle Dysmorphia

Muscle dysmorphia is similar to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and doctors believe the cause is the same. There is an interaction of social factors, biological predisposition, and psychological factors that lead to a person developing the disorder.

Some men are more likely to develop the disorder based on genetic predisposition. Also, there are other disorders that can accompany it like obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety disorder. A person with OCD or anxiety may be more likely to develop Muscle Dysmorphia as they are already likely to fixate on things.

Also, men with low self-esteem are more likely to have Muscle Dysmorphia. They fixate on building muscle mass as a way to gain higher self esteem.

Another factor is society. Images of the perfect masculine body in the media and sports can place pressure on men to live up to this ideal.

Risks of Muscle Dysmorphia

As you can imagine, excessive weight lifting and dieting can take it’s toll on the body. But, like I mentioned earlier, there can also be effects on a person’s life.

Risks to personal life

Personal lives can be affected by Muscle dysmorphia because the obsession with muscle mass takes over an individual’s entire life.

They may skip out on work or have their performance falter because of their rigorous workout schedule. Personal relationships can be robbed of their spontaneity and fun as the person is only focused on workouts. Also, since a person with Muscle Dysmorphia can be self conscious, this can also put a strain on relationships.

Risks to health

Like I mentioned, there are health risks that come with Muscle dysmorphia. Some are:

  • Injuries due to overexercise
  • Kidney damage
  • Heart issues
  • Damage to muscles
  • Liver damage
  • Side effects from steroids

One of the biggest health problems with Muscle Dysmorphia is steroid use. Anabolic steroids can have very serious and irreversible side effects when taken without the supervision of a doctor. A person with Muscle Dysmorphia may be so terrified of loosing muscle mass that they don’t want to stop taking steroids even when the side effects are taking toll. That is why medical intervention and treatment are so necessary.

Who does Muscle Dysmorphia affect

As I mentioned, Muscle Dysmorphia can affect anyone but it is more common in males. At least 100,000 people worldwide meet the criteria to be diagnosed as having muscle dysmorphia.

Some studies have shown that there are higher rates of Muscle Dysmorphia in athletes and body builders. More research on this is needed to determine if this is true. There is a fine line between normal body-building and Muscle Dysmorphia. Of course, there are safe ways to body build without having the condition.

Research shows that ten percent of body builders have muscle dysmorphia. The rates are similar to rates of anorexia in women. If this is the case, potentially millions of men may suffer from the condition.

We are all so bombarded with advertisements and social media at all times that self-esteem is a large problem in our society. The feeling of not being “good enough” and distorted body image is affecting children that are younger and younger. In recent studies, young boys were shown pictures and asked to choose their ideal body type. A large percentage chose the most muscular option available. Then, when asked to pick a picture of what they looked like, most of them chose a photo of someone much smaller than them.

These societal changes are having effects on children and can lead to more cases of Muscle dysmorphia and other eating disorders as well.

Lastly, Muscle Dysmorphia can affect women although their obsession with muscularity is less than in men.

How to Treat Muscle Dysmorphia 

Muscle dysmorphia is extremely hard to diagnose so it may be up to a doctor to recognize the signs and convince a patient to get help. A person may think they are living a healthy lifestyle and there is nothing wrond when, in reality, they need help. If a person with muscle dysmorphia understands they need help, there are treatment options that work.

Muscle Dysmorphia responds well to treatments that are used for other eating disorders. Treatment focuses on normalizing workout patterns, eating, and counteracting obsessive thoughts. The best place to start for this is cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy in a type of therapy where the doctor teaches the patient to identify distorted thoughts and replace them with healthy thoughts.

An MD can also identify the unhealthy behaviors and help a patient to rectify these patterns.

Antidepressant medications are used to treat muscle dysmorphia. These can help diminish obsessive thoughts and behaviors. Also, they can help reduce the anxiety and distress that comes from missing a workout.

Conclusive Paragraph

As you can see, we are only beginning to understand all the ways a person with Muscle Dysmorphia is effected by their condition. It’s also important to remember many people with the disorder may resist treatment and say they are content with the way they are. They may be afraid that if they give up their workouts or steroids they will wither away to nothing. It’s important to listen to these irrational thoughts and know it’s just the disorder talking. With cognitive-behavioral therapy and help from doctors, a person can rapidly improve.


What is Muscle Dysmorphia?


author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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