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Muscle Dysmorphia: A Brief Guide

Most would assume that more women suffer with body image issues than men. With society and the media putting serious pressure on the female body, and many women undergoing cosmetic surgery, men are often forgotten about.

The truth is that many men also suffer with their own body image issues. For example, most men are concerned with their body weight, muscle mass, hair, height and even penis size. Most men believe that all of these characteristics are crucial to a man’s masculinity.

As a result, men also suffer with obsessive-compulsive disorders. These disorders are similar to eating disorders in that they involve the same level of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, however, there is a difference. One such disorder known as Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder (MDD) is actually the opposite of anorexia disorder, a common eating disorder among young girls and women who worry about being too fat. In fact, MDD is commonly referred to as “reverse anorexia”.

Read on to learn more about what exactly MDD is, common symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

What is Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia?

Muscle Dysmorphia or (MDD) is a type of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). MDD is an obsessive-compulsive disorder that is the opposite of anorexia disorder. Rather than an individual being concerned with being too large or obese, an individual who suffers with Muscle Dysmorphia will obsess about being too small, weak, or undeveloped. Even if the individual is very strong and has healthy muscle mass, an individual with Muscle dysmorphia believes he or she is inadequate in size. Muscle dysmorphia is also known as bigorexia.

Individuals with Muscle Dysmorphia will often lift weights, perform regular resistance training, and exercise excessively. Some may also take steroids or other muscle-boosting drugs.

In fact, studies have shown that between 50 percent and 100 percent of men who suffer with Muscle Dysmorphia also abuse steroids and other muscle-building drugs. These severe cases of excessive exercise coupled with drugs can lead to death.

The Truth About Muscle Dysmorphia

Although we refer to MDD as a “disorder”, it isn’t exactly seen as an official disorder. This is because there is some controversy about the condition itself and its classification. Experts are unsure of whether it should be classified as an eating disorder, a body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) or an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The truth is that Muscle Dysmorphia, Anorexia Nervosa, and BDD all have similar symptoms in common. These disorders involve the obsession with body image—being too large, too small, or too inadequate.

What is Adonis Complex?

“Adonis Complex” isn’t a medical or psychological term; rather, it comes from ancient Greek mythology. Adonis was half man, half god who was seen as the perfect picture of masculinity. His body was the perfect image of the ultimate male physique. His body was so beautiful that he won the love of Aphrodite, the most beautiful, and queen of all gods.

Today, an “Adonis Complex” is a term that is used to refer to body image issues that negatively impact young boys and men. In the last decade, more boys and men have suffered with an Adonis Complex. Men who suffer with an Adonis Complex often find that their lives spiral out of control as their body image obsessions negatively impact careers and relationships.

Bigorexia Symptoms

Muscle Dysmorphia or MDD is often described as the same as body-building, however, there is a significant difference. For example, a person with a normal body-building lifestyle, such as professional athletes or wrestlers, often engage in a rigorous, disciplined workout regimen that they must follow each day or week.

However, MDD is more of an obsession or a preoccupation with one’s physique. It can cause an individual significant distress and interfere with one’s career, social life, and eating habits.

With that being said, there’s a fine line between strength training and bodybuilding and exercising obsessively or compulsively. There is also a difference between motivation and dedication to a healthy and consistent workout routine and an unhealthy obsession.

Here are some signs of Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia:

  • Obsessing about one’s body image (feeling that one’s muscles are underdeveloped)
  • Lifting weights for long hours
  • Excessive focus on dieting and protein intake
  • Frequently passing up social or work obligations due to a compulsive need to work out or diet
  • Weight lifting or exercising despite muscle soreness or injury
  • Constantly criticizing one’s physique
  • Experiences extreme anxiety in the event of missing a workout
  • Excessive use of protein supplements
  • Over-exerting oneself to build muscle mass
  • Steroid or muscle-building substance abuse
  • Significant distress or mood swings
  • Often other body concerns, hair, skin, penis size

If you have reason to believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from Muscle Dysmorphia, then it is important to seek help immediately. However, it is important to determine if Muscle Dysmorphia is really being dedicated to working out and eating right, or signs of the disorder itself.

What Causes Muscle Dysmorphia?

Because of its similarity to other eating disorders, it’s safe to say that Muscle Dysmorphia is likely caused by a combination of key factors. Although Muscle Dysmorphia can affect both men and women, more men suffer with this disorder than women. This is likely due to the fact that men are genetically predisposed to focus on developing lean muscle mass. As a result, many men are likely to develop Muscle Dysmorphia.

Studies have shown that men with low self-esteem are more likely to suffer with Muscle Dysmorphia than those with healthy self-esteem levels.

Additionally, society, the media, sports and body-building gyms all put greater pressure on men to have an ideal physique. In fact, sports wrestling and body-building gyms are the ideal environment for Muscle Dysmorphic disorder. Men who suffer with Muscle Dysmorphia can also suffer with long-term health risks as a result of consistently over-exerting oneself and/ or abusing steroids or other muscle development drugs.

Some of the long-term risks include the following:

  • Over-exercise or over-exertion
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Damaged joints or muscle tendons
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Heart problems
  • Death

How to Treat Muscle Dysmorphia

Unfortunately, Muscle Dysmorphia is commonly under-diagnosed in today’s society. This is likely because extremely toned and muscular men and women are admired and viewed as strong and attractive. As a result, Muscle Dysmorphia is very difficult to diagnose and therefore under reported. In fact, many men who suffer with the disorder are unaware they have it or do not see it as a problem. The men who do recognize that they suffer with the disorder go to extremes in an effort to hide it.

In fact, research has shown that approximately 10 percent of body builders may suffer with Muscle Dysmorphia. Research also suggests that the number of men who suffer with Muscle Dysmorphia might be similar to the number of women who suffer with Anorexia Nervosa. This likely totals to millions of men who actually suffer with Muscle Dysmorphia. Furthermore, most young men who experience the onset of MDD are only 19 years of age.

The good news is that Muscle Dysmorphia typically responds well to therapy and treatment. In fact, MDD often responds well to the same treatments as other eating disorders. Treatment for MDD typically focuses on healthy eating habits and exercise patterns. Therapy also reinforces positive body image and healthy thoughts. If steroid abuse or other drugs are involved, then more advanced or intense therapy will likely be necessary.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one form of treatment. This treatment coupled with medication has proven to be successful in treating many cases of MDD. In fact, these treatments can also help treat coexisting depression.

Unfortunately, more than half of the individuals who suffer with Muscle Dysmorphia avoid or resist treatment altogether. This is because individuals with Muscle Dysmorphia will claim that they are content with the way they look. The majority fear that therapy will force them to give up steroids, supplements, and/or exercise, subjecting them to diminished muscle mass and weakness.

Friends, family, and loved ones of an individual with MDD may be able to convince the person to try treatment, especially in the event of job loss, troubled relationships, injuries and so on. All in all, the best place to start treatment is by visiting a physician and asking for a referral to see a mental health counselor.

Getting Back on Track

In summary, it is important to carefully identify if or when an individual is showing clear signs of MDD. Yes, it can be difficult to watch a loved one suffer with MDD, or suffer with MDD alone, especially when the person is in fabulous shape! All in all, it’s important to understand the problem in depth, and address the person with care, compassion, and respect.

With a little patience, persistence, and the right therapy, an individual suffering with MDD get back on a truly healthy track of eating right, exercising the right amount, and higher self-esteem.






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