Bigorexia: The muscle dysmorphia keeping many young men in the gym

About 30% of people with this body dysmorphic disorder will also likely have an eating disorder.

There is fitness and there’s obsession to look a certain way. Many young people, especially men, are spending more time in the gym to build muscle. The obsession to look buff is driving up the rate of depression, eating disorder and suicide ideation in young men.

What is bigorexia?

Also known as muscle dysmorphia, bigorexia is a health condition that causes one to be consumed by a desire to build muscle on the body. Many people with this disorder also share symptoms similar to anorexia because they tend to fixate on their diet as well, to achieve a desired look.

The signs of muscle dysmorphia include:

  • Mirror checking: The compulsive examination of one’s reflection, focusing on particular parts of the body like biceps
  • Obsession with appearance: Hating your body and feeling like people are judging you for the way you look
  • Spending long hours at the gym every day and pushing your body beyond its limits
  • Following restrictive diets and taking dietary supplements that promise to help you lose weight and add muscle
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Most people with this condition follow strict diets and take fitness supplements. Getty/ Gabriel Vergani / EyeEm

Risks

These may seem normal, but when you are fixated on pushing yourself to look a certain way, you may want to consider the underlying condition which is bigorexia.

Although the medical community is yet to reach a consensus on whether to classify it as a body dysmorphic disorder or as an eating disorder, it is a real and concerning health problem. If left unchecked, bigorexia can result in:

  • Depression
  • Eating disorder
  • Suicide ideation

A study of over 14,000 young people, in 2019, found that 22 percent of males and five per cent of females reported having disordered eating patterns linked to working out and getting more muscular.

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There's also an obsession with appearance, sometimes called mirror checking. Getty/ jpm.foto

Treatment/management of bigorexia

If you think you have this condition, you might want to seek help from a professional mental health practitioner. There are some things you can do yourself to manage the condition, such as:

  • Quitting steroid use and cutting down on protein shakes and fitness supplements
  • Reducing workout time to between 30 and minutes daily
  • Ridding your phone of apps like calorie trackers and fitness apps
  • Recognizing behaviours that feed into the condition like purging, binge-eating, heavy alcohol use and smoking

Doctors can prescribe treatments such as exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and perpetual retraining to learn to see one's body in a healthier way.

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