We Need To Talk About Muscle Dysmorphia

Muscle dysmorphia is a complex psychological disorder where people become fixated on their physique, diet, and workout routine. Largely affecting young men, this subtype of body dysmorphia and OCD typically stems from the media’s idolisation of muscular body types, leading to anxiety, depression, and even suicide in men who feel they can’t obtain this ideal.

What is muscle dysmorphia?

Sometimes referred to as bigorexia or reverse anorexia, men living with this dysmorphia look in the mirror and believe their body and muscles are too small. Even if their reflection presents the opposite of these beliefs, the distorted lens of muscle dysmorphia clouds their self-esteem and the way they perceive themselves and their muscle mass. These constant negative thoughts often lead to men developing dangerous habits such as excessive weight training, restrictive eating, and the use of steroids.

What causes muscle dysmorphia?

Muscle dysmorphia disorder presents itself differently in each person, but research and anecdotes suggest that the following are likely causes: 

  • The media
  • Pressure from family or friends
  • Other mental health struggles
  • Family history of the disorder
  • Being bullied in the past
  • Sporting environments

What does muscle dysmorphia look like?

As bigorexia is a mental health disorder and presents itself in many forms, it can be difficult to tell when someone is struggling. However, an estimated 10% of men that go to the gym have muscle dysmorphia, so it’s vital we get more men talking and recognise the symptoms of this debilitating condition. 

What are the symptoms of muscle dysmorphia?

Symptoms of muscle dysmorphia disorder can include:

  • Excessive weight lifting to “bulk-up”
  • Avoiding social situations 
  • Using steroids
  • Extreme dieting or obsessive behaviour and thoughts around food
  • Abnormal eating patterns
  • Constantly avoiding mirrors or checking them
  • Body checks such as seeing how their clothes fit around certain muscles
  • Wearing multiple layers or loose clothing to hide their body

Do bodybuilders have dysmorphia?

Competitive bodybuilders can be prone to muscle dysmorphia due to their rigorous training and eating plan. Though it’s natural for bodybuilders to want to get bigger and better, it becomes a problem when bulking up occupies their mind. The fear of losing weight or getting smaller is omnipresent and they’ll do anything it takes to get stronger.

Treatment for muscle dysmorphia

Bigorexia is usually treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you feel less anxious about your body. This can be done on your own or in a group, and the sessions will address your concerns about your perceived physical flaws and reduce the need to carry out unhelpful behaviours such as excessive training. 

Getting help

If you’re struggling with body dysmorphia, speak to your GP as soon as you can. They’ll point you in the right direction and get you the help you need. You can also visit websites such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, Mind, or Anxiety UK and download their resource packs. 

And if you don’t feel comfortable speaking to a professional just yet, simply reaching out to a family member or friend is a step in the right direction.