Are ‘Bigorexia’ Rates Growing Among American Men?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

With today’s beauty standards increasingly based on photoshopped magazine images and Hollywood celebrities, the chase for perfection has grown to be a dangerous one. While this body-conscious trend used to fall squarely in the laps of women, experts confirm that modern men are now feeling the heat.

An unhealthy obsession with muscle mass and muscle development can manifest a complex form of psychiatric disorder known as bigorexia, a disturbance in body image that’s eerily similar to anorexia.

Muscle Dysmorphia

Bigorexia was officially recognized in 1997. Alternate names for the condition are “muscle dysmorphia” and “reverse anorexia.” The main characteristic is a misguided belief that the body is never muscular enough. Normal weightlifters admit to spending 40 minutes a day thinking about body development; men with bigorexia report body-related preoccupations of 5 or more hours a day. Though the underlying causes are not known, research indicates bigorexia is a combination of obsessive compulsive behavior and social pressure.

Bigorexia was officially recognized in 1997. Alternate names for the condition are “muscle dysmorphia” and “reverse anorexia.”

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

While anorexia drives the relentless pursuit of thinness, bigorexia causes an altered self-image and obsessive yearning for bigger and better muscles. A man suffering from this disorder doesn’t look at himself and see a muscular physique. Instead, he sees an image that is unremarkable, weak and puny.

Bigorexics must navigate a draining love/hate relationship with mirrors. The obsessive nature of this disorder can drive a man to repeatedly stand before a mirror, despite the fact he hates the reflection staring back. While a normal bodybuilder looks in the mirror approximately three times in a 24-hour period, a man suffering from bigorexia checks his reflection no less than 12 times a day. It’s a vicious and unhealthy cycle.

A Slave to Diet and Gym

With the promise of faster results and larger muscles, anabolic steroids are by far the most commonly abused substance among the men of this community.
Men with bigorexia are obsessive when it comes to diet and working out. Many take part in extreme exercise routines, blowing off downtime, socialization and rest. The obsession with body image prompts many bigorexics to experiment with dangerous drugs. With the promise of faster results and larger muscles, anabolic steroids are by far the most commonly abused substance among the men of this community. With long-term use, steroids can cause renal and liver damage, along with psychological damage in the form of mood disorders.

Psychological Factors and Bigorexia

Bigorexics generally have low self-esteem and let poor body image dictate their life’s course. For example, one study entitled The Adonis Complex found that 29 percent of men diagnosed with bigorexia have a history of anxiety disorders, with another 59 percent exhibiting an alternate mood disorder. Additional research from 2000 found that one man even avoided sex with his wife, stating he was afraid it would use up the energy he could apply toward body building.

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