Muscle Dysmorphia and Bigoriexia: Becoming the next muscle man

When people hear the word eating disorder, they often conjure up ideas of women suffering from either anorexia or bulimia. However, men can also suffer from eating disorders.

One type of eating disorder that typically affects more men than women is called muscle dysmorphia, or “reverse anorexia nervosa.”

According to a 2000 study by D. Veale, muscle dysmorphia causes an individual to become obsessed with either an imagined or very slight physical defect, and they develop an intense desire to increase their muscularity through extreme amounts of exercise and excessive diet restrictions.

A 2005 article by JA Leone, EJ Sedory and KA Gray says muscle dysmorphia can be classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder and the compulsion refers to behaviours associated with achieving a desired, and often impossible, level of muscularity.

A 1997 article by H.G Pope indicates that the disorder is much more likely to affect men than women because of the pressure put forth by society for men to be physically strong.

It is important to stress that muscle dysmorphia is not limited to individuals that fall within these specific categories and that it can affect anyone.


Why is Muscle Dysmorphia a Problem?

There are a number of negative consequences that are associated with the disorder. People who suffer from this disorder often experience loss of important social relationships because of excessive time spent engaging in activities relating to the disorder, such as going to the gym. P.E. Mosley says in a 2009 article that they might also lose their job for the same reason.

Mosley says muscle dysmorphia can also lead to substance abuse, such as the use of anabolic steroids, which are known to have many negative side effects on the health of those who take them, including prostate enlargement, high cholesterol, acne and male-pattern baldness. Another potential concern relating to health is the fact that many individuals who have muscle dysmorphia will continue to exercise despite having injuries, which can lead to much more serious injuries.

A 2002 journal by J.A. O’Dea and S. Abraham says many men who suffer from muscle dysmorphia are ashamed that they have a disorder associated with their appearance, something that has long been considered a “woman’s disorder.” As a result, they often will not seek treatment.


What Causes Muscle Dysmorphia?

One theory of how muscle dysmorphia begins relates to participation in sports, and asks the question: What came first, the chicken or the egg? Some say that participation in sports opens the door to developing muscle dysmorphia, partly because of the demands placed on these individuals by coaches. Others believe that those with a predisposition to developing muscle dysmorphia may be more likely to participate in sports in the first place.

Also, Leit Gray and Pope say that when men are exposed to muscular, even “supermale,” men in the media they experience a decrease in satisfaction with their own bodies.

A third theory considers the evolution of gender roles over the last several decades. As women become more equal to men in the workforce and thus take on certain traditional male roles (such as the breadwinner), Mosley says men might attempt to overcome their insecure gender identities by becoming hypermasculine in their appearance and in their physical strength.

A possible way to prevent and treat muscle dysmorphia is by changing our culture’s attitudes. Leone, Sedory and Gray say it is important that we reverse the social stigmas associated with men discussing their emotions, including how they feel about their bodies. When men are able to express their concerns, they are more likely to seek the help they may desperately need.