Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia - Are You Obsessed With Not Having Enough Muscles?

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Muscle dysmorphia is an eating disorder that mostly affects bodybuilders and avid gym-goers. Individuals with this specific subtype of body dysmorphic disorder believe that they are too skinny and not muscular enough, but in reality they are above average in musculature. Also known as bigorexia, reverse anorexia, and Adonis complex, this Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) is more common in men than in women. Let’s have a brief look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment of bigorexia.

Signs and Symptoms of Bigorexia

People with this eating disorder are obsessed with the way they look and have a distorted image of their body, a characteristic that is found in all sufferers of body dysmorphia. Following are some of the signs and symptoms present in individuals with this disorder:

  • They have a belief that that they have inadequate muscles, even though it is quite visible that they have good muscle mass.
  • They are not small or frail, yet they are concerned about being skinny and thin.
  • The obsession of having a better musculature causes them to indulge in compulsive behaviors such as excessive weight-lifting, resistance training, and exercising.
  • Injuries and pain do not stop them from indulging in these compulsive and excessive exercise regimens.
  • Steroids or muscle-enhancing drugs are often used.
  • Even when desperately hungry, these men will continue their low-fat high protein diets.
  • The preoccupation with perceived muscular inadequacy interferes with work, family, social and other responsibilities.
  • Self-consciousness makes it difficult for them to relax and enjoy activities.
  • They are constantly concerned that others may be criticizing their smallness.
  • Individuals with this disorder are constantly looking at their muscular built in the mirror.

Causes of Bigorexia

As with many other eating disorders, there is no clear physical cause of bigorexia. However, there are certain theories that attempt to explain the reasons why men develop this body dysmorphic disorder. Psychological theories explain that men who were teased for being overweight or underweight in adolescence are likely to develop a low self-esteem which is probably why they are constantly comparing their muscularity with other men.

Many researchers consider this reverse anorexia disorder as belonging to the spectrum of obsessive compulsive disorders or OCD since there is a obsessive fixation with one’s appearance. Also, medications used for the treatment of OCD have been found to be effective in treating this body image disorder. It is also believed that just like OCD, there may possibly be a genetic basis and it may run in families.

There have been various studies that have proven that exposure to the images of thin female figures in the media is responsible for the negative body image that some women may have. Now, researchers have also found that exposure to muscular male images is responsible for causing low self-esteem in men and could be a causal factor in muscle dysmorphia.

Treatment of Bigorexia

Most people with muscle dysmorphia do not think that they need treatment. Even if they admit that they have a problem, they will refuse any help and continue with their unhealthy eating and exercising practices. However, people with this Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) can benefit a great deal from a treatment with a sports medicine physician and a counselor specializing in working with athletes. Psychiatric drugs may be prescribed for individuals with this eating disorder for managing depression; however, psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapies are the best ways to treat this body dysmorphic disorder.


University of Pennsylvania: Muscle dysmorphia Eating Disorders: Muscle Dysmorphia

Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders: Body dysmorphic disorder

Docshop: Muscle Mania: Understanding “Bigorexia”