Know the Signs of Muscle Dysmorphia and What to Do about Them

muscle dysmorphia
A culture of health consciousness is rising. Health and fitness are becoming more and more important with each passing day, and toned, strong bodies are being embraced by the masses. As a result, "strong, not slender" has become the fitness anthem, but with that rising perspective comes a new unique problem called muscle dysmorphia. In this article, we will discuss what this condition is, the symptoms associated with it, and treatment. Keep reading to learn more.

What Is Muscle Dysmorphia?

Muscle dysmorphia is the condition where one is obsessed with the desire to look more muscular. It is formally defined as an unhealthy preoccupation with muscularity and fitness. Muscle dysmorphia is the specific dissatisfaction with one's muscularity instead of the entire body. This condition can affect anyone at any age but it is more prevalent in males than in females.

This condition is similar to anorexia, the emotional disorder where an individual refuses to eat because of an obsessive desire to lose weight. As a result of this connection, muscle dysmorphia is commonly referred to as "bigorexia" or "reverse-anorexia."

However, unlike anorexia, the prime focus of muscle dysmorphia is getting bigger, stronger, and appearing more muscular as opposed to becoming thinner. Still, the condition remains a serious problem because it is characterized by an all-consuming focus on a perceived imperfection; this leads to erratic, obsessive behavior like excessive exercising, overly focusing on one's appearance, or extreme dieting.

There is controversy within the medical community over the condition because it has not been officially recognized as a disorder. Also, there is some conflict about whether the condition should be categorized as a type of body dysmorphic disorder or an eating disorder.

According to The Journal of Athletic Training, muscle dysmorphia can be considered as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite conflicting views, most professionals consider it as a form of body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphia is a mental disorder identified by the obsessive belief that some aspect of one's appearance or own body parts are critically flawed. There is a discrepancy between the imagined body and actual self, so in the case of muscle dysmorphia, there is a skewed perception of one's fitness.

Many professionals agree that the condition appears to be rising in prevalence within our society. But still, the condition often goes ignored and under diagnosed. Today, strong people, specifically men, are seen as healthy, desirable, strong, and attractive. As a result, those who have the disorder do not identify it as an issue and hide it.

Causes of Muscle Dysphoria

There is no one defined cause for muscle dysmorphia. This condition, like most eating disorders, is complex and caused by the interaction of several factors including those in biological, psychological, and social environments. Some men are more predisposed to develop the condition based on their genetics, level of self-esteem, and their environment.

Studies show that men with high self-esteem are less likely to develop muscle dysmorphia than those who have low self-esteem. Societal factors like the media, sports, and other people also place pressure on men to have a strong body. This pressure can lead to developing muscle dysmorphia.

Signs & Symptoms

As mentioned before, muscle dysmorphia is characterized by the obsessive desire to look more muscular. This desire is an emotional and mental condition that can become a serious problem and lead to obsessive and excessive behaviors.

If you believe that you or a loved one are suffering from muscle dysmorphia, it is important to be familiar with the signs and symptoms associated with the condition. It is also important to distinguish the difference between a strong dedication to healthy living, working out, and weightlifting compared to body dysmorphia.  

Individuals suffering from this condition usually display an excessive concern with their body image. They may keep up with an extreme or unrealistic diet or exercise routine. They may either check their appearance in the mirror frequently or avoid it at all costs. And to support their excessive exercising, individuals with muscle dysmorphia may take a lot of supplements or abuse steroids.

Signs and Symptoms Associated with Muscle Dysmorphia Include:

There is no one defined cause for muscle dysmorphia. This condition, like most eating disorders, is complex and caused by the interaction of several factors including those in biological, psychological, and social environments. Some men are more predisposed to develop the condition based on their genetics, level of self-esteem, and their environment.

Studies show that men with high self-esteem are less likely to develop muscle dysmorphia than those who have low self-esteem. Societal factors like the media, sports, and other people also place pressure on men to have a strong body. This pressure can lead to developing muscle dysmorphia.

  • Keeping up an exercise program that is extreme
  • Constantly being fixated on the possibility that one’s body isn’t strong or slender or fit enough
  • Surrendering social life or work commitments all the time because of an obsessive need to keep up one’s exercise and diet plan
  • Constantly checking the mirror
  • Totally avoiding the mirror
  • Working out despite sickness or injury
  • Taking too many supplements
  • Taking steroids or other enhancements to get bulkier*
  • Extreme anxiety if one misses a day of exercise
  • Keeping up extreme diets to get the perfect body type
  • Severe fear of getting thinner, losing bulk or ‘withering away’
  • Actively avoiding situations where one’s body could be exposed because of feelings of inadequacy

If you notice these important signs of muscle dysmorphia in another individual or yourself, it is important to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
The emotional toll and physical toll associated with muscle dysmorphia can be very impactful. After prolonged periods, the condition can lead to fragile self-esteem, lost passions, damaged relationships, and more.

Other risks associated with muscle dysmorphia include:

  • Frequent injuries due to overexercise
  • Damage to one’s joints, muscles, and tendons
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Heart problems

Treatment for Muscle Dysmorphia

As mentioned before, individuals who are dealing with muscle dysmorphia rarely seek treatment because they appear healthy on the outside, and as a result, do not recognize they have a problem. Also, individuals or their loved ones may have a hard time distinguishing a person who has muscle dysmorphia from an individual who is dedicated to fitness.

Therefore, the biggest challenge is to recognize the problem and convince the sick person to get help. Muscle dysmorphia is commonly treated in the same manner as other eating disorders. Treatment should initially focus on addressing obsessive thoughts as well as getting eating and exercise habits back to normal.

If the sufferer has abused steroids, a more careful and cautious approach should be used. No matter the situation, if you or a loved one is suffering from muscle dysmorphia, please reach out for professional help and support.

Conclusion

As time passes, our society becomes more and more health conscious. With this change, there is a culture of extreme fitness that seems to be rising, and unique problems associated with this "strong, not skinny" mentality come with it. Muscle dysmorphia is an example of one of these problems. It is the condition where one is obsessed with the desire to look more muscular. It is formally defined as an unhealthy preoccupation with muscularity and fitness. This desire is an emotional and mental condition that can become a serious problem and lead to obsessive and excessive behaviors.

man with dumbbell

There are conflicting views in the medical community about whether the condition should be categorized as a type of body dysmorphic disorder or an eating disorder. However, most consider it to be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, sub-categorized as a form of body dysmorphic disorder. Individuals suffering from this condition may keep up with an extreme diet or fitness regimen due to a perceived flaw in their appearance. Some may abuse supplements or steroids to maintain their physiques. Others experience extreme anxiety and have strong emotional reactions when they miss a workout or even look at their bodies.

Those suffering from muscle dysmorphia may sacrifice other aspects of their lives for fitness and be over obsessed with or critical of their bodies. If left untreated, the condition can lead to fragile self-esteem, lost passions, broken relationships, and more. Negative physical effects of muscle dysmorphia include kidney and liver damage, heart problems, injury due to over-exercising, and muscle, joint, and tendon damage.

Societal factors play a large role in the severity of muscle dysmorphia. Despite the seriousness of this condition, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Societal pressures to look a certain way lead to many men adopting extreme exercise and fitness routines. Because men who are muscular are usually seen as desirable, fit, and healthy, those suffering from body dysmorphia rarely recognize they have a problem.

Therefore, the biggest challenge of treating this condition is recognizing the problem and convincing the sick person to get help. The condition is often treated like other eating disorders. First, the treatment addresses unhealthy eating and exercising habits to normalize them, then it addresses obsessive thoughts. With professional help, you or your loved one can overcome the grip of muscle dysmorphia. So, if you or someone you know is suffering from this condition, please reach out for professional help and support so that everyone can lead their best, healthiest lives.

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