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Muscle Dysmorphia, Bigorexia and Reverse Anorexia

Sometimes also termed bigorexia, muscle dysmorphia is the complete opposite of anorexia. Where individuals obsess about being too small or undeveloped and obsessively seek to gain muscle mass.

Muscle dysmorphia is a sub-classification of body dysmorphic disorder. Typical symptoms are similar to those of eating disorders and include preoccupation with body self-image, but with the intent to look muscular. It is frequently coupled with fear of losing weight and ‘wasting away’ and often involves diets and excessive exercising with the aim of ‘getting bigger’ – this is sometimes referred to as reverse anorexia nervosa.

Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder

Muscle dysmorphic disorder, commonly known as muscle dysmorphia (MD), is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a pre-occupation with underdeveloped muscles, even when the perception is false, and creates a perpetual desire to increase muscle mass. Men and women can be afflicted, but it is more common in men. People with MD become so obsessed with body image and muscle size, that it negatively impacts their health, relationship and employment situations.

MD is stimulated by the following:

MD sufferers typically see themselves as physical weaklings when looking in a mirror. Even when they have (or later achieve) a satisfactory appearance, the observation persists – their perception is distorted and they feel embarrassed by their looks.

In their quest for muscularity, people with MD often focus on taking protein and steroids and neglect other nutrients, causing deficiencies and poor health. They also neglect good personality traits and important obligations by over-concentrating on thoughts and activities related to the disorder.

Similar but Different Preoccupations

Anorexia Nervosa
Just like anorexics, MD sufferers have a distorted view of their bodies and, once they start, they cannot stop their obsessive behaviour. Unlike anorexics, who are obsessed with losing mass, they obsess about gaining mass. This “reverse anorexia” causes MD sufferers to believe they are small and weak, when they are actually big and muscular, the direct opposite of the anorexic experience.

Body Building
Body builders often harbour MD, but normal body building is not MD. Body building can be rigorous, but many practice it without having distorted self-images or destructive obsessions. It may be difficult to determine if the person has MD. If in doubt, consult a qualified mental health therapist.

Signs of Muscle Dysmorphia

The identifying signs include:

MD sufferers may skip obligations, like going to work, and prioritise activities such as shopping for supplements or gyming over other tasks and duties.

Causes of Muscle Dysmorphia

MD is caused by various factors, including:

Genetics: Family history of muscle dysmorphia (hereditary genes).

Neural functions: Insufficient or unbalanced levels of neurochemicals and dysfunctional neurotransmitters.

Environment: An unsafe/criminal/poverty stricken neigbourhood or dysfunctional family home.

Other factors: Bullying, humiliation, perfectionist and/or compulsive tendencies, media and social influences idolising muscular bodies, and employment that demands an attractive appearance.

Consequences of Muscle Dysmorphia

Consequences often seen include:

Treatment for Muscle Dysmorphia

It is far better to concentrate on improving other elements of our lives, rather than obsessing about a perfect body. Improving health and personality traits, overcoming social fears, restoring self-esteem, and so on, are proven solutions for banishing anguish about physical looks and can bring about a normal, fulfilling life.

The preferred treatment process suggested by the health industry, is medical treatment for physical ailments, and sometimes prescribed medication for extreme emotional discomfort, and in more extreme cases psychological treatment in a residential rehabilitation facility.

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