Bigorexia - the body image disorder which results in men obsessing about building muscle and having the perfect body - may sound like some made-up ailment dreamed up by trashy magazines, but with news that are increasing number are suffering from it, is it time to take it seriously?
The Epoch Times reported that it is also called muscle dysmorphia, and that it is on the rise.
Even if you aren't consumed by a quest for bigger muscles though, it does point at a growing concern that men are just as concerned and affected by their body image, as women are perceived to be.
Brian Cuban, reported the Argus Leader, wrote a book called Shattered Image which focusses on his struggles with weight issues and when asked about why he wrote it, said: "I just felt that there was a lack of understanding of male self-image and male eating disorders, especially body dysmorphic disorder. It is overwhelmingly thought of and portrayed in the media — and in research — as a predominantly female disorder."
On HuffPost US, Kate Fridkis blogged about how in the same way that women have started campaigns to include a wide variety of body shapes as being beautiful, men need to do the same. "...sometimes, it's the boys and men in my life who seem to need the most encouragement, where body image is concerned. And I think a big part of the reason is because even as they're experiencing these feelings, they're not really allowed to talk about them," she says.
But is bigorexia real, or a niche disorder that mainly affects bodybuilders? HuffPost UK Lifestyle spoke to Sheri Jacobson, clinical director at Harley Therapy, who said: "I haven't seen any cases of men specifically seeking treatment for exercise obsession. However many men do disclose in therapy that they dwell on their physical appearance, some to a great extent.
"Bigorexia could be an amalgam of exercise addiction and body dysmorphia where a person is preoccupied with appearance, and has a belief that they have a defect - in this case that they are not sufficiently muscular."
Are the figures over-exaggerated however? Men's lifestyle journalist and Contributing Editor for Men's Health magazine Jonathan Thompson says: "I'm not sure about the 45% figure, but this is definitely a trend: you just have to go down to your nearest gym to see that. Men are increasingly conditioned that they (need) to look a certain way - flat stomach, broad chest, big arms - and there's a tangible pressure to create that elusive 'V' shape, if they want to feel successful, powerful and attractive."
Celebrity fitness trainer Rob Blakeman feels however that such a term gives people who like to build muscle a bad name, and needs more consideration. "If some psychologist or other creates a new name to fit a current body craze the media will use it-it doesn't mean its true or accurate in identifying a new breed of neurotic. There are of course, many reasons men will want to appear overtly muscular, however, giving pseudo-scientific terms to a group of people who pump iron a lot is a little crass."
So is bigorexia a symptom of neuroticism or addiction? Sheri says: "Exercise releases endorphins which make us feel good and can become an addiction.
"However, I would say that as a society we don't judge exercise addiction as much as we would say addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling and that's because of the perceived health benefits of working out. However, it can have equally destructive consequences both on the body (ruptures, kidney and liver failure) and the mind in the form of aggression, depression and anxiety."
Talking about what might cause it, she adds: "While images in fitness magazines and the media might be a factor in the rise of bigorexia, I believe it is more likely to be triggered in some people than others based on their earlier experiences. A cycle of dysfunctional thoughts is characteristic of body dysmorphia and makes it very hard to escape."
Sheri's advice is that if you are worried about it, the first thing you must try to do - as with any addiction - is to break the cycle. It doesn't mean that you have to give up working out, but rather you want to reach a place where you can apply some balance.
"If family and friends express a concern, that is one obvious sign to consider getting help," she adds. "My message is: try to be receptive to the concerns of others about our habits - it hurts to hear 'criticisms', and we will want to deny it, but could serve us better in the long-run."
Jonathan also says you should remind yourself of how important rest is in terms of allowing your body to repair itself. "If you're training every day, it can lead to serious injury, and in some cases, permanent damage to your body. The 80/20 rule is a good one to stick to - hit the gym eight out of every 10 days if you feel the need, but have a complete rest on the other two.
"Think of your body as a sports car: its got a long drive ahead, and you always need to prioritise the engine before you start worrying about the bodywork."
SIGNS OF BIGOREXIA:
- Overexertion at the gym
- Working out compulsively
- Abuse of supplements and constant drinking of protein shakes
- Irritability and angry outbursts
- Depression and mania
- Panic if you miss your gym session
- You miss important events - like family outings so you can work out
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