Teenage Boys Are Increasingly Suffering From Disordered Eating. So, What Is 'Bigorexia'?

Globally, 17% of teenage boys now have disordered eating behaviours.
Young white guy taking selfie while exercising at park
Photographer and Illustrator via Getty Images
Young white guy taking selfie while exercising at park

While it is widely understood that more girls suffer from eating disorders than boys, the number of boys with these issues is on the rise.

With a constant attachment to social media where you can’t seem to escape seeing seemingly perfect lives and bodies, boys are suffering from what is known as the ‘bigorexia’ epidemic.

If we look globally, 1 in 5 adolescents struggle with disordered eating. According to research published by Jama Paediatrics, 17% of teenage boys have disordered eating behaviours with 30% of teenage girls suffering the same.

These numbers are a much closer ratio than in recent decades, reports Newport Academy.

Bigorexia, or muscle dysmorphia, is characterised by excessive weightlifting, adhering to a strict diet to lower weight and build muscle, and a preoccupation with not having big enough muscles. The condition has been on the rise since the pandemic started, according to research.

How to address the issue of Bigorexia

Joseph Trunzo, a professor of psychology at Bryant University has explained further about the impact of Bigorexia and how to address these issues.

He said: “Body self-esteem issues in teen boys should be addressed early, and by multiple adults and caregivers in the young boys’ lives – parents, paediatricians, teachers, coaches, etc.

“This problem needs to be de-stigmatised and awareness needs to be increased. When a parent sees their child playing with a ridiculously proportioned action figure, make sure they understand that these are caricatures, not representations of real life or real people.”

Joseph also advises to give teenagers and kids good role models who have normal bodies.

He says caregivers should explain that to look like those movie stars, the actors have to work at it full time and have a team of people to help them, including doctors to help monitor the medical risk.

He adds: “Normalise the breadth of the human form, and most importantly, make sure the child understands the true value of what constitutes a person, which is way more than how they look.

“We cannot completely shield kids from all these messages and images, but we can help them understand what they are exposed to and give them a different perspective. This will hopefully provide a protective mechanism to prevent kids from internalising these ideal depictions as the norm.”

According to the professor, there’s always been societal pressure for men to be and appear “strong” but this issue has certainly been on the rise since before the pandemic.

“Like just about everything, the pandemic fast tracked the behaviour. Since the early aughts, the pressure for building muscle has grown exponentially,” comments Joseph.

In this day and age due to constantly being on screens, be it in films or on social media, lead actors are expected to appear like the superheroes they portray on film.

Joseph says this means that they end up doing gruelling workouts for months on end with top personal trainers as well as adhering to a strict diet that’s cooked by a personal meal service, to ensure the performer is getting the proper nutrients and that they stay within a specific calorie range.

“Getting the physique of a superhero is a full-time job that requires a team of professionals. That’s the part no one sees on social media. It’s also not sustainable,” says Joseph.

The pandemic has a part to play in body image issues says Joseph. He believes that with no school, no formal sports, no distractions — boys (and girls) retreated into their phones where they would be seeing images of body builders that kept showing in the algorithms.

He said: “Add to it, their entire lives are lived on a video screen, with school and even family holidays held over Zoom, their image constantly reflected back to them. And when that image doesn’t look like the ones they are being fed on social media, they feel like outliers.”

Help and support: