Bigorexia – Fact or Psychobabble?
“Bigorexia” “Muscle Dysmorphia” “Adonis Complex”
Fact or misinformed psychobabble?
Sorry, it’s got to be misinformed psychobabble formulated by people who have never competed or understood the complexities behind this.
The “experts” believe that this Muscle Dysmorphic disorder is where people believe they are too small which leads them to constantly over train and injure themselves plus apparently taking steroids.
Dangerous and ill informed information once again labelling and generalising something which is in fact is a 3 dimensional problem.
The overall problem which is raised is regarding those who feel that no matter what they do, they feel small. The small feeling generally is derived from a feeling either of lack of control, self esteem issues or as a reaction to feeling powerless. It can come from during the socialization period being smaller than your peer group, having been bullied or an attempt to take control of issues which are perceived as being taken out of their hands.
Now the problem here is that you have two different clusters of people here. One is the people who just want to be become larger and increase presence for various reasons which I will go into in a moment – and those that compete.
Well now, this is where the whole definition completely grinds to a halt.
Many children and teenagers begin competing and their body changes. In many sports the level of body fat carried is low and they are used to having a toned and probably relatively muscular physique depending on their sport.
For many, once into adolescence, hormones and life takes over and having seen how their physique is and how it could be potentially, can create then a shift into bodybuilding and increase in muscularity. This is more a minority and is also tied up with the perceived social preference in males to be “muscular” and may also have, of course, the additional of getting more girls!
The other side of this is once you have competed at a reasonable level and are used to having the low body fat and physique from that training, it is incredibly hard to go off season or in fact leave the competitive arena and not carry on with a certain level of training to maintain that physique.
A small percentage of people have had problems with plain old “body dysmorphia” as they lose their physique if they stop training, and can go on to develop eating disorders from this point onwards – and yes that is a problem but completely different from the alleged “muscle dysmorphia” syndrome and what they purport it to be.
For people who give up competing, they know how physically good they feel when they train and the mental agility they derive from the constant challenge which transfers into the rest of their life, so, why stop training even if they don’t compete?
Is this OCD?
Is this some kind of disorder?
Is this a problem?
Again, I am still discussing those that compete and will discuss non competitive size issues in a moment.
The implication with the “muscle dysmorphia” is that all those who have size must be muscle dysmorphic.
Now, for the men who have taken up body-building many want to compete one day in a body-building competition. They see that as how they really want to look and again this is what society says is what a “man” should look like.
For those who are not naturally muscular – the battle and journey begins. It is a hugely complex sport which involves how your body responds to different training methods, learning the correct diet, using protein supplements, carbohydrate balance, timing etc.
The misunderstanding is that, for body-building you have to bulk up to be able to then diet down and remove the body fat to reveal the lean muscularity. People confuse this with “just wanting to get big” – its part of the competitive process.
Here is the REAL problem with competitive body-building - for most men the feeling of the dieting down in pre contest is very difficult. The size and power and strength they have built up and the self esteem boost this also gives is wonderful. As they diet down, the strength starts to be reduced due to the harsh diet and look needed for competing.
The training is changed to lighter weights and different sculpting movements, the body feels smaller and softer due to the change in carbohydrate and protein quantities – and so does the self esteem until their lean physique starts to really be seen.
There is also another problem – once they have competed, then you have to go back to the “off the season” look and bulk up again. You lose that amazing sinued definition, watch as the cuts between the muscles are covered in a thin layer of body fat and this is when a problem can begin. Its like with athletes, as previously discussed who stop competing.
What can happen at this point is the need then to keep the physique at an unattainable level of body fat and so a cycle of burning off what you put in starts and there you have the beginnings of a very nice little eating disorder and the end of a great body-building career
I have worked with many athletes and bodybuilders and strength athletes who have had these problems and from competing myself from age 16, have managed to effectively assist them to regain true perception of self and also the difficulties associated with it, plus reach real success in their competitive careers.
This isn’t “muscle dysmorphia” – this is a multi layered plain old body dysmorphic disorder from varying triggers in the competitive world written up by theorists.
This is where there certainly are issues but once again I don’t believe that this is a “muscle dysmorphia”
There are the 3 categories:
1) The competitive athlete
2) The teenager who wants to gain
3) The adult who wants to gain
We have already covered the competitive athlete and competitive teenager.
For those adolescents who need to gain size this is often from self esteem issues. It could be from bullying, from having what they perceive to be a “weak” frame, being small or a number of other issues where they feel have to prove or defend themselves.
Size can be a very powerful way from keeping people at arms length and a very effective way to project an image of power and hide low self esteem.
Body dysmorphic disorder is in essence a condition where the image you see of yourself is different to the true physique. So, why would seeing yourself as small when you are large and visa verse in fact be so different?
For those who continue to put on muscle mass and size generally they will find a difference in the reaction they get from people.
For some, it will intimidate and therefore give them the feeling of power they feel they are lacking. For others it is, as mentioned, ways of hiding shyness or self esteem issues as they project and live the persona they create.
If the need to be noticed, the low self esteem or the issues are still not resolved then the need to create more size may be necessary and then the cycle begins.
This does not necessarily mean they then take steroids or other illegal substances. For many, they will also put on body fat as well which helps the size and is different from those who compete and need to keep the body fat levels low.
The point raised is about feeling small. It is exactly the same for those who have an image they are fat and therefore hide how they look. It is also based on the emotional state of mind at the time.
So, if someone who has created size as their projection is having an emotionally low period, their self perception will also suffer and therefore feel small, cover up and not wish to be seen.
This will also propel them to want to put on more size to regain the positive feelings they had previously from additional size. Much the same way as someone who has lost weight gains the positive feelings out of the initial weight loss and then attempts to try to keep recreating that self esteem boost by losing more weight.
Yes, there will be people who will also use steroids but this is a minority rather than majority and somewhat of a scaremongering from the press.
The constant training is usually within boundaries and they have collected enough knowledge to know that over training will decrease size so this is generally not issue.
The only time this is an issue is with exercise anorexia which is discussed under the eating disorders section and not relevant to the issue of increasing muscle – another myth.
Muscle Dysmorphia is in fact a body dysmorphic disorder with all the same complications and issues except from the other end of the spectrum.
Poorly researched and not separated from the competing community and the essence of self esteem issues there are sweeping statements attached to these problems.
From dealing with many athletes over a number of years and clients outside of competing in eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders, these issues can be dealt with in an effective and straight forward manner.
Remember, before you engage anyone in this type of therapy to ensure they have the necessary competitive background, understanding and experience to deal with these types of problems.