Natural Bodybuilding With JC: Bigorexia

Wow dude, your arms are crazy big!
What – these things. Yeah, I’ve been working on them for ages but I just can’t seem to get them to grow.
What are you talking about? You’re huge, bro!
I’m no Ronnie. This is just a small shirt…

This mental state is what is jokingly referred to in the fitness community as “Bigorexia.” It is the exact opposite of Anorexia. Where an anorexic individual sees themselves as overweight, an individual suffering from bigorexia sees deficiencies in muscularity and overall size. The actual term for this condition is Muscle Dysmorphia, and on a larger scale, Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

The simplest and most innocent affliction of this disorder (above) is the most common, experienced by many gym goers and almost everybody attempting to gain muscle. The saying “there is no such thing as too big” could not ring more true. Never happy with one’s current muscular state, they fail to see the gains that have been made, and instead focus on the unattained goal – which ironically will never be met in the eyes of the beholder.

Labeling this behavior (disorder) as Bigorexia detracts from the seriousness of the disorder and other potentially serious underlying issues. Any gym bro will most likely admit to having Bigorexia, and will tell it to you with a smile on his face. It is my experience that most gym bros will behave in such a manner with the expectation of receiving a contradictory compliment.

To some degree you can argue that as bodybuilders we all have this problem. Someone once told me that as bodybuilders we all have a “complex” regarding our physique. I asked how so, and he responded, “you’re at the gym aren’t you?” We will forever have our weak or lagging spots. There will always be that one muscle group that could be bigger. Year after year we will try to build muscle on top of muscle, not only to compete with those around us, but to compete with our former selves. Never will we be satisfied. Never will the day come when you will look in the mirror and say, “Yep, I’m as big as I want to be.”

For those that are actually afflicted with this disorder, the reality and severity of the condition has ramifications that go way beyond the playful and hopeful pipedreams of the aspiring bodybuilder.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a mental illness. It does not solely pertain to one’s perception of their muscularity, but to their perception of their physical appearance as a whole. A person suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder will see flaws in their body where one may not exist. They will be so ashamed of this flaw that they will do anything to correct it. Overcome by a feeling of ugliness, it is not uncommon for sufferers to develop social disorders and become recluse. The vicious cycle of the illness will send the afflicted person into an endless obsessive pursuit for perfection.

The following is a list of symptoms, as detailed by the Mayo Clinic. On their own, these symptoms resemble many common every day experiences, mindsets, and opinions of most people. The experience of one or even a few of these symptoms in no way classifies you has having this illness. This is more so a list of behaviors found to be true amongst those that are genuinely afflicted. I personally frequently experience symptoms 1, 3, 4, and 10.

1. Preoccupation with your physical appearance
2. Strong belief that you have an abnormality or defect in your appearance that makes you ugly
3. Frequent examination of yourself in the mirror or, conversely, avoidance of mirrors altogether
4. Belief that others take special notice of your appearance in a negative way
5. The need to seek reassurance about your appearance from others
6. Frequent cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction
7. Excessive grooming, such as hair plucking
8. Extreme self-consciousness
9. Refusal to appear in pictures
10. Skin picking
11. Comparison of your appearance with that of others
12. Avoidance of social situations
13. The need to wear excessive makeup or clothing to camouflage perceived flaws

The cause of Body Dysmorphic Disorder is unknown, but it is speculated that it begins in adolescence when one begins to be more aware of their physical self. Peer, media, and societal influences concerning the “beauty” play a major role, as does the presence of an already existing mental or mood disorder. Mental and physical abuse can also lead to unhealthy self-image. In fact, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is closely associated with the symptoms and behavior of those suffering from depression, anxiety, and social phobias; so much so that the presence of one or more of these conditions can trigger the onset of Body Dysmorphic Disorder or increase its impact on a person. It is not an issue of vanity, since those afflicted do not consider themselves to be superior or more attractive than others.

Treatment for the disorder is usually in the form of counseling/therapy and an assortment or anti-depressants and anxiety medication. A combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to work best. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thought processes. The simplest explanation of this approach is a process in which one works towards the goal of changing their way of thinking to a more positive and self-affirming manner.

Just about everybody has something they wish they could change about themselves. If you find yourself in a position where you are completely consumed by your “imperfection” and your happiness is suffering, it may be worth sitting down with your healthcare professional.

Happy Lifting!

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