What is Muscle Dysmorphia?
The obsession with gymnastics, bodybuilding and drug abuse to increase muscle mass is a condition called’’muscular dysmorphia’’. People with muscle dysmorphia perform compulsive exercises in gyms, restrictive diets or even can abuse substances harmful to health in order to achieve the desired body.
Muscle dysmorphia is considered a bodily dysmorphic, because the person who suffers from this condition perceives itself as thin and weak, although people who have muscle dysmorphia is really muscled and presents obsessive behaviors as far as the practice of exercise and the restrictive and structured feeding. 80% of people with muscle dysmorphia are men, and most are between 18 and 35 years old. A person with muscle dysmorphia can spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about their muscles.
People with muscle dysmorphia affects the people in their environment with their behavior. If substance abuse occurs, physical consequences of male or anabolic hormones may have undesirable and irreversible effects, including baldness, breast development in the case of men and reduction of the same in women; Acne, oily skin, reduction of the testicles and the production of sperm and infertility in the case of men.
Addiction to muscles can be understood from several points of view. It has traits in common with eating disorders, affected person can carry out extreme diets to achieve a certain physical.
Why is muscle dysmorphia happened?
Muscular dysmorphia is the result of an obsession to get the “perfect” body. The canon of masculine beauty established at the end of the 20th century imposes that the attractive man is one who has muscles, is tall, has broad shoulders and is strong. Adolescence is a stage of risk in the development of muscle dysmorphia. Because, it is the moment in which greatest insecurities occur, which can lead to spending excessive time in the gym and start extreme diets to achieve a certain physical.
Muscle Dysmorphia Definition
Muscle dysmorphia is not recognized as an entity within clinical psychology. Therefore, science is forced to encompass it within another type of disorder. It was first described by psychiatrist Harrison G. Pope in 1993. Muscle dysmorphia is diagnosed professionally as a body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) with muscle dysmorphia which patient has a perception of his or her image that does not correspond to the reality. People with muscle dysmorphia look weak and thin, although for others they are quite muscular.
Some authors include muscle dysmorphia within an eating behavior disorder (TCA), given the similarities with diseases such as anorexia nervosa. Many, but not all, affected by muscle dysmorphia resort to extreme diets to preserve a certain image.
Muscle Dysmorphia Incidence
Muscle dysmorphia can occur in any person and at any age, but it is much more common in men between 18 and 35 years. It is difficult to calculate the prevalence of muscle dysmorphia. 1 to 10% of gyms users would be affected by this pathology. In addition, many of those affected have reached muscle dysmorphia after having suffered episodes of anorexia. Adolescents are a population at risk for the onset of a disorder such as muscle dysmorphia. In a study which is carried out in 2013 by King Juan Carlos University, 15% of young people aged 15 to 18 showed traits of a pathological concern for this condition.
What Causes Muscle Dysmorphia
The causes of muscle dysmorphia (bigorexia) are multiple, and are due to the combination of social models of masculine beauty with a psychological predisposition to suffer some form of body dysmorphia. This predisposition, according to the scientific community, can be encompassed within affective disorders. On the other hand, canon of masculine beauty places the man as a muscular being, strong, tall and broad-shouldered, with little proportion of fat.
At the end of the 20th century, models of beauty were established in society, both in men and women, reinforced by the media and advertising. Other body dysmorphs such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia have the same origin.
There are a number of risk factors that predispose to muscle dysmorphia:
- Being a man
- To be between 18 and 35 years old
- Living in a society of bodybuilding
- Practice bodybuilding or go to the gym frequently
- Having low self-esteem
- Having an Obsessive Personality
- Having suffered some traumatic experience with the body (bullying)
Adolescents are more likely to develop muscle dysmorphia (bigorexia) in general. The reason is that the stage of adolescence, in which the person passes from childhood to adulthood, is characterized by multiple insecurities. The models that surround the young will be fundamental to build their new adult identity.
When muscle dysmorphia (bigorexia) occurs, it can be aggravated or lengthened over time by certain supporting factors, such as social recognition. If young man with muscle dysmorphia (bigorexia) receives social reinforcement for the body he is getting, he will repeat his behavior.
Muscle Dysmorphia Symptoms
Muscle dysmorphia manifests itself through a series of physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms.
One of the physical indicators that a process of muscle dysmorphia is the increase of the muscles of the body in a short period of time. The biceps, triceps, pectoralis and trapezoids are developed in excess. They also harden and mark the abdominal muscles. If extreme diets are used, it is possible that the person present deficits of some essential nutrients, such as iron and other minerals.
In extreme cases, if the person with muscle dysmorphia (bigorexia) uses certain drugs to increase muscle mass, such as anabolic steroids, certain characteristics may manifest as a result of their abuse.
These are the physical consequences of anabolic abuse based on sex:
Decreased sperm production
Decreased testicle size
Emergence of baldness
Breast development (gynecomastia)
In the women:
Redistribution of body fat to more masculine forms and reduction of breasts
Abnormal growth of facial hair
Male pattern baldness
In both sexes, the prolonged abuse of these substances can cause:
- Oily skin
- Arterial hypertension
- Risk of heart attack
- Enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart
- Brake in bone growth
- Psychiatric effects such as suicidal tendencies, mania, delusions and aggression
The psychological characteristics of a person with muscle dysmorphia (bigorexia) are low self-esteem, depressive traits, anxiety, obsessive thoughts and extreme worry about the perfect body. In addition, there is an alteration of the perception of the body: people who are affected with muscle dysmorphia (bigorexia) perceive an image of theirself that does not correspond to reality. When they look into mirror, they will feel thin and weak, although for other people it is very muscular.
Anxiety can lead to unpleasant physical symptoms such as tachycardias, shortness of breath, stomach pains and gastric problems, as well as sleep disorders.
A person with muscle dysmorphia is characterized by developing strict control over his body, exercise and eating. In addition to the psychological and physical traits, you will develop compulsive behaviors, such as going to the gym for many hours, or setting strict meal or exercise schedules. The psychiatrist who first defined the disorder, described that a person with muscle dysmorphia can spend about 3 hours a day thinking about their muscles.
How To Treat Muscle Dysmorphia
In the first line of treatment of muscle dysmorphia is cognitive-behavioral therapy and pharmacological therapy. In the latter, the effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are used as antidepressants. Serotonin inhibitors (a neurotransmitter that regulates, among other things, mood, and depressive symptoms) help control the obsessive-compulsive symptoms of muscle dysmorphia.
Muscle dysmorphia can also be treated with the help of a psychological treatment, which will eliminate obsessive traits and negative thoughts about self-image and return to a normal life. Cognitive behavioral therapy is required to treat from psychological symptoms to modify harmful behaviors. The goal is for the affected person to change the relationship he has with his own body.
First, people who are affected receive information about their situation. It is made known pathology and its characteristics and is provided information about the body such as nutrition and health. In this way, individuals already have knowledge of what would be the desirable behaviors to lead a healthy life.
When the normal perception of the body has recovered, it is necessary to recover positive thoughts about it. People who are affected by muscle dysmorphia must understand that the goals marked in their mind are unreal and harmful. Closely linked to these thoughts are feelings about one’s own body. It is a part of therapy difficult to perform, since feelings are subject to non-rational values. To do this, it is useful to bring to light all negative feelings about one’s own body, often linked to past traumatic experiences.
How To Prevent Muscle Dysmorphia
Prevention of muscle dysmorphia lies primarily in the development of self-esteem. A healthy self concept prevents the development of insecurities and false perceptions of physical defects that can lead to behaviors dangerous to health, both physical and mental.
It is important for parents and educators to work on the self-esteem of children in childhood, reducing the risk that the insecurities of adolescence lead them to suffer from muscle dysmorphia or any type of disorder related to the perception of the body.
In principle, people with low self-esteem, with obsessive tendencies, frequent anxiety, and living in a body-worshiping environment are more at risk for body dysmorphia.
If any of the above mentioned symptoms of muscular dysmorphia or any other type of body dysmorphia is suspected, it is necessary to consult immediately with a specialist to assess if there is a disorder and the severity of it.