When you think of body image disorders, what comes to your mind? For most people, this sparks thoughts of teenage girls and anorexia. That’s just one condition, though.
Bigorexia or muscle dysmorphia is a type of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).1 This falls under the category of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders,2 which is different than ‘Feeding and Eating’ disorders like anorexia.3 Regardless, both of these disorders involve body image.
Bigorexia mainly affects male bodybuilders, athletes, and adolescents. It’s defined as an obsession of gaining muscle – lots of it. A person with bigorexia may feel like they’ll never be big enough, no matter how much they hit the gym. Often, they’ll spend tons of money on supplements and practice abnormal eating patterns. In some cases, substance abuse becomes an issue.4 As you can imagine, it’s extremely unhealthy.
Causes Of Bigorexia
Researchers aren’t positive what causes bigorexia. However, it likely stems from a combination of these five risk factors.
1. Cultural Pressure
From movies to magazines, muscularity and leanness are put on a pedestal.5 Just take a look at the heartthrob or superhero in a movie. They’re usually built, burly, and fit. It suggests that the more muscles you have, the better off you’ll be.
In turn, a person might feel pressure regarding what they “should” look like. Teens are especially vulnerable since they’re going through so many physical changes. Insecurity and low self-esteem are at an all-time high.6
2. Social Pressure
Beyond the media, even peers and family can contribute to problems with body image.
For example, the American Journal of Men’s Health found that bigorexia is linked to the perception of what females supposedly like. The perception of male peers may also play a part.7
The influence of peers is very strong. They can be the driving force for risky behaviors and new beliefs. If something seems “cool” – such as having a lot of muscle – people will be more likely to follow suit. It’s all about fitting in and being liked.8
Even family members can contribute to societal pressure. Sometimes, parents or siblings might negatively comment on a relative’s looks. This might stem from their own struggles with body image and self-esteem. Despite the reason, these comments dig deep.9
3. Athletic Expectations
One of the potential causes of bigorexia involves sports performance. Athletes are vulnerable to high expectations, making them even more concerned with physical health and image. It is, after all, what will affect the quality of athletic performance.
They’re also susceptible to using supplements, steroids, or both. If poor self-esteem is present, the chances for BDD are higher.10
4. Poor Neurological Health
Bigorexia risk factors aren’t always environmental. The balance of neurotransmitters can also fuel this disorder.
The main focus is serotonin. This “feel good” brain chemical affects almost every type of behavior, from emotional and cognitive to appetite and motor skills. Low levels are linked to depression, anxiety,11, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. These issues can certainly play a role in BDD.12
Body image disorders are often treated with serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. These drugs are designed to bring the levels of serotonin back to normal.13
5. Genetic Predisposition
Genes can play a big role in health conditions. It’s no different with mental diseases, such as bigorexia and other forms of BDD. But unlike peer pressure, you can’t exactly avoid genetics.
About 8 percent of patients with BDD has a family member with BDD. Plus, 7 percent of patients with a BDD has a first-degree relative with OCD.14 When there’s a genetic predisposition, extra caution is needed to control other factors.
Depending on the person, treatment for bigorexia will vary. It may include a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Emotional support from friends and family is super important.
|↑1||Olivardia, Roberto, Harrison G. Pope Jr, and James I. Hudson. “Muscle dysmorphia in male weightlifters: a case-control study.” American Journal of Psychiatry 157, no. 8 (2000): 1291-1296.|
|↑2||Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. American Psychiatric Association.|
|↑3||Feeding and Eating Disorders. American Psychiatric Association.|
|↑4||Mosley, Philip E. “Bigorexia: bodybuilding and muscle dysmorphia.” European Eating Disorders Review 17, no. 3 (2009): 191-198.|
|↑5, ↑10||Leone, James E., Edward J. Sedory, and Kimberly A. Gray. “Recognition and treatment of muscle dysmorphia and related body image disorders.” Journal of athletic training 40, no. 4 (2005): 352.|
|↑6||Body Image and Self-Esteem. TeensHealth, The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑7||Lin, Linda, and Frank DeCusati. “Muscle dysmorphia and the perception of men’s peer muscularity preferences.” American journal of men’s health (2015): 1557988315598367.|
|↑8||Peer Pressure. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.|
|↑9, ↑12||Body Image and Self-Esteem. TeensHealth, The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑11||Frazer, A., and J. G. Hensler. “Serotonin involvement in physiological function and behavior.” Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects (1999): 1-5.|
|↑13, ↑14||Feusner, Jamie D., Jose Yaryura-Tobias, and Sanjaya Saxena. “The pathophysiology of body dysmorphic disorder.” Body Image 5, no. 1 (2008): 3-12.|