We’ve all seen that one guy at the gym. He’s probably clad in a stringer tank top and furiously pumping out biceps curls or bench press reps until he’s blue in the face. In between every set you’ll see this guy look in the mirror and scrutinize his physique. Perhaps he’ll even prod or poke himself, as if he’ll have actually grown some tangible amount of muscle from the set he just performed. Now, this guy might be jacked, but when you hear him talking to his gym bros, you always hear him complaining about his “chicken legs” or “tiny arms.” Though it’s impossible to diagnose any behavior from a distance, the most extreme type of this behavior is known as muscle dysmorphia, or “bigorexia.”
You might think of it as the exact opposite of anorexia nervosa and bulimia; bigorexia is the desire to attain larger muscles and the constant fear of being physically underdeveloped.
Individuals who suffer from bigorexia view themselves as having inferior or smaller musculature than they would like. This is accompanied with feelings of inadequacy, depression, and, in extreme cases, these relentless feelings of inferiority could end in suicide. Someone with bigorexia will constantly compare themselves (particularly, the amount of muscle they have) with others, and no matter how many “gainz” they make, they’ll never feel “good enough.”
The struggle between males and their body image has taken the spotlight in the fitness and health media recently. More people and healthcare professionals are talking about and spreading awareness of eating disorders and body dysmorphia as it pertains to members of the male sex. I, myself, struggled with an eating disorder and saw several doctors who failed to diagnose me, despite the obvious signs of weight loss and fear of food.
More and more, though, healthcare professionals are taking note of just how common eating and body image disorders can be in men. However, bigorexia is something that isn’t a huge part of this conversation. Perhaps this is because someone afflicted with bigorexia can live a relatively healthy physical life, even though their mental health might be in shambles, as opposed to someone with anorexia or exercise bulimia, who will be literally falling apart physically as their mental health also deteriorates.
This isn’t to say that bigorexia is any less of a problem than the aforementioned disorders because the mental discomfort and depression can still be just as dire. People who suffer from bigorexia can also have their day-to-day lives impeded by an obsession with their gym schedule and working out, not unlike those with exercise bulimia. This can take a toll on relationships and social interaction.
If you or someone you know struggles with feelings of inadequacy due to your body composition or muscle size, the best course of action is to tell a family member or friend that you are struggling and then seek out help from a mental health care professional. No, not everyone has these feelings and, yes, it is okay to seek professional help for your behavior.