Individuals with bigorexia (also referred to as muscle dysmorphia or reverse anorexia) develop an obsession with their muscularity believing themselves to be too weak and small no matter how big their muscles are.

What causes it?

Several risk factors may contribute to the development of this disorder such as perfectionism, sever stress, family disharmony, aesthetic focus and the negative influence of mass culture and media which promote an ideal body shape.

Many hypotheses are put forward in attempt to explain the etiology of muscle dysmorphia:

  • The cognitive theory searches for possible causes in a cognitive vicious circle of dysfunctional thoughts regarding one’s body.
  • The psychodynamic theory states that the disorder is due to unresolved conflicts from one’s childhood.
  • The biological theory holds a serotonin irregularity responsible for the disorder.
  • The cognitive behavioral theory states that the disorder is influenced by several factors including biological predisposition, early childhood experiences, culture and psychological vulnerability.

Who gets it?

Although men are most susceptible, both men and women can be affected by this disorder.

What are the symptoms of bigorexia?

  • Missing social events and skipping work to workout
  • Working out despite an injury
  • Maintaining extreme workout methods
  • Maintaining a strict high-protein diet
  • Using excessive amounts of food supplements
  • Frequently looking in the mirror
  • Never being satisfied with the muscular mass of one’s body
  • Steroid abuse
  • Unnecessary plastic surgery
  • Distorted self image
  • Avoiding situations where one’s body might be exposed

Long-term effects of bigorexia

Individuals who suffer from bigorexia follow very strict diets, and they will rarely eat at someone else’s house or at a restaurant because they cannot control the dietary balance or know what exactly was put into the meal, which could leads some individuals to develop eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, high blood pressure, can cause liver failure and heart attacks.

Also, the use of drugs such as anabolic steroids is a common occurrence among bigorexics. Men continue to use steroids despite the side effects they experience, such as acne, impotence, baldness, breast enlargement, increased aggression, testicular shrinkage and impotence.

How is it treated?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most common treatment plan for bigorexia. CBT is a combination of cognitive therapy, which aims to help the individual identify the thoughts and triggers that sustain the disorder, and behavioral therapy, which helps the individual change behaviors that are harmful.

Does it affect family life?

Bigorexia affects the whole family. Loved ones often find it hard to understand that an eating disorder is actually about feelings and coping, rather than food. This can lead to misunderstandings and arguments, particularly at meal times.

Family support

Most families benefit from family help aimed at supporting and managing any difficult relationships. Family work is helpful and encouraged, depending on your ability to cope.

Can I recover?

Even after many years with the illness, you can recover and go on to live a full life but you must want to recover.