What is muscle dysmorphia?

Muscle dysmorphia is typically more prevalent in men; however, women can also be at risk. The disorder is not currently recognized as an eating disorder and is often considered to be a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that is sub categorized as a body dysmorphic disorder, which is when an individual is excessively concerned about a perceived defect of their physical appearance. Muscle dysmorphia is often under-diagnosed because muscular individuals are typically viewed as strong and attractive.

The term “muscle dysmorphia” came about in 1997, but some people refer to it as reverse anorexia or bigorexia. With this disorder, people become preoccupied with developing muscle to achieve what they perceive as the perfect shape. However, it involves more than just being a bodybuilder. Research shows that roughly 10% of bodybuilders have muscle dysmorphia.

It is sometimes difficult to determine if someone is suffering from muscle dysmorphia, as it might be considered a dedication to healthy exercise and weight lifting.

There are, however, some key signs to look for (Mirror-Mirror):

  • Preoccupation with the idea that their body is not lean or muscular enough
  • Maintaining an extreme exercise program, usually including long hours of weight lifting
  • Excessive attention to diet with a focus on healthy foods and protein
  • Frequently giving up social activities or work obligations because of a compulsive need to maintain one’s workout and diet schedule
  • Working out despite injury
  • Preoccupation with looking at themselves in the mirror or avoiding looking in the mirror entirely
  • Extreme anxiety in the case of missed workouts
  • Excessive use of food supplements

Individuals with muscle dysmorphia will rarely stop their routine to heal from pain or injuries. If they notice anything unusual in their physical appearance, their response is excessive. Even when they’re muscular and lean, it’s never enough. They tend to spend five or more hours thinking about their “underdeveloped bodies” every day. By comparison, normal weightlifters spend up to 40 minutes thinking about their bodies. The disorder also makes people check their appearance up to 12 times per day and constantly compare themselves to others.

People with muscle dysmorphia have extremely strict diets, rarely eating at restaurants or other people’s homes to maintain control. Body fat percentage is a big concern, and they may even use anabolic steroids to increase muscle gain.

As with many eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia can stem from biological, psychological, and social factors. One notable risk factor is self-esteem and the societal pressure to have the perfect body.

How can muscle dysmorphia be treated?

Individuals suffering from muscle dysmorphia rarely seek treatment or feel they need help, which serves as one of the most challenging obstacles to recovery.  Not seeking treatment can lead to severe consequences such as the loss of relationships, damage to muscles and joints, kidney and liver damage, and heart problems.

Muscle dysmorphia has similarities with and can occur alongside other disorders. Because of that, some of the same medications and therapies can correct the behavior and distorted thinking. Therapy for eating disorders and mental health conditions depend on the specific needs of the individual.  As with other eating disorders, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very effective treatment. The goal of CBT is to change the distorted thoughts that people have. It revolves around the theory that negative thinking leads to negative behaviors and emotions. By changing thought patterns, people naturally have more positive behaviors and feelings. Individuals with muscle dysmorphia have distorted thoughts that include inaccurate self-image. They also have an impractical perception of how they should look. CBT helps them see how these beliefs cause them harm. It also teaches them coping and life skills so that they don’t obsess with their body image anymore.

Restoring Balance at Magnolia Creek

Magnolia Creek Treatment Center for Eating Disorders provides adult women with comprehensive treatment in a peaceful environment for recovery without distractions. Our facility can offer the level of care that you need with residential or partial hospitalization programs. Magnolia Creek can help you find freedom from eating disorders such as anorexia, binge eatingbulimiapicapurging, and other disorders. We also offer dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders such as depression, trauma, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

You are not alone. Magnolia Creek is here to provide you with a customized treatment plan that nourishes the body and strengthens the spirit. Contact our admissions team today at 205-409-4220 or complete our contact form to learn more.