What is Bigorexia? (with pictures)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
People who have bigorexia often obsess about eliminating pounds while also building lean muscle.
People who have bigorexia often obsess about eliminating pounds while also building lean muscle.

Bigorexia is a body dysmorphic disorder in which someone believes that no matter how much he or she works out, he or she will never be muscular enough. The technical term for bigorexia is “muscular dysmorphia,” reflecting the fact that the focus of people who suffer from this condition is the muscles, but people also call it “reverse anorexia” or “bigorexia” because the condition involves growing as large as possible, rather than trying to get as small as possible, as is the case with anorexia.

People suffering from bigorexia may benefit from support groups.
People suffering from bigorexia may benefit from support groups.

Most bigorexia patients are men, reflecting a male beauty standard which places a heavy emphasis on being well-muscled, although women can suffer from this condition as well. Like other body dysmorphic disorders, bigorexia stems from a fundamental disconnect between the patient's perception of the body, and the actual body. Hulking men with perfectly chiseled muscles may look in the mirror and see a weakling, and then upbraid themselves for not working harder.

People with bigorexia may spend long hours at the gym and obsess about their training program.
People with bigorexia may spend long hours at the gym and obsess about their training program.

One of the key symptoms of bigorexia is a persistent hard training program which focuses on weightlifting with the goal of building muscle. Patients will train through pain and injuries, neglect work and family obligations to train, and obsess about training when they are not at the gym. People with muscular dysmorphia also tend to be very controlling about their diets, as they want to build their bodies as quickly as possible, and they also want to eliminate body fat; the goal is a lean, very muscular body.

Persistent training with a focus on weight lifting may be a sign of bigroexia.
Persistent training with a focus on weight lifting may be a sign of bigroexia.

Constant mirror checking is also common in muscle dysmorphia, although paradoxically, many patients are very shy. Like anorexia patients, they view their bodies as imperfect, and therefore they do not want to expose themselves to the judgment of others. Some bigorexics also use drugs to encourage muscle development, and they may develop eating disorders such as bulimia in an attempt to control their diets. Many also skip meals with family and friends because they want to have total control over what they eat.

Most bigorexia patients are men, reflecting a male beauty standard which places a heavy emphasis on being well-muscled.
Most bigorexia patients are men, reflecting a male beauty standard which places a heavy emphasis on being well-muscled.

Treatment for bigorexia involves long term psychological care. Counseling is usually recommended, and sometimes psychiatric drugs may be used to manage depression, especially in the early stages of treatment. Support from friends and family members is also critical. The weightlifting community has been slow to recognize muscle dysmorphia, although a growing realization of the situation has led some gyms to create support groups and buddy systems to catch bigorexia in the early stages and to support people in recovery.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

MrSmirnov

@lonelygod - It seems to me that bigorexia would require the men to be unable to see how much they have accomplished. If the guys at your gym are showing off their body work, I doubt they have the disorder. I think that someone with bigorexia would be way more concerned about keeping to themselves and constantly improving.

If I remember correctly, I read somewhere that most people with bigorexia are pushed into treatment by loved ones, much the same as with anorexia. As far as how many men suffer from bigorexia. I am sure it's many more than are currently recognized.

lonelygod

I wonder how many men are actually diagnosed with bigorexia? Do they actively seek help, or is it something a loved one would probably point out?

Honestly, with how obsessed our culture is on working out and staying strong, I can't imagine anyone really looking at some big muscular guy and thinking he had a disorder. It seems like so many men use steroids to get ahead in bodybuilding that it would be really hard to pick out when it became an actual issue.

There are lots of guys at my gym for instance, that I know are on steroids. They're more interested in having the best abs than in looking after their health. Would that qualify as bigorexia?

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    • People who have bigorexia often obsess about eliminating pounds while also building lean muscle.
      People who have bigorexia often obsess about eliminating pounds while also building lean muscle.
    • People suffering from bigorexia may benefit from support groups.
      People suffering from bigorexia may benefit from support groups.
    • People with bigorexia may spend long hours at the gym and obsess about their training program.
      People with bigorexia may spend long hours at the gym and obsess about their training program.
    • Persistent training with a focus on weight lifting may be a sign of bigroexia.
      Persistent training with a focus on weight lifting may be a sign of bigroexia.
    • Most bigorexia patients are men, reflecting a male beauty standard which places a heavy emphasis on being well-muscled.
      Most bigorexia patients are men, reflecting a male beauty standard which places a heavy emphasis on being well-muscled.