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What is it?

Muscle dysmorphia, also known as bigorexia or reverse anorexia, is a type of eating disorder (such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia) which mainly affects men.

Muscle dysmorphia involves a person’s belief that their body is insufficiently muscular and that they should constantly improve their appearance. The quest to improve one’s body takes up inordinate amounts of time and effort, leading to the neglect of other aspects of the daily life to focus on weight control, exercise routines and a strict dietary regimen. The use of anabolic steroids to increase one’s muscle tone is also common.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of muscle dysmorphia include:

  • constantly looking at oneself in the mirror
  • frequently comparing your body with the body of someone else
  • feeling stressed when skipping a workout session or a meal
  • frequent worry about meeting your daily protein intake goal
  • neglecting family and friends, studying or one’s job
  • making exercising and working out the central priority in life

How is it diagnosed?

Muscle dysmorphia is diagnosed when someone consistently shows a two or more of the following behaviours:

  • the prioritisation of exercising and staying on track with diet above everything else
  • being afraid to showing one’s body
  • experiencing social isolation or job loss due to dedication to a fitness regime
  • working out regardless of physical injuries and taking anabolic steroids.

What causes muscle dysmorphia?

Social and cultural idealisation of the male and female body can result in some people developing an inferiority complex. Increasing numbers of people are suffering from numerous eating disorders, including muscle dysmorphia, although men between 25 and 35 years old are statistically more affected by this disorder.

How can it be treated?

Treatment of muscle dysmorphia depends on the severeity of the condition. For relatively mild symptoms, the GP may recommend referral for a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). For more severe symptoms, you may be prescribed an antidepressant, on its own or in combination with CBT.

Which doctor should I talk to?

If you’re suffering from muscle dysmorphia, you can talk to a GP for referral or book an appointment directly with a psychotherapist.