Natural Bodybuilding With JC: Bigorexia

Mr olympia usaWow dude, your arms are crazy big!
What – these things. Yeah, I’ve been working on them for ages but I just can’t seem to get them to grow.
What are you talking about? You’re huge, bro!
I’m no Ronnie. This is just a small shirt…

This mental state is what is jokingly referred to in the fitness community as “Bigorexia.” It is the exact opposite of Anorexia. Where an anorexic individual sees themselves as overweight, an individual suffering from bigorexia sees deficiencies in muscularity and overall size. The actual term for this condition is Muscle Dysmorphia, and on a larger scale, Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

The simplest and most innocent affliction of this disorder (above) is the most common, experienced by many gym goers and almost everybody attempting to gain muscle. The saying “there is no such thing as too big” could not ring more true. Never happy with one’s current muscular state, they fail to see the gains that have been made, and instead focus on the unattained goal – which ironically will never be met in the eyes of the beholder.

Labeling this behavior (disorder) as Bigorexia detracts from the seriousness of the disorder and other potentially serious underlying issues. Any gym bro will most likely admit to having Bigorexia, and will tell it to you with a smile on his face. It is my experience that most gym bros will behave in such a manner with the expectation of receiving a contradictory compliment.

To some degree you can argue that as bodybuilders we all have this problem. 4B15D019-223E-45B9-B786-F9F581DDC36FSomeone once told me that as bodybuilders we all have a “complex” regarding our physique. I asked how so, and he responded, “you’re at the gym aren’t you?” We will forever have our weak or lagging spots. There will always be that one muscle group that could be bigger. Year after year we will try to build muscle on top of muscle, not only to compete with those around us, but to compete with our former selves. Never will we be satisfied. Never will the day come when you will look in the mirror and say, “Yep, I’m as big as I want to be.”

For those that are actually afflicted with this disorder, the reality and severity of the condition has ramifications that go way beyond the playful and hopeful pipedreams of the aspiring bodybuilder.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a mental illness. It does not solely pertain to one’s perception of their muscularity, but to their perception of their physical appearance as a whole. A person suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder will see flaws in their body where one may not exist. They will be so ashamed of this flaw that they will do anything to correct it. Overcome by a feeling of ugliness, it is not uncommon for sufferers to develop social disorders and become recluse. The vicious cycle of the illness will send the afflicted person into an endless obsessive pursuit for perfection.

The following is a list of symptoms, as detailed by the Mayo Clinic. On their own, these symptoms resemble many common every day experiences, mindsets, and opinions of most people. The experience of one or even a few of these symptoms in no way classifies you has having this illness. This is more so a list of behaviors found to be true amongst those that are genuinely afflicted. I personally frequently experience symptoms 1, 3, 4, and 10.

1. Preoccupation with your physical appearance
2. Strong belief that you have an abnormality or defect in your appearance that makes you ugly
3. Frequent examination of yourself in the mirror or, conversely, avoidance of mirrors altogether
4. Belief that others take special notice of your appearance in a negative way
5. The need to seek reassurance about your appearance from others675C9115-2B59-482A-B703-F570AA150DFB
6. Frequent cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction
7. Excessive grooming, such as hair plucking
8. Extreme self-consciousness
9. Refusal to appear in pictures
10. Skin picking
11. Comparison of your appearance with that of others
12. Avoidance of social situations
13. The need to wear excessive makeup or clothing to camouflage perceived flaws

The cause of Body Dysmorphic Disorder is unknown, but it is speculated that it begins in adolescence when one begins to be more aware of their physical self. Peer, media, and societal influences concerning the “beauty” play a major role, as does the presence of an already existing mental or mood disorder. Mental and physical abuse can also lead to unhealthy self-image. In fact, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is closely associated with the symptoms and behavior of those suffering from depression, anxiety, and social phobias; so much so that the presence of one or more of these conditions can trigger the onset of Body Dysmorphic Disorder or increase its impact on a person. It is not an issue of vanity, since those afflicted do not consider themselves to be superior or more attractive than others.

95C0A14D-F2DC-4C15-80D5-F7C3B430B5CETreatment for the disorder is usually in the form of counseling/therapy and an assortment or anti-depressants and anxiety medication. A combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to work best. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thought processes. The simplest explanation of this approach is a process in which one works towards the goal of changing their way of thinking to a more positive and self-affirming manner.

Just about everybody has something they wish they could change about themselves. If you find yourself in a position where you are completely consumed by your “imperfection” and your happiness is suffering, it may be worth sitting down with your healthcare professional.

Happy Lifting!

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6 comments for “Natural Bodybuilding With JC: Bigorexia

  1. Anonymous
    April 3, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    the guy on the top pic is nice.

  2. Peter S
    March 18, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Whoever told you that all bodybuilders have this is probably right. We spend the entire time in the gym training in the mirror, then spend lots more time eating to grow and thinking about growing and training again. To say it’s a lifestyle is probably only part of it. More of an obsession really.

    • JC
      March 18, 2013 at 9:28 am

      There is a fine line between lifestyle and obsession. A couple articles have been posted to this site on the very subject. I consider it a lifestyle but I have also been obsessed. I don’t have a mental illness, but the pursuit of muscle gain can and has been all consuming. In my opinion, obsession is when it begins to interfere with daily life – and by that I mean opting to go to the gym instead of your child’s birthday party (just an example!).

  3. March 18, 2013 at 5:54 am

    I think in the modern world of fitness, this is prevalent in many ways beyond just not feeling big enough. All you have to do is look at the latest mens magazine with the guy with the 8 pack on the cover to feel inadequate.

    Personally I know I’ve gone through very long periods in my life where I could never be ripped enough. It didn’t matter how low I got, it was never good enough. I’ve personally learned to feel good about my body regardless of my appearance instead of never feeling satisfied.

    I’m practically at the point where I want to speak against going too far down this path, as it leads to a feeling of never being satisfied with yourself as a person. The true meaning of fitness includes feeling good about yourself, both mentally and physically. If you’re constantly striving for something and are never happy, then you’ve missed the point.

    • March 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      I think they key thing you said there Matt was “and are never happy.” I think it’s good to always be striving for something and I’ve actually been pondering the idea of an article about never being satisfied as a good thing. I think it keeps motivation high if you are always striving for more, but you definitely have to appreciate and be happy with what you’ve become too. That’s my opinion anyway. I love what I have become, but I definitely want more! 🙂

      • March 20, 2013 at 6:55 am

        It has a lot to do with your make up too. It has a lot to do with a lot of things really. How you are using fitness, to what end. There is no quick, easy way to sum this up. My point was more a word of warning that if you think when you get to X you’ll be happy, you are mistaken. Once you’re there, then all of a sudden there is a new X. The trick is to enjoy it at every stage and if you can do that then you’ll be fine…

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