Muscle Dysmorphia: Does It Affect You?

Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought you were small, when in fact you are quite large compared to the ordinary Joe? Are you obsessed with increasing your muscle size, despite already being huge? If you have, you might have muscle dysmorphia.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought you were small, when in fact you are quite large compared to the ordinary Joe? Do you ever feel inferior in size to someone much smaller than you? Are you obsessed with increasing your muscle size, despite already being huge? If you have, you might have muscle dysmorphia.

Muscle dymorphia is a disease where you think that you are small, when in fact you are not or you are overly obsessed with muscle size. This disease is nicknamed "bigorexia" because it is often felt by big individuals. Now, there is the "real" disease where people have an actual mental disorder which seriously affects their life. Because this person is extremely self-conscious, it could destroy friends, relationships, and other pursuits of life. This disease is basically the opposite of anorexia. There is also what I call "bodybuilding bigorexia," in which, like muscle dysmorphia, the "diseased" is never satisfied with their body. This can be both a good and a bad thing. In this article, we will look at the current research on this topic and then discuss how this disease can influence us as bodybuilders.

The Studies

Studies have shown that muscle dysmorphia is most common among male bodybuilders. Female bodybuilders and other athletes of both genders also feel the affects of this disease.

Study 1: Lantz CD. Rhea DJ. Cornelius AE. Muscle dysmorphia in elite-level power lifters and bodybuilders: a test of differences within a conceptual model. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 16(4):649-55, 2002 Nov.

This study compared the behaviors associated with muscle dysmorphia seen in elite bodybuilders and powerlifters. The results were that bodybuilders showed a higher tendency to display characteristics associated with this disease.

Study 2: Mayville SB. Williamson DA. White MA. Netemeyer RG. Drab DL. Development of the Muscle Appearance Satisfaction Scale: a self-report measure for the assessment of muscle dysmorphia symptoms. Assessment. 9(4):351-60, 2002 Dec.

In order to diagnose muscle dysmorphia, an assessment test was developed. The test is called the Muscle Appearance Satisfaction Scale (MASS). This test examines: "Bodybuilding dependence, muscle checking, substance use, injury, and muscle satisfaction."

Study 3: Choi PY. Pope HG Jr. Olivardia R. Muscle dysmorphia: a new syndrome in weightlifters. [Journal Article] British Journal of Sports Medicine. 36(5):375-6; discussion 377, 2002 Oct.

This study examined how weight lifters view themselves. The study found that individuals suffering from muscle dsymorphia are less happy with their bodies, despite being well developed, than one who does not have the disease.

Study 4: Leit RA. Gray JJ. Pope HG Jr. The media's representation of the ideal male body: a cause for muscle dysmorphia?. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 31(3):334-8, 2002 Apr.

This study examined the effects of the media on muscle dysmorphia. A group of college men were shown advertisements. Some were shown advertisements with muscular men and some were shown neutral advertisements. After viewing the advertisements, the men were given a test which measured their self perception of their bodies and the bodies they want to achieve. The study found that those shown the advertisements of muscular men had a larger discrepancy between their current self and what they would like to look like.

Study 5: Olivardia R. Pope HG Jr. Hudson JI. Muscle dysmorphia in male weightlifters: a case-control study. American Journal of Psychiatry. 157(8):1291-6, 2000 Aug.

This study examined 54 men recruited from gyms in Boston. Twenty-four of these men had muscle dysmorphia, while the other 30 were "normal" weight lifters. The study found that, "The men with muscle dysmorphia differed significantly from the normal comparison weight lifters on numerous measures, including body dissatisfaction, eating attitudes, prevalence of anabolic steroid use, and lifetime prevalence of DSM- IV mood, anxiety, and eating disorders. The men with muscle dysmorphia frequently described shame, embarrassment, and impairment of social and occupational functioning in association with their condition."

Bodybuilders and the Disease

From these studies, it is clear that muscle dysmorphia is an actual disease. Depending on ones condition, I would not classify this as a bad "disease." Everyone has the desire to better themselves. In some individuals, this desire is stronger. If having muscle dysmorphia means you are obsessed with your improving your physique, dieting, and dissatisfaction, then I have a bad case of bigorexia. But, this "disease" is what pushes me to go to the gym day in and day out. This "disease" is what causes me to follow my structured diet. This "disease" is what does not allow me to slow down because I am satisfied with what I have accomplished. Muscle dysmorphia is considered a form of obsessive compulsion. An ad featured by GNC sums up the truth behind this:

"Obsession is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated."

Now as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I believe there are two types of this disease. The real disease muscle dysmorphia which can negatively affect ones life. And "bodybuilding bigorexia," in which one is never satisfied and therefore constantly works toward improvement.

You ultimately control the success you will see. Bodybuilders are often labeled as over obsessive because of the work they put into bettering themselves. This label is put on them by those who do not understand what the bodybuilder is trying to accomplish. They do not understand how hard it is to build the physique you want. Therefore, the practices needed to build a championship physique are considered "strange." As I have shown, in some cases, it has been labeled as a disease. This "disease" is what keeps most of us motivated. I for one openly admit to having "bodybuilding bigorexia." By positively harnessing this "disease," I have pushed myself to new levels. I would have never thought that it would be possible to be where I am now without this "disease." The only cure is to attain the physique you are striving to create. Whether or not you will ever be cured depends on how high you set your goals.

I plan on being sick for a long time.