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Are You Not Muscular or Big Enough? Muscle Dysmorphia (Bigorexia)

David is a writer and an avid fitness enthusiast who gained a muscular physique through resistance training.

Ronnie Coleman (pro bodybuilder)

Ronnie Coleman (pro bodybuilder)

Body Image Problem: Muscle Dysmorphia

Muscle Dysmorphia (or bigorexia) is a disorder where a person (usually male) becomes obsessed with the concept that they are not muscular enough or simply feel really small, when in fact, they may be above average in musculature. Muscle Dysmorphia may also be referred to as "reverse anorexia." Some of the main reasons why a person may suffer from Bigorexia is because of low confidence, self-esteem issues, being bullied before, and the media's idea of the ideal body. Other reasons may be simply because the person does not realize how much progress they made, or they compare themselves to HUGE professional bodybuilders.

Main Symptoms of Bigorexia

  • Bigorexia men will feel like they are never muscular enough or feel small when they may have actually gained 10-20 lbs of muscle.
  • Avoiding eating at other people's houses or at restaurants may be a common theme of someone suffering from Bigorexia. They do not want to deviate from their strict diet.
  • Checking the mirror very frequently and feeling too small or not muscular enough.
  • Not all, but some people suffering from bigorexia may use steroids to increase muscle mass; ignoring the side effects like breast enlargement, baldness, bad acne, impotence, and testicular shrinkage.
  • Working out excessively to the point where it interferes with life and/or damages the body (either physically or mentally).
  • Often times a man with bigorexia will overly compare himself to other men's physiques. There may be another man who looks the same size, but the man with bigorexia will see himself as much smaller. Men with bigorexia often hold many delusions in their minds.
  • While many bodybuilders and fitness buffs may enjoy displaying their physique in front of others, people with bigorexia often hide away due to embarrassment.
  • Other people may give a person with bigorexia a compliment about how they are getting bigger or are muscular, but the person with bigorexia may think they are lying or will still have self-esteem issues.

Why Do People Suffer from Muscle Dysmorphia?

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to become more muscular and leaner, if it becomes an obsession it is bad for health psychologically (and sometimes physically as well; e.g. drugs or overtraining).

Media Perception of an Ideal Body Image

Quite often, the media often shows celebrities or other people with big, ripped, and lean muscular physiques. This may cause a person who watches this to feel like they need to look "exactly" like that person to be accepted in society or be considered attractive. The person may not be consciously aware of this as well. It may be subconscious.

Comparing Body to Professional Bodybuilders on Drugs

In some cases, a person with Bigorexia who is muscular feels like they need to be as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger or other pro bodybuilders to be considered big or attractive. They have this idea that if they are smaller than someone with a freaky amount of muscle then they are small, when in fact, they may be muscular and fit.

Being Bullied

A person with Bigorexia may have been made fun of for either being skinny, weak, or perhaps fat by their peers. This may later cause the person to still feel skinny etc. no matter how muscular they become in the future. A delusion is created in their mind because they were bullied previously.

Bullying often causes men or women to have low self-esteem and confidence. This is why some girls develop anorexia or men become discontent with their own bodies.

Not Acknowledging Progress

In some cases, a person who suffers from Bigorexia does not understand that they may have gained muscle, but they are unable to tell. Other people may be able to see they have gotten more muscular, but the person with Bigorexia does not think they made much progress if at all. They become delusional and still see themselves as small as they were when they started working out. This is kind of similar to how a woman who is fat loses weight, but she ends up thinking she is still fat when she reaches a "healthy body weight." Other people may tell the woman she looks great, but the woman refuses to accept this and tries to lose more weight and becomes anorexic.


Suffering From Bigorexia to an Extent

It's important to understand that everyone may suffer some of the symptoms of having Muscle Dysmorphia to a certain extent. This does not mean you have Bigorexia if you have some of the symptoms mentioned in this article. It merely means you may have a miscued perception.

My Personal Story

As a child, I was always more on the skinny side. This was mainly because of having a higher metabolism, suffering from intestine issues/anxiety (IBS), not working out, and not eating enough food. I was bullied at times as a child and it affected my confidence and self-esteem. And I was always inherently a shy introvert for the most part.

I eventually started lifting weights, eating more, etc. to gain muscle. Even when I did get bigger, I myself did not notice this very well. Many other people told me things like "wow you got bigger", but to me, I felt like I did not. A big part of the reason why it's hard for me (even to this day sometimes) to see myself as bigger than I formerly was is that I see myself every day; whereas other people do not and are able to see the contrast. It's also likely a delusion that I suffer from (but on a minor level).

I tend to look at myself in the mirror sometimes thinking I am small. I am aware that I gained muscle, but to some extent, I occasionally feel like I am small as I was when I was a kid.

As I mentioned, I had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) pretty badly in middle school as a child. I was unable to eat in the mornings without throwing up. I would get upset stomachs from food in the mornings or when I ate foods that did not agree with my stomach. Anxiety was likely a factor, but back then, I did not know what anxiety was.

Today, I eat much more than I did as a child, however, I do not have a very high appetite usually. I generally try to eat foods that do not make me too full so I can eat more overall. In a way, it's a blessing; I can eat more and not gain weight easily like others, but it's harder to eat more to gain muscle/strength etc.

Bigger Faster Stronger

There is a documentary called "Bigger Faster Stronger." It is mainly about steroids and their use in sports, but it also talks about body image and how many males want to become more muscular. I'd advise anyone who has not watched this documentary to watch it. It is quite an eye-opener and will make you think.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Szonok on December 30, 2014:

You can't spot reduce. Increase your criado and eat a little less to reduce fat all over, and eventually in your problem areas.

David Patrick (author) from United States, PA on July 07, 2014:

Well making progress is always good. It's just that (this was not mentioned in article) every human has a certain genetic limit in regards to how much muscle can be gained per body part. Many people get discontent when their gains slow down. But this is the law of diminishing returns; the faster, stronger, bigger etc. you get -- the harder it is to improve. This is not really a bad thing it just means that you have made moderate progress. So it's always good to look back at your previous self and be more content with how far you came etc..

Whenever I see someone who is out-of-shape I see a lot of untapped potential. There is less potential in someone who is already in shape because they have already made a lot of progress.

Thanks for commenting!

Kevin W from Texas on July 07, 2014:

Very interesting and informative article Kain360. I personally have several friends that are bodybuilders that constantly are complaining about getting bigger, but I'm not sure if the suffer from this condition. Thumbs up on your hub.