Bigorexia: Why we should take it seriously

Nutrition Blog

We’ve all heard of anorexia nervosa – the eating disorder characterised by obsessive and serious restrictions on food, fear of gaining weight and a total fixation with an impossibly thin physique.
But did you know there’s a similar condition, called bigorexia?

Since it’s claiming an ever-growing number of victims – predominantly male – it’s important to understand that it’s not just a label we can stick onto those guys who seem to spend more time lifting weights than sleeping or working.

What’s it all about?

Bigorexia is a body image disorder, and the sufferer is obsessed with building muscle and the “perfect” body shape. It’s often called “reverse anorexia” or “megarexia”. And it’s easy to see why:

  • Where anorexics are obsessed with being thin, bigorexics are obsessed with having big muscles and very low body fat.
  • Where anorexics fear weight gain, bigorexics fear being small and weak. They spend hours at the gym, trying to achieve their version of perfection.

What you need to know about bigorexia

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of bigorexia go beyond a simple obsession with exercise (and with weight training in particular). Usually, the sufferer:

  • Is already well muscled, but believes he’s still small and weak – hence the constant driving need to work out more. They will happily over-exert themselves at the gym, and some sufferers have been known to work out with broken bones or torn ligaments. They panic if they miss a workout.
  • Spends hours – not just minutes – every day thinking about the development of their body (and how far they have to go to get that “perfect physique”).
  • Checks his appearance in the mirror every hour or two (rather than just once or twice a day).
  • Constantly compares himself to other men (or herself to other women). And even when they’re comparing themselves against someone with a very similar build, they believe they’re much smaller. This illustrates that the condition is all about body dysmorphia.
  • Won’t eat a meal out of home, since this doesn’t allow for the extreme control of diet – including individual ingredients  and their quantities – that’s essential to the creation of their perfect body.
  • Will use steroids to build more muscle, sometimes in spite of the side effects (including breast enlargement and impotence, among others).

Who does it affect and how is it caused?

The majority of bigorexics are males. And they’re usually in their late teens. A fair proportion of them are weight lifters (but that’s not to say that all weightlifters are bigorexic).

And the trouble with this is – as with most psychological disorders affecting men – they seldom think they have a problem. So they seldom come forward, asking for help.

As for the ‘how’, there isn’t a single cause for this disorder, and different schools or models of psychology have differing views on the various causes. Some say that it results from a vicious circle of dysfunctional thoughts. Others believe it results when the sufferer is someone with very low self esteem, who was teased about their appearance as a young child, and has now developed a total and exaggerated fixation with a particular body image.

Get professional help to cure bigorexia

How is it treated?

The sufferer must get the right therapeutic treatment, with a specialist who understands the disorder. They also need to surround themselves with experts who will help them break the cycle of their obsession. This may include a personal trainer who won’t allow them to work out too much and will give them the kind of positive feedback they need. Or a nutritionist who keeps them on a diet that’s healthy.

If you think you could be the kind of personal trainer or nutritionist who helps everyone achieve their best, check out the Personal Training Certification on offer at Trifocus Fitness Academy. Click here to find out more.