People exercise for many different reasons, including looks. Gyms are full in cities and people make sure to make time in their busy schedules to exercise. Weight lifting is a common type of exercise, particularly popular among men. However, scientists at the University of Queensland urge people to be careful – those who are lifting weights to improve their looks are at a higher risk of so-called reverse anorexia.
Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a common eating disorder, sufferers of which see their body in a distorted way. People with anorexia restrict their food intake, exercise a lot and try to lose as much weight as possible. This often results in dangerous health conditions, related to malnourishment and very small body fat percentage. Reverse anorexia, also called bigorexia, is a different kind of disorder – people see themselves as too small. They are trying to gain muscle as much as possible and often take it too far, which is also a dangerous health condition.
While exercising can be healthy, when one loses the connection with reality it can lead to dangerous consequences. Anthropologist Dr Mair Underwood, first author of the new study, said: “Bodybuilding is a risk environment for mental health, and with so many young people building their bodies to look good, the dangers of developing muscle dysmorphia can’t be ignored”. Worryingly, scientists found that all men who partake in bodybuilding consider themselves as having some degree of muscle dysmorphia – they commonly say that ‘the day you start lifting is the day you become forever small’.
It is quite dangerous for people to start believing that they are smaller than they actually are. Some bodybuilders use clever techniques to combat those delusions. For example, they weigh and measure themselves to have a numeric value to their size rather than just a subjective interpretation of what they see in the mirror. However, scientists say that these techniques in themselves are symptoms of muscle dysmorphia.
Why is bigorexia dangerous? Because these people are never happy and have a distorted image of themselves. This leads to use of banned substances as well as other psychological issues. It can have fatal consequences, which is why scientists urge bodybuilding enthusiasts to recognize the symptoms and seek help.
What that help would be? Well, therapy might help. As well as meetings with people who had a similar issue. Sadly, scientists do not know what causes people to become obsessive about their size and helping them is quite tricky. Bodybuilding can be done in a healthy way, but you need to prevent yourself from getting too invested into the man in the mirror.
Source: University of Queensland