Muclebuilding - the good the bad and the ugly

It's no surprise that as musclebuilding has taken on new importance, and male body building, cross-fit and Ms Fitness have grown in popularity, bigorexia has also become a growing disorder in gyms and health clubs. Given the hype about impressive pecs, large lats and six packs being sex packs that drive potential partners wild, it's hardly surprising.  And there is plenty fitspiration, those pics with rippling and toned bodies around.

fear of food

Muscle building and bigorexia

Bigorexia is the big brother disease to anorexia, except that bigorexia is to "huge" what anorexia is to "tiny.” And while anorexia is fed by dieting, the adonis complex is fed by musclebuilding. Their muscles may be sculptured, bulging and rippling, but no amount of persuasion convinces men (and increasingly women) that their body is big, ripped or muscular enough.

Bigorexia is also a cousin to exercise bulimia , for while the intention is different, over-exercising is the common denominator.

Rather than their bodies being thought of as functional machines, they become the objects of hate, resentment, fear and loathing.

Research shows that men's perception of the ideal body is typically around 8 kg more muscular than the stated female preference. Paradoxically, though, women interviewed liked toned muscles, but were put off by huge muscles and excessive musclebuilding which they reckon reeks of self-absorption.

Bodybuilding, is the male form of low fatness and the fact that it can be a mental disorder escapes many because exercise and muclebuilding appear to be healthy and a worked-out body, rather than looking deprived, looks healthy.

It’s a bit like a chameleon – The Adonis complex fits in with its surrounds and unlike the gauntness that accompanies anorexia, it blends in. The perception is that your confidence, your desirability, your sense of being in control and your sex life will improve along with the bigger muscles. The irony is that it seldom ever gets rid of the underlying insecurity and the problems they have with feelings of sexual inadequacy! and sexual performance!

However, just as anorexics lose control, so to do those musclebuilding bigorexics.

Why are musclebuilding and bigorexia on the increase?

It has to do with cultural factors and the changing body image.

Now before any big muscular people or health clubs get hot under the collar. I’m not saying there is necessarily anything wrong with working out regularly, or being an exercise enthusiast or even a body-builder.  But obsessively posing in the mirror at 110kg and seeing a weedy weakling and being so consumed with your pursuit of muscle gain that it interferes with your every day life is something totally different.

Sadly bigorexic tendencies are exacerbated, not alleviated, by more musclebuilding sessions. Wanting to be ever-bigger is like being the roadrunner on a road to nowhere, because obsession breeds dissatisfaction and increasing insecurity and brings with it guilt.

There will always be someone bigger and better muscled.

At its most extreme muscle dysmorphia can have a devastating effect on relationships, careers and social lives.

Pauls musclebuilding story

A typical story is that of Paul, a 30-year old engineer whose slippery slide into bigorexia started with a casual affair with the gym whilst still in college.

Slowly he found himself upping the ante: working out longer hours, building up his weight regime and becoming progressively more fixated with not missing a session.

So bad was his muscle dysmorphia that that he refused to honeymoon anywhere where he wouldn’t be able to get to the gym for a week. He refused a promotion because it meant he’d have more time behind a desk and he was fearful of becoming a ‘fat slob.’

Never mind his engineering degree, he took a lower-paying job as a baggage handler at the airport where he felt he would able to increase his ‘workouts’ by using bags and suitcases as his weights.

Even when he had a torn ligament, Paul, against his doctors advice felt compelled to continue his workouts. Paul continually compared himself to other men and checking mirrors obsessively –sadly never happy, always seeing himself as puny despite his watermelon muscles which were obvious to everyone else.

The way he dressed changed, now he wore big baggy clothes to hide his perceived ‘smallness’ and he’d no longer go to the beach for fear that people would laugh at his body.

His perceived puniness drove him harder and got him started on steroids and a high protein diet which occupied increasing amounts of his thoughts. His concentration was quite often focused much more on his workouts or his diet than his work.

The amount of time he spent at gym, and his constant need for reassurance about his muscle gain became ongoing battles in his marriage.

The final straw was when he refused to cut his gym session short on his first year anniversary to go out to dinner with his wife.

Sally, finally threw in the towel and left him saying that there: “wasn’t space for her because he was so busy having an affair with his own body that she wasn’t prepared to compete with such a time-consuming ‘mistress’”.

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