Muscle Dysmorphia: Anorexia in Reverse

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Muscle Dysmorphia: Anorexia in Reverse

Women are being pressured to have the ideal body type the society and media's idealized body image / Photo by Mark Nazh via


Women, especially in Western society, are known for being pressured to conform to society’s and media’s concept of the idealized body image. In the study titled "The Influence of self-esteem and Body Satisfaction on Muscle Dysmorphia and Excercise Dependence", it was stated that the ideal body type for women was “thin, yet curvaceous, lean and toned, but not too muscular”.

Reid Parnell, a researcher from the University of North Texas and also the author of the study, also writes in his research that men have also felt this pressure too. The concept that the male body should be “muscular, toned, and athletic” has also been haunting them because this kind of physique is constantly presented in action figures and comic books.

As cited in Parnell’s study, other researches have revealed that men are often looked up to for being muscular and dominant. Being muscular is said to be associated with the conventional idea of what it means to be masculine. Since they feel that society demands that they reach these body standards and that they desire to embody masculinity, this may cause them to have psychological and behavioral problems. One of the problems they may experience is muscle dysmorphia. In their neverending quest to be more muscular, they may feel that their bodies are still small and that they will never be muscular enough. According to Body Building, 10% of male bodybuilders suffer from muscle dysmorphia.

What is Muscle Dysmorphia?

Muscle dysmorphia, also known by the names bigorexia or reverse anorexia, is defined by Eating Disorder Hope as, “a pathological preoccupation with muscularity and leanness." They add that it “involves a specific dissatisfaction with muscularity than the body as a whole with the discrepancy between the imagined and actual self.”

This is a condition that is considered a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a subtype of Body Dysmorphia. It is estimated that 10,000 people are affected by this disorder and that more men than women have it.

Signs That Someone Has Muscle Dysmorphia

Healthyplace says that someone who has muscle dysmorphia will exhibit symptoms such as regularly practicing an intense exercise regimen, spending too much time on working out to the point that it disrupts their academic or work performance and repeatedly checking the mirror to examine the size of their muscles.

In addition, they may also constantly check their weight, wear baggy clothes to keep people from seeing their body, refrain from looking at themselves in the mirror and become anxious and distressed when they skip their workout routine or are unable to strictly follow their diet. They may also feel that others are also obsessed with exercising and their appearance. They may also turn to the excessive use of supplements and steroids to be able to lessen their fats and to build up more muscles.


It is noted that experts are unable to identify what specifically causes of muscle dysmorphia. Since it is also said to be similar to other obsessive-compulsive disorders, researchers propose that these three factors may have lead a person to develop this condition:

Genetic factors

If an individual is related to anyone who is suffering from muscle dysmorphia, then they are also at risk of having it. The disorder may run in their family.

Environmental factors

The childhood and adolescent environment may also cause them to have it. It may have also been brought about by family problems. A person who has been subject to emotional trauma is also more likely to be affected by Muscle Dysmorphia. Cultural factors may also cause them to suffer from this condition.

Not having enough serotonin in the brain

People who are affected by Muscle Dysmorphia do not have enough serotonin in their brains. Serotonin is explained as an essential neurotransmitter that influences a person’s mood and well-being.

Treatment ​

Mghocd states that muscle dysmorphia is a treatable condition. Patients with this disorder are encouraged to seek the assistance of a clinician. It is often advised that patients both use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)  and selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

If a patient chooses to go through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the clinician will be able to guide them on how to point out their warped thoughts, as well as change the damaging and negative thoughts into positive ones.


Patients with muscle dysmorphia may also be given some antidepressants like selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

If muscle dysmorphia is left untreated,  a person may gain injuries from excessive workouts, having conflicts in relationships, not having other hobbies and a heightened anxiety and disappointment in their appearance. On the other hand, if the individual uses CBT and SSRIs to treat their condition, it may aid them in lessening their habit of obsessively thinking about how small their muscles are. This also helps them take charge of compulsive behaviors such as overexercising and constantly flexing their muscles in front of a mirror.


Antidepressants are being prescribed to treat Muscle Dysmorphia / Photo by Getty Images




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