Body Dysmorphia And The Bodybuilder

Many people are obsessed with body image which can cause disorders.

If you think about body image issues in athletes, you tend to think of a female long-distance runner, a ballet dancer or even a wrestler struggling to make-weight. Whilst eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa mainly affect female athletes whose weight or image are important to their sport, body image issues can certainly impact over other sports too and effect both genders, this can even be true of the bodybuilder.

The pre-occupation with body image usually presents itself in two forms: eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and bulimia) whereby a person is preoccupied with their body and shape or body dysmorphic disorder where a person worries about a physical defect others cannot see.

One small type of body dysmorphia is called muscle dysmorphia, a condition that causes a person to obsess about his or her body or a part of the body that is too small which can be referred too as reverse body dysmorphia.

Bodybuilding And Muscle Dysmorphia

Bodybuilders especially are at risk of this condition but body dysmorphia and other body image issues are not always easy to study, especially among nonelite populations. A study in the Journal Of Psychopathology looked at eating disorders in nonprofessional performers. In the study there was 113 nonelite ballet dancers, 54 female and 44 male non competitive bodybuilders, 105 female controls and 30 male controls who were all evaluated for body image issues and potential disordered eating behaviors.


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Researchers discovered that nonprofessional athletes emphasizing in being thin or muscular, like ballet or bodybuilding show a great degree of body uneasiness and bad eating attitudes and behaviors.

There has been other studies published too over the last 25 years that have investigated body image among weight lifters. One study in the Journal Of Comprehensive Psychology revealed that out of 108 bodybuilders surveyed, 2.8% reported previous anorexia nervosa. This is a higher rate than the 0.02% reported American men. 8.3% of the men in this study described reverse anorexia (muscle dysmorphia).

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The Damage Of Body-Image Disorders

The study reported that reverse anorexia subjects often turned down social invitations, refuse to be seen at the beach and even wore heavy clothes in the peak of summer as they were worried about looking small and also reported the use of anabolic steroids. The authors of the study concluded that the disorders of body dysmorphia including anorexia nervosa and muscle dysmorphia will often occur in men who lift weights frequently.

Another study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, a total of 139 men which consisted of 43 bodybuilders, 48 runners and 48 martial artists were surveyed with standardized measures of body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, drive for bulk, bulimia, self-esteem, depression, maturity fears and perfectionism. They were also given questionnaires aimed at measuring attitudes towards steroids and steroid usage rate. Bodybuilders reported greater body dissatisfaction with a high drive for bulk, high drive for thinness and increased bulimia tendencies than any of the other athletic groups.

Bodybuilders also reported significant elevations on measures of perfectionism, ineffectiveness and lower self-esteem. They also reported the greatest use of anabolic steroids and liberal attitudes towards steroid usage. The results showed that male bodybuilders are at the greatest risk of body-image disturbance and the associated psychological characteristics that are commonly reported among eating disorder patients. These psychological characteristics also appear to predict steroid usage in this group of males.

Getting the perfect body is not impossible, in fact you can lose weight very quickly if you follow a few simple steps and don’t get hung up on body image too much.

Beating Body-Image Issues

Research seems to suggest that many physique athletes are affected by body image issues so don’t be afraid to voice any concerns you may have, it is better to seek help than stay silent. It is not uncommon to be self-conscious about your body, there is a fine line between being obsessive and being destructive.

It is normal to be inspired by a fitness model’s physique, it is essential to remember that these fitness models don’t walk around in tip-top shape all year round, they often have ample time to prepare for a shoot or competition so don’t put yourself down if you don’t have a six-pack all year round.

Always stay focused on your goals and progress and remember that fitness is supposed to be a positive and healthy pursuit. Get fit for you, not for a ridiculous goal and if you want to be a bodybuilder then keep going, you will reach where you need to be.

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