Ok, so that’s not really the official name, but it’s definitely more attention-grabbing, and also more recognizable. The textbook name is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and if you’re interested in psychology or exercise psychology, you may have heard of it… if not, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about.
BDD is a psychological disorder in which the person is preoccupied with their appearance, usually finding themselves lacking in some way. They may fixate on a specific body part or feature, such as their nose or hair, or it may target their whole physique.
Bigorexia is a slang name given to a subtype of BDD – muscle dysmorphia. Someone with this condition is focused on appearing muscular, and never feels “big” enough regardless of their true size. It’s regarded as being the opposite of anorexia – where people always see themselves as too big. The best way to compare and understand the two is with these images:
Anyone can have muscle dysmorphia, but it’s more common in men than in women. People suffering from it truly do see themselves as small and undeveloped, and will likely spend much of their free time lifting weights in an effort to build more muscle. Treatment is similar to other body image and eating disorders – cognitive behaviour therapy and possibly anti-depressants (as many people with bigorexia are also clinically depressed).
You don’t have to be a competitive bodybuilder to suffer from this – it can impact anyone who trains and is trying to change their physique. The truth is that once you hit a certain “goal” (i.e., to weigh 200lbs), it’s natural to push it to another goal, and then another. This can quickly turn into an obsession, and your body image can easily become skewed.
There’s a line between having a goal and working towards it, versus suffering from a mental health problem. If your body insecurities impact your day to day living, it’s crossed that line. For example, if you go out of your way to avoid looking in mirrors because you’re so upset by what you “see”, if you’re unable to meet your work responsibilities because of your focus on your body, or if your personal relationships suffer because of it, you’ve likely crossed into body dysmorphia territory. Clinical help is needed at this point, or if depression is present.