What is Bigorexia?

By Chrisanne Grise 03/27/13

Muscle dysmorphia is a widespread eating disorder that no one is talking about.

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Muscle dysmorphia, or "bigorexia," is sometimes thought of as "reverse anorexia," since sufferers are preoccupied with enlarging—rather than shrinking—their bodies. Experts say the eating disorder, which tends to effect men more than women, poses a substantial threat—and it receives inadequate attention in the medical community, despite being widespread. Those with muscle dysmorphia may engage compulsively in muscle-building activities like weight-lifting, in addition to excessive use of steroids or food supplements, maintaining high-protein, low-fat diets, and extreme exercise, even when injured. Little is currently known about the disorder, but experts say it is common, and carries various health risks. "Muscle dysmorphia is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of men and women, yet it is still a little-understood condition," says Dr. Gregory Jantz, an eating disorder specialist and founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Washington. "Results of this disorder can range from damaged muscles, joints and tendons to the effects of steroid use, depression and even suicide, highlighting the importance of shining a light on this issue." Family issues, perfectionism, stress, validation from peers, and portrayals of certain body types in mainstream media can all increase the risk. Because eating disorders are often pigeonholed as a problem affecting women, many men are reluctant to seek treatment; and doctors often misdiagnose or overlook the problem. But according to the National Eating Disorders Association, of the approximate 30 million people in the US with eating disorders, about 10 million of them are men.

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.