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WTF is Bigorexia? An In-Depth Look at Muscle Obsession Syndrome



Well-known member
Aug 7, 2023
Bigorexia, also known as muscle dysmorphia, is a body image disorder characterized by an obsession with building muscle mass. It is a severe condition that can have significant consequences for both the physical and mental health of individuals who suffer from it.

Early intervention and treatment can help individuals with bigorexia develop a healthy body image and reduce their risk of engaging in harmful behaviors. There are several effective treatments available for bigorexia, including psychotherapy, medication, and support groups.


Understanding Bigorexia​

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition characterized by obsessive preoccupation with perceived flaws in physical appearance. These flaws are often minor or barely noticeable to others, but individuals with BDD may experience significant distress and impairment as a result of their obsession. BDD can affect any part of the body, but it is most common for individuals to focus on their face, hair, skin, or genitals.

Bigorexia, also known as muscle dysmorphia, is a specific manifestation of BDD that focuses on muscle size and definition. Individuals with bigorexia believe that they are not muscular enough, even when they are muscular. This distorted body image can lead to several harmful behaviors, including excessive weight lifting and exercise, the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and social isolation.

Bigorexia exerts a profound impact on both mental and physical health. Psychologically, individuals may experience heightened anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal due to their relentless pursuit of an idealized physique. Physically, the intense workout regimens and dietary restrictions associated with bigorexia can lead to health complications.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Bigorexia​

Obsessive Focus on Muscle Size and Definition​

Individuals with bigorexia may spend hours each day thinking about their bodies and engaging in behaviors to improve their muscularity. They may constantly check themselves in the mirror, compare their bodies to others, and develop an obsessive muscle focus. This body-image fixation goes beyond typical fitness goals and becomes a central, distressing concern.

Excessive Exercise Routines​

One prominent sign of bigorexia is the engagement in excessively rigorous and compulsive exercise routines. It can involve spending extended periods in the gym, overtraining, and often neglecting the body's need for rest and recovery. They may also be very strict about their workout routines and become angry or upset if they cannot complete their workouts. This exercise addiction can lead to injuries, burnout, and other health problems.

Unhealthy Dietary Habits​

Unhealthy dietary habits, including restrictive eating patterns, obsession with protein intake, and the use of supplements to an extreme extent, often accompany bigorexia. They may also use supplements, such as protein shakes and creatine, to help them gain muscle mass. These unhealthy dietary habits can lead to nutritional deficiencies, digestive problems, and other health problems. In some cases, they get addicted to anabolic steroids that help them grow their muscles quickly.

Social Withdrawal and Avoidance​

Individuals grappling with bigorexia may withdraw socially, avoiding gatherings or activities that conflict with their rigid exercise and dietary routines. They may also avoid activities they once enjoyed, such as sports or hobbies, because they fear people will judge their appearance. This withdrawal can strain relationships and contribute to feelings of isolation. This social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, and other mental health problems.

Causes and Risk Factors​

The exact causes of bigorexia are not fully understood, but it may be a result of a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. There is some evidence that bigorexia may run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic predisposition to the disorder.

When it comes to environmental causes, exposure to media that promotes unrealistic body ideals, such as muscularity for men and thinness for women, may contribute to the development of bigorexia. Individuals who receive criticism for their appearance, especially during childhood or adolescence, may be more likely to develop bigorexia. Additionally, low self-esteem and a perfectionistic personality may increase the risk of developing bigorexia.

Bigorexia can affect individuals of various ages, but it often manifests in late adolescence and early adulthood when body image concerns tend to peak. Although it can affect individuals of any gender, muscle dysmorphia in males is common since they are more susceptible to societal issues. Athletes who participate in sports that emphasize physical appearance, such as bodybuilding or wrestling, may be at increased risk for bigorexia.

The Dangers of Bigorexia​

Physical Health Risks​

The cardiovascular risks of bigorexia may come from excessive exercise and the use of certain supplements. Additionally, the use of steroids can put a strain on the heart and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Some individuals with bigorexia may resort to extreme dietary practices or the use of supplements that can negatively impact liver function.

Individuals with bigorexia may also experience muscle dysmorphia, a condition in which the muscles become very large and disproportionate. It can lead to pain, stiffness, and difficulty with movement.

Mental Health Risks​

Depression is a common symptom of bigorexia. Individuals with bigorexia may feel hopeless, worthless, and unmotivated. The constant worrying about appearance, diet, and exercise can contribute to heightened levels of anxiety in bigorexia. In severe cases, the mental health implications of bigorexia can contribute to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Individuals with bigorexia may feel that there is no hope for recovery and that suicide is the only way to escape their pain.

Relationship Problems​

Bigorexia can strain relationships due to the preoccupation with physique and lifestyle. As a result, they tend to neglect relationships with family and friends. They may also become irritable and argumentative, which can further strain their relationships.

Financial Problems​

Engaging in extreme fitness practices may lead to financial challenges. Individuals with bigorexia may spend a lot of money on gym memberships, supplements, and other products and services that they believe will help them gain muscle mass. They may also miss work due to injuries or illness that stemmed from excessive exercise or mental and social challenges.

Diagnosing Bigorexia​

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for diagnosing bigorexia. To meet the criteria for bigorexia, an individual must experience the following:

  • A preoccupation with the idea that one's body is not lean and muscular enough, even when one's body is muscular

  • Excessive time spent lifting weights or engaging in other activities intended to increase muscle mass, a strict dietary regimen that focuses on increasing muscle mass, or excessive use of performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids

Recognizing bigorexia symptoms and acknowledging the potential presence of bigorexia is one of the most essential steps in diagnosing. Consulting a therapist for bigorexia or healthcare support for body image concerns provides early intervention and treatment. These professionals can help individuals with bigorexia develop a healthy body image and reduce their risk of engaging in harmful behaviors.

Treatment and Management​

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for bigorexia. CBT helps individuals with bigorexia identify and change their negative thoughts and behaviors about their body. In certain instances, doctors prescribe psychiatric medications to manage symptoms such as anxiety or depression that often coexist with bigorexia. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that may be effective in treating bigorexia.

Addressing bigorexia requires comprehensive lifestyle changes and therapeutic interventions. A balanced and moderate exercise routine is crucial for individuals with bigorexia. Working with a nutritionist or dietitian can help individuals establish a healthy relationship with food and develop balanced eating habits.

Therapeutic approaches such as exposure and response prevention (ERP) can help individuals with bigorexia gradually confront their fears and triggers. Mindfulness-based therapies can help individuals with bigorexia develop a greater awareness of their thoughts and feelings.

Prevention Strategies​

Schools and communities implementing body image education programs can raise awareness about muscle dysmorphia, mental health, and the risks associated with bigorexia. It includes teaching adolescents to appreciate their bodies for what they can do rather than focusing on physical appearance.

Media literacy on body image prevention can challenge unrealistic body ideals that the media often portrays. It helps individuals critically evaluate and understand the impact of media messages on body image. The media, celebrities, and community organizations can help to promote positive body image by showcasing people of all shapes and sizes.

Family, friends, and community members can provide individuals with bigorexia with the support they need to recover. It includes offering encouragement, listening without judgment, and helping individuals to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

The Role of Social Media Factors​

Social media can provide:
  • A platform for connecting with like-minded individuals.
  • Sharing their fitness goals.
  • Finding inspiration and motivation.
It can also serve as a valuable resource for information on nutrition, exercise, and overall health and well-being.

It can be a valuable resource for information on nutrition, exercise, and overall health and well-being. Individuals can follow experts, read articles, and watch informative videos.

However, it can also contribute to negative body image issues and unhealthy fitness practices. Social media often floods images of people with idealized physiques, distorting individuals' perceptions of what is considered normal or desirable. This constant exposure to unrealistic body ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. It can promote extreme fitness practices, unrealistic weight loss, or muscle gain expectations.



Understanding and addressing bigorexia is imperative for the well-being of individuals grappling with this challenging condition. From the obsessive focus on muscle size to the associated physical and mental health risks, the complexities of bigorexia demand attention and consideration.

The dangers of bigorexia, spanning from severe physical health risks to profound mental health challenges, underscore the urgency of prevention, early intervention, and effective treatment. From cardiovascular issues to heightened risks of depression and anxiety, the holistic impact necessitates a nuanced understanding for effective prevention and management.

It is crucial to raise awareness about bigorexia so that individuals who are struggling with the disorder can seek help. By understanding the nuances of this disorder, individuals can collectively contribute to a culture that prioritizes body positivity and supports those on the path to recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions​

Can women suffer from bigorexia?

Yes, women can also suffer from bigorexia. While this condition is often associated with men, women are also susceptible to the pressures of societal beauty standards and the pursuit of an idealized physique. Women experiencing bigorexia may similarly engage in excessive exercise, adopt strict dietary habits, and obsessively focus on achieving a particular muscular appearance.

Are there ways to prevent bigorexia?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing bigorexia. However, there are several things that individuals can do to reduce their risk of developing the disorder. These include body positivity education, avoiding exposure to unrealistic body ideals, and promoting balanced lifestyles.

How Does Bigorexia Differ from Anorexia or Bulimia?

Anorexia, bulimia, and bigorexia are all body image disorders. However, an intense fear of gaining weight characterizes anorexia nervosa, leading to excessive weight loss. On the other hand, bulimia nervosa involves episodes of overeating followed by compensatory behaviors such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise. Unlike bigorexia, bulimia is not centered around a desire for muscularity but rather concerns about weight and shape.