Written by Joey Argento
Can living a healthy lifestyle lead to mental illnesses? Yes, I did just say “Healthy lifestyle” as well as “mental illness” in the same sentence. Although it may sound like one huge paradox, this phenomena is growing exponentially and is all so true. Everyone has heard of anorexia which is the mental illness that can make individuals perceive themselves as overweight when they are already excessively skinny.
Not many people have heard of the opposite illness that goes by the name of Bigorexia or muscle dysmorphia. This mental illness is the complete reverse of anorexia. This is the condition that allows a human to perceive themselves as too “small” and puny when they are very ripped and muscular. For someone who is not part of this muscle building, healthy lifestyle it is hard to comprehend and even harder to believe however someone like myself who has been integrated in this industry for a while knows exactly how real his phenomena really is and how fiercely it can attack you. Bigorexia can be caused by the very potent media, nutritional obsession as well as aesthetic infatuation.
The root to this problem is one quote in which we have all been told at some point in our own lives; “Never look back because you cannot change your past. Keep your head up and keep going.” Sounds really motivational until you realize this is the mentality that leads many individuals into depression and self-destruction.
We’ve all heard how models and Barbie convey a false image of the ideal body which can skew women’s body image, however most people don’t realize that there are also male models and male Barbies. This phenomena has been increasing in boys and men. The Barbie doll, Ken, used to have 16 inch biceps in the 80s and he now sports a 24 inch bicep. The media is pressuring men to have that idealized “V” tapered body, huge arms and a ripped six pack.
These models we see on social media, advertisements and magazines are the result of photo editing. Yet these are the people to which we look up to and use as “body goals”. This pressure to wear the ideal body is what can lead to muscle dysmorphia because there is never a realistic and attainable goals ahead of us. Its got to the point where we cannot even watch our favorite music video without being brain washed by the magic fat loss pill supported by the latest model.
Many men are beginning to truly believe that these media portraying bodies are what they must look like and sadly they take extreme measures to get there, which leaves their health and social life in the dust. This factor will only continue to grow since we are being exposed to more and more technology from very young ages. The media acts as a predator and we are unfortunately the prey.
Extreme dieting is a consequence of muscle dysmorphia. Bigorexia and eating disorders are two separate topics on their own despite going hand in hand. Many people with muscle dysmorphia are diagnosed with eating disorders because this nutritional aspect to their lives interferes with their health and social life. Along with feeling small and scrawny, individuals with this disease are also obsessed with their body fat percentage and feel as if they are never lean enough. This is what makes people fall into this dark hole of EXTREME dieting in order to burn fat and shed water weight.
In bodybuilding there is this thing called the “morning ab check”. Often a laughable matter, this very simplistic action can be a sign of muscle dysmorphia. The morning abdominal check is when a bodybuilder checks if his or her abs are still “there” or looking good in the morning. Sounds odd to someone outside of this sport/lifestyle however this stupidity is the result of the obsession with being lean. To an outsider it is easy to say that it is nonsense and that your abs will not run away overnight which is true but to a bodybuilder with this illness, this nonsense is a reality.
The problem with this ab check is that it leads individuals into temporarily small amounts of depression for the day that follows. Depending on what was eaten the night prior to the “ab check”, the persons abs may look bloated and not very defined due to things like sodium and water retention. This causes bodybuilders to feel depressed and starts their day off on a bad foot. In addition, this miniature depression causes many people to fall into extreme dieting for a given period of time so that they can slim down and loose the access body fat in which they think they have when in reality it is all an allusion. These measures being taken are extreme and will have extreme consequences such as depression, physical exhaustion, catabolism, severe hunger pangs, hormonal dysfunction, seizures, malnutrition and constipation.
Many fitness enthusiasts will say that this disorder does not exist and that this is actually only discipline and extreme determination. This ideology is not totally incorrect however this is also the excuse a muscle dysmorphic individual may use to defend their problem. There is a super fine line between being determined and having bigorexia despite the latter sounding very different. You see, this determination turns into an extreme passion which then causes a severe obsession with one’s body and they then become never good enough.
Body dysmorphic disorder is an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which an individual has excessive concern and preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical appearance. Being fit is a lifestyle meaning it is quite easy to develop an obsession.
Muscle dysmorphia, Bigorexia or Reverse Anorexia, call it what you want. It is very life threatening and has taken something as beautiful and healthy as bodybuilding and dieting is and turned it into a life degrading monster due to the negative influences of the media and the obsession to achieve nutritional and aesthetic perfection.
Remember that quote about never looking back? Well, maybe it’s time that we do in fact look back from time to time and look at the person we are today in comparison to the one that we used to be. You see, the simplistic act of looking over your own shoulder from time to time will give you that immediate satisfaction in which every human needs to keep moving forward. On the other hand, looking too far ahead forces us to try and grasp this unrealistic dream. We catch ourselves tripping over and over again trying to catch up to it without ever feeling any kind of satisfaction. We get so caught up in this futuristic persona that we forget about the person we used to be and how far we came since then.
If you’re not happy with the person you are today, the person you will become tomorrow will suffer horrendously.