Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Middleaged bodybuilder in shorts looks into mirror at his muscle

The reverse side of anorexia: muscle heads who see a scrawny underweight weakling when they look in the mirror.


Most in recovery recognize that the addiction to drugs and alcohol can easily turn into an addiction to working out and building muscles, but it turns out that bigger isn’t always better—at least not to muscle heads who suffer from of a form of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) known as bigorexia, where an individual is addicted to going to the gym, consuming muscle building powders and weighing over 200lbs, but all he sees is a scrawny underweight weakling when he looks in the mirror.

Bigorexia is defined as a mental disorder characterized by a normal person’s obsession with an imagined defect in physical appearance; also called muscle dysmorphia and dysmorphophobia.  It is considered the reverse side of anorexia, another BDD where a skinny person looks in the mirror and all they see is an overweight person looking back.

Bigorexia tends to affect males more than females because men are under more pressure to be toned with big muscles.


Common symptoms for bigorexia are as follows:

Spending mornings avoiding a mirror because a person tends to wake up feeling smaller after many hours of sleep and the sight of a deflated figure can make a person depressed and obsessed over an imagined weight loss.

A person is known as narcissistic or an exhibitionist because he feels insecure about his physical appearance and is always seeking outside validation and reassurance that he has big muscles.

A person has trouble accepting compliments because he feels being lied to, because they don’t feel attractive.

A person belongs to several different gyms and spends nearly half their paycheck on supplements, food, and anything that might help him go bigger.

A person centers his life around the gym and finds himself avoid social settings where he might stay up too and risk not getting enough sleep, therefore ruining his workouts the following day.

Though the exact cause of bigorexia is unknown, studies indicate that it could be due to a combination of various factors that may include:

Genetic factors

Insufficient levels of serotonin in the brain, which is an important brain chemical that determines the mood and well-being of an individual.

Environmental factors

Such as troubled families, extreme stress, and other emotional and cultural factors as well.

Studies suggest that muscle dysmorphia is often found in individuals who are involved in weight lifting and other muscle development activities.

Many people who are unable to achieve personal goals or handle pressures from coaches regarding an unrealistic ideal body image may turn to anabolic steroids or other dangerous substances to satisfy their aspirations.

Currently, no specific programs have been developed to help people with BDD because not many people recognize they suffer from this disorder and fail to seek treatment.  It’s hard to convince a person with BDD and recommend help.  Different approaches to help a person recognize the condition include: having open discussions about body image, encouraging a group or team discussion, and soliciting the help of coaching and support staff to address the topic.

The devastating psychological and social consequences often go unrecognized and, thus, untreated.

If you, or someone you know suffers from bigorexia or any other form of body dysmorphia, seek the help of a health professional.