A person living with bigorexia is a person who lives with shame. Although he works out compulsively—and would be considered fit and muscular by most people—he never feels satisfied with his body and is overcome with the irrational perception that he looks small and puny. This condition is a type of body dysmorphic disorder, the hallmark of which is a chronic dissatisfaction with how one looks.

Eating disorders and the quest for thinness that afflicts a small percentage of the population has been much discussed but less is known about the predominately male problem of bigorexia.

Who Develops Bigorexia?

Most people with this disorder are men or boys. Experts say one reason it affects males disproportionately is because of society's love affair with muscular, "V-shaped" male bodies. While there is nothing wrong with pursuing a defined, muscular build, males who suffer from self-esteem issues are more likely to develop a distorted view of themselves and be dissatisfied no matter how bulked up they get. Having a genetic predisposition can also be a factor.

Do You Know Someone Who Has Bigorexia?

If you've ever wondered whether someone has a problem or is simply "into" lifting weights, take a look at some traits and behaviors typical of a guy with bigorexia:

He exercises compulsively. There's a difference between working out regularly and taking it to the extreme. People with bigorexia commonly spend hours lifting weights and doing resistance training.

He checks the mirror—a lot. Most gym patrons use the mirror to check that their form is correct while lifting weights. Bigorexia sufferers constantly look at their reflections because they are constantly dissatisfied.

His social life takes a back seat to workouts. If you know someone who avoids making plans with others because it interferes with his gym time, there's a chance he has bigorexia. Estimates are that 10 percent of gym-obsessed men do.

His diet is quite rigid. The bigorexic man is strict about what he puts into his mouth, shunning fats and embracing proteins. It's the opposite of anorexia but similar in the sense that both enjoy the feeling of being in control of their diets. Many will avoid situations where they can't control the food they are served. Eating with friends at a restaurant, for example.

He freaks out when he can't exercise. If he has to miss a gym session due to the weather or a pressing engagement, he becomes anxious and upset.

He lifts weights despite injury. Someone who continues to work out despite injury and pain may have a problem.

As with any mental-health issue, people with bigorexia need to talk to a psychologist or other therapist to uncover the roots of the problem and overcome it so it doesn't lead to continued feelings of low self-worth (or worse). Although the condition has only recently been recognized, an increasing number of practitioners are becoming aware of it and referring more people for treatment. One difficulty is that people living with bigorexia do not necessarily have physiques that are out of the ordinary and so they—and their loved ones—don't easily see a problem. By contrast, anorexia is often more obvious as sufferers may be visibly emaciated.

Christine L.B. Selby, PhD, reviewed this article.



Association for Applied Sport Psychology. "When Building Muscle Turns Into Muscle Dysmorphia."

Alliance for Eating Disorders. "Bigorexia."