Vigorexia, whose correct name is muscle dysmorphia, is a mental disorder characterised by an obsession with gaining muscle mass. Those who suffer from it are “a distortion of body image that has to do with the fact that they do not look muscular or strong enough.” It is associated “with compulsive weightlifting exercise and dietary changes also aimed at achieving the goal of greater muscle volume.”
Therefore, it is not a strictly eating disorder, but it shares with diseases such as anorexia, obsessive concern for the figure and distortion of the body scheme. Unlike eating disorders (EDs), it is considerably more frequent in men, and its onset peak is somewhat later, around 18 years of age.
There is no single cause. “It is a multifactorial pathology that affects those people who are more vulnerable because they have lower self-esteem, they are more perfectionists, they have more difficulties in interpersonal relationships, a worse regulation of their emotions.
Based on the previous, we usually discuss risk factors instead of causes. These are some of those that can exert a greater influence on the development of the disorder:
- Having low self-esteem and a high level of self- demand and inflexible behaviour.
- People with an obsessive personality, especially themselves and those who suffer from various emotional problems in their personal and professional relationships, are more likely to develop muscle dysmorphia.
- Young people with a history of overweight or obesity during childhood are at increased risk of the disorder.
- In relation to the above, it is common for people who have suffered bullying or bullying due to their physical appearance during childhood to suffer from it.
People with muscle dysmorphia carry out a training program characterised by constant intensity and great hardness and focuses on exercises that increase muscle tone, so weight lifting is the most common practice.
This lifestyle, which ends up becoming an obsession, implies a distancing from daily tasks, including, many times, the abandonment of work or social relationships. Those affected may end up spending all their time doing physical exercise.
As with pathologies such as anorexia and bulimia, patients express great concern about their diet as they seek speed in achieving a sculpted body and eliminating all fat. Specifically, they follow a low-fat, high-protein diet to increase muscle mass.
The main guidelines to prevent vigorexia involve the following recommendations:
Rica advises adolescents and young adults -especially those most vulnerable to developing excessive concern about their physical appearance- to practice physical exercise through “more group or recreational” activities instead of “going to the gym every day at weightlifting”. The gym would be “a complement”.
In any case, the supervision of a professional trainer is always recommended for carrying out an exercise program.
It is advisable to carry out physical examinations that determine the state of health and the needs and capacities of the individual to adapt to the exercises that will be carried out.
Specialists recommend establishing exercises adapted to the person’s physical level, avoiding activities that require unnecessary overexertion.
It is important to stop exercising at the point of excessive fatigue, tiredness, or muscle soreness.
Avoiding overexposure to certain internet and social media content, such as the content on how to cycle steroids, can help prevent muscle dysmorphia.
The expert in eating disorders points out that the “low awareness of the disease” of those affected by vigorexia makes diagnosing and treating this disorder difficult.
Once inside the care circuit, the interview with the patient is fundamental for the diagnosis. Among other questions, the health professional will be interested in the frequency with which the person performs physical exercise and with what intensity.
Likewise, the specialist will establish if the patient has any nutritional deficiency since it is one of the first points that must be corrected in the treatment.
Blood tests determine if the patient uses drugs to stimulate mass muscle gain.
The main triggering factors involved in developing muscle dysmorphia are cultural, social and educational. Therefore, treatment should focus on modifying the behaviour and perspective that those affected have about their body.
The nurturing environment plays a very important role in their recovery, providing support as they try to reduce their exercise program to more reasonable routines.
Reducing the enthusiasm and anxiety for intense sports practice is necessary, getting them interested in other activities that are less harmful to their body.
Psychological therapy should focus “on working on body image and risk behaviours, both food-oriented and sports-oriented.” The treatments “are based on those applied to eating disorders and revolve around body acceptance and cognitive flexibility, among other issues.”
When sports practice is excessive, numerous problems can arise:
The disproportions between the body parts are frequent, for example, a very bulky body concerning the head.
Weight overload in the gym harms bones, tendons, muscles and joints, especially in the lower limbs, with tears and sprains.
Diet is another very common problem since they consume a lot of protein, carbohydrates, and a small amount of fat to favour the increase in muscle mass, causing many metabolic disorders.