Muscle Dysmorphia: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevalence

Woman Flexing in Gym

Contributor: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

Our health and fitness-obsessed culture now places a strong emphasis on “strong not skinny,” and building and toning one’s muscles. However, when an individual has the genetic predisposition and subsequent environmental stressors-they may be at risk for becoming overly obsessed with “building muscle” and go on to develop a disorder known as muscle dysmorphia.

The primary focus of muscle dysmorphia is not on how thin a person can become, rather the emphasis becomes on getting “bigger” or appearing “more muscular.” [1] According to a paper from The Journal of Athletic Training, Muscle Dysmorphia is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that is more specifically subcategorized under body dysmorphic disorder. [2] However, it is important to note that this disorder has not yet become an official diagnosis in the DSM. [3]

Defining Muscle Dysmorphia

Woman working out in gymMuscle dysmorphia is formally defined as “a pathologic preoccupation with muscularity and leanness. MDM involves a specific dissatisfaction with muscularity rather than the body as a whole with a discrepancy between the imagined and actual self.” [4]

Muscle dysmorphia is believed to be increasing in regards to prevalence within our society. [5] Research suggests that “as many as 100 000 people or more worldwide meet the formal diagnostic criteria in the general population.” [6] Additionally, it can affect anyone, however appears to be more prevalent in males. [7]

According to Dr. Lauren Muhlheim, some of the symptoms or signs of muscle dysmorphia include the following:

  • Maintaining an exercise program that is extreme.
  • Being obsessed with the idea that one’s body isn’t muscular or “lean” enough.
  • Giving up work obligations or social activities on a regular basis due to an obsessive need to maintain one’s workout and diet schedule.
  • Constantly “mirror checking” or completely avoiding the mirror.
  • Working out despite illness or injury.
  • Using supplements excessively.
  • Extreme anxiety if an individual misses a workout.  [8]

The Challenges of Seeking Treatment

Man lifting weights at gymThe biggest challenge in seeking treatment for this population is that often they may be reluctant to seek help. Denial of the severity of the illness is often an integral component of many disorders related to eating and body image.

Further, the behavior of exercising and weight-lifting is often highly praised within our culture-therefore these individuals may receive a lot of external validation for their obsessive and compulsive behaviors.

Some of the consequences of untreated muscle dysmorphia could include, losing relationships or important life passions due to an obsessive focus on one’s perceived “smallness” or “weakness,” injuries sustained from over-exercise, and a general increase in anxiety and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. [9]

If you or a loved one believe that you might be struggling with muscle dysmorphia, it is so important that you reach out for help and support from a trained professional. Full recovery is entirely possible and you do not need to suffer in silence. No one chooses to have a mental illness, but you can choose to take the first step on the journey towards recovery.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What steps have you taken in your recovery from Body Dysmorphia to achieve a healthy level of exercise?


Jennifer Rollin photoAbout the author: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a therapist, body-image activist, and writer who specializes in working with adolescents, body image concerns, survivors of trauma, and mood disorders. Jennifer is a blogger for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, as well as a contributing writer for Eating Disorder Hope. For body-positive, self-love, inspiration, “like” her on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW.


References:

[1]: Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352–359.
[2]: Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352–359.
[3]: Muhlheim, L. (2014). Muscle dysmorphia. Retrieved from: http://www.mirror-mirror.org/muscle-dysmorphia.htm
[4]: Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352–359.
[5]: Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352–359.
[6]: Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352–359.
[7]: Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352–359.
[8]: Muhlheim, L. (2014). Muscle dysmorphia. Retrieved from: http://www.mirror-mirror.org/muscle-dysmorphia.htm
[9]: Muscle dysmorphic disorder. (n.d.) Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders. Retrieved from: https://www.anred.com/musdys.html


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 17, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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