‘Bigorexia’: When fitness goes too far.

The Gryphon explores the crippling effects that newly coined ‘Bigorexia’ disorder can have. 

The pressure to look good has often been seen as exclusively a women’s issue. However, with the new pressure on men, particularly the younger generation, to be more muscular, there has been a substantial rise in the use of steroids, extreme diets and weight lifting. This new obsession with being bigger is causing muscular dysmorphia, also termed as ‘bigorexia’, and has a serious impact on people’s mental and physical health.

In a recent feature by the BBC, Yasser Raja, an amateur bodybuilder, talked about his desire to be “as big as the Hulk if he could”. Never being content with the size he was, he is willing to go to extreme levels to achieve his body goals. Yasser then admitted that no matter how big he was he doesn’t think he would ever be happy. He, like many others around the world, suffers from the disorder, which seems to have been legitimised with famous figures publishing their extreme diet plans and workouts.

The documentary showed just how extreme some individuals would go and the surprisingly large impact the disorder has. One in ten gym-going men are now said to have bigorexia; this anxiety disorder can make men, often of huge stature, believe they are not big enough and leads to taking their obsession with bulking to dangerous levels. In a similar way to anorexia, the disorder has resulted in individuals being consumed by the desire to change their body and in some cases young men have been hospitalised or have even lost their life due to the dangers that come hand in hand with bigorexia. One young man became so consumed by the desire to gain and his feelings of inadequacy that his use of steroids caused two separate heart attacks and eventually resulted in his untimely death.

One of the biggest concerns around the disorder is the lack of information. Rather than being seen as an illness like anorexia, obesity and other body-related health problems, the desire to gain muscle density is often admired and seen as a sign of a healthy, motivated individual. Social media has contributed massively to this and to the pressure on the younger generation to look a particular way. The new fitness craze sweeping the globe has meant that Twitter and Instagram are now a breeding ground for fitness obsessions. With just a few clicks it is possible to find a bodybuilding page, a protein advertiser and even profiles dedicated to steroids. In an age where it is impossible to ignore social media, it is hardly shocking that individuals can be consumed by these feelings of inadequacy. This new “fitness mania” is ever more present in the free weight section of any gym where men compete against one another to lift the heaviest weights, pushing one another to increase their “one rep max” – the biggest weight they can lift for just one rep.

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Alongside the rigorous gym routine, individuals affected by bigorexia often become consumed by their calorie intake. Dwayne Johnson, wrestler turned actor also known as “the Rock”, has recently published his diet, which consists of approximately 5,165 calories over seven meals. The detailed meal routine, known as his “Hercules” diet, is just one example of how this culture has been accepted as dedication and motivation rather than as dangerous obsession. The diet, consisting of 36oz of cod and 12 eggs per day, was tried by an ordinary gym goer, Sean Evans, a writer for the magazine “Complex”. Evans, after a short period on the diet, gave up on the challenge. He said that, as a result of consuming seven large meals a day, he got to the stage where he was “constantly dreading food”. He did however finish his article by writing that he had a “newfound respect for Johnson” rather than acknowledging the unsettling effects it had on his own physical and mental state.

The danger extends beyond just the over-consumption of protein and heavy lifting; the use of anabolic steroids to increase muscle levels can cause health problems that can often become irreversible. According to the NHS, side effects have included reduced sperm count, shrinkage of testicles and even heart and liver problems. Steroids have caused those taking them to be submitted to hospital on countless occasions due to high blood pressure and risk of heart attacks. The so-called positives of steroids for bodybuilders has meant that even with these risks, many still inject on a frequent basis and have become addicted to the drug.

Bigorexia has far surpassed just being a desire to be fit and muscular, and often those affected by it refuse to accept it as a problem. But it is understandable when powerful men such as Dwayne Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Cutler are idolised and used as motivation for young men in the gym environment. Rarely do we see these men and think they are unhealthy in the same way that we do with those with other extreme body issues such as anorexia or obesity. Nevertheless this is a serious consequence of the new “gym culture” and the pressure on young men particularly to look a certain way. If women are being liberated from body image expectations then so should men. Unless bigorexia is recognised as a dangerous disorder, men will keep putting themselves in serious physical and mental danger.

Charlotte Wilson

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