- Exercising more than two hours a day, at the expense of friends, hobbies, or homework
- Using large quantities of dietary supplements such as creatine and protein powder
- A sudden onset of disproportionately large neck or shoulders
- Preoccupation with muscularity
- Avoiding social situations
If this sounds like your son, you may want to talk it over with him. "Kids often want to discuss what's going on, but we tend to minimize their concerns or hope that they'll go away. There's no need to panic," Phillips says, adding that it's a good idea to take the following initial steps:
- Listen thoughtfully to your son, without criticizing, blaming, or teasing
- Point out that muscular men in the media may have used anabolic steroids
- Encourage other sources of self-esteem like school performance and hobbies
Unfortunately, some kids may need more than parental support. "If your son remains primarily focused on weightlifting, he may need professional help," Phillips tells WebMD. "Treatment of muscle dysmorphia is still under study, but antidepressant drug therapy is very effective," she explains. Drugs such as Prozac, Anafranil, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft are especially helpful in controlling these types of obsessive/compulsive symptoms.
Behavioral therapy is often combined with drug therapy. By using simple strategies to help reduce symptoms and modify distorted thinking, this practical approach allows young men to face the situations they've been avoiding. "Developing a weekly plan with less time devoted to exercise and more time with friends is one example," Phillips suggests.