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Steroid Use, Eating Disorders Are Common Among Female Bodybuilders

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"While men tend to experience isolated steroid abuse, women who abuse steroids are more likely to also have insane diets and engage in compulsive behavior," Gruber adds. "If you are a women at risk for a body image disorder, had an eating disorder in the past, or are at risk for a substance abuse disorder, and you start going to a gym, your risk will increase because you are exposed to people who engage in these unhealthy behaviors"

In the study, 16 of the 25 steroid users reported at least one psychological effect as a result of anabolic steroid use, including moodiness, irritability, and aggressiveness. One in 16 of these women reported engaging in a violent act while taking these drugs. Such acts are often referred to as "'roid rage."

Nineteen women reported at least one medical problem related to steroid use. Of these, the most serious was kidney failure.

In the study, 55 of 75 women were found to have ED/BT, and 65 of 75 had muscle dysmorphia, meaning that even though they had big muscles, they still regarded themselves as small. In addition, 55 of 75 had "nontraditional gender role," a disorder marked by a preference for typical male clothing, pastimes, jobs, and friends.

Steven Levenkron, author of the just-published book Anatomy of Anorexia and a psychotherapist in private practice in New York, tells WebMD that the "use of high-risk anabolic steroids are perhaps a barometer of how far women will go to achieve the perfect body." The perfect body tends to be viewed as being underweight and overmuscled, he points out.

Steve Crawford, MD, associate director of the Center for Eating Disorders at St. Joseph Medical School in Towson, Md., puts it this way: "Athletes are under pressure regarding their appearance -- especially in sports like bodybuilding, diving, gymnastics, and figure skating."

Pressure to achieve abnormal goals regarding appearance may encourage athletes to engage in self-destructive and unhealthy behavior such as the use of anabolic steroids, Crawford points out.

James Rosen, PhD, a professor of psychology and the director of the Body Image Therapy Program at the University of Vermont in Burlington, urges caution in interpreting the new study findings. "A lot of researchers who study body disorders and eating disorders are unfamiliar with elite competitive athletes," he tells WebMD. "The behavior may look like eating disorders, but the motivation and psychology behind them are very different."

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