Men Have Body Image Problems, Too

Muscle Dysmorphia Syndrome Growing Among Weightlifters

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 1, 2002 -- Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the puniest man of all? For many avid weightlifters, that's the nagging question that just won't go away -- no matter how much time they spend at the gym or how toned and ripped they become.

A new study shows that a growing number of men may be at risk for developing a distorted body image syndrome called muscle dysmorphia. The syndrome affects very muscular men who, regardless of their actual physique, are convinced they look puny and out of shape.

With body image a national obsession, and working out a socially desirable activity, the condition has become increasingly common. But while women tend to suffer from disorders that drive them to be thinner, muscular dysmorphia drives men to be ever bigger and more muscular.

Muscle dysmorphia is a new form of a known syndrome called body dysmorphic disorder. But instead of being exceptionally dissatisfied with one particular body part, men with muscle dysmorphia are unhappy with their entire body.

To find out more about the condition, Precilla Choi, PhD, of the School of Human Movement, Recreation and Performance at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues interviewed 24 Boston-area male weightlifters who'd been diagnosed with the syndrome and compared their responses with those of 30 comparable weightlifters without the condition.

Their study appears in the October issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The researchers found that men with muscle dysmorphia saw themselves as not only less physically attractive, but also less healthy, than the other men. They say studies in women show an association between having an attractive body and feelings of overall good health. This may now be the case for men, as well.

The men with muscle dysmorphia were also more likely to be dissatisfied with their overall body appearance, muscle tone, and weight than the other group. They had a strong desire for bigger muscles and were very concerned about not gaining any fat.

The researchers say that as more men hit the gym solely to improve their physical appearance and muscle tone, the incidence of muscle dysmorphia is likely to grow.

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