Bigorexia: Body Dysmorphia In Los Angeles Gyms

Some call ‘Bigorexia,’ or Muscle Dysmorphia, the ‘Reverse Anorexia,’ and body dysmorphia in Los Angeles gyms is a growing issue. As Dr. Jamie Feusner, an associate professor in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, explained to ABC News, “People with anorexia, most of them believe they are too fat and too large. Most of them want to be thinner. Whereas people with muscle dysmorphia, most of them believe they are too small, and not muscular enough, and they want to become bigger.” Alfonso Moretti, a personal trainer based in Beverly Hills, adds, “It takes over your life, so every decision you make becomes about the workout and how your body looks. I used to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning to drink protein shakes. I never missed a workout, ever, ever, ever.”

What’s it Like to Have Muscle Dysmorphia?

Surviving a near death experience ultimately helped Dylan Hafertepen learn how to understand the disorder and regain control of his life. In a blog entry featured in the Huffington Post, the California native describes his battle with bigorexia this way: “When a normal person looks at their reflection, they see themselves. When someone with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) looks at their reflection, they cannot see themselves because they’re so preoccupied obsessing over their perceived flaws.

I have a unique type of BDD where I see myself as much smaller and skinnier than I actually am. (Sometimes called Muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia, this is opposite of the more common form of anorexia where a skinny person sees themselves as much larger or fatter). Regardless, the symptoms and phobias are very similar:

  • I spend mornings avoiding my reflection because I wake up feeling “smaller;” the sight of my deflated figure can ruin the rest of my day, sending me into a depressive spiral obsessing over my many defects.
  • I am extremely insecure about my physical appearance and am always seeking outside input to reassure myself that I’m not as ‘small’ as I think I am. The extremes at which I seek validation have labeled me as a narcissistic exhibitionist by folks who don’t know about my diagnosis.
  • I have a lot of trouble accepting compliments because I feel like people are lying to me. I’m still grappling with the concept that I’m attractive to some people because I don’t feel attractive at all.
  • I belong to three different gyms and spend nearly half my paycheck on supplements, food, and anything that might help me escape being so skinny.”

Common Symptoms

According to an article for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology by Dr. Jennifer J. Waldron, muscle dysmorphia usually occurs in boys and men who already have a well-defined and muscular build. People with this disorder believe, and spend a great deal of time thinking, that their muscular build is undersized and underdeveloped and they continue to have a burning desire for bigger muscles. People who have muscle dysmorphic disorder share a number of similar behaviors. Here is a list:

  • Extreme exercise, especially resistance and weight training
  • Many hours lifting weights
  • Constant mirror-checking
  • Avoiding social situations where they may appear muscularly small Compare their muscular build to others
  • Extreme attention to diet
  • Lifting while being injured
  • Anxiety when missing a workout
  • Neglecting family, friends, and job in order to exercise
  • Use of anabolic steroids or supplements to enhance muscle mass

How a Dangerous Disorder Hit Muscle Beach

Like the constant barrage of media images that confront women, L.A. men are also challenged by more unrealistic physical standards these days, which has resulted in an increase of body dysmorphia in Los Angeles gyms. Dr. Feusner told ABC the entertainment industry’s portrayal of ideal male body size and musculature in movies, television and magazines seems to have become “more and more inflated” over the years. “It’s to the point where it’d be very difficult for anybody to kind of achieve this,” Hafertepen adds that muscular men featured in Internet videos and motivational photos on social media can also be a trigger.

“You don’t see any average-looking superheroes. Everyone was this hyper-masculine or superior male, and I definitely see that now in a different light on Instagram, social media, Tumblr,” he says. “You see these hyper-realized imageries of men in the same way and that can create this false idea of what the male physique should be.”

Health Risks

The physical injuries caused by excessive exercise can range from muscle strain to broken bones. “I finally came to a revelation, only after 11 or 12 years, because I had neck surgery. I had major neck surgery. I had ruptured a disc in my neck, and it basically paralyzed me on the right side of my body,” says LA trainer Alfonso Moretti. The extreme routines that caused Hafertepen to grow from 140 to 265 pounds put him in the hospital. His blood pressure had become so high that his heart had to be shocked to return it to a normal state.

“When I was younger -before I was taking therapy seriously- I had negotiated with myself that it would have been okay to succumb to death at an early age by pushing myself beyond what my body was capable of. There’s no amount of size I could have added in that head space that would have fixed that,” Hafertepen says.

In their quest for bigness, many bigorexics resort to using steroids and risky supplements. “A lot of them tend to use supplements, and if you overdose on these supplements without having a balanced diet, you can develop kidney and liver failure, and as that happens you may eventually need a liver or kidney transplant, or you could eventually die,” Dr. Selene Parekh, an orthopedist professor at Duke University told ABC.

Getting Help

“I look back now and I see those pictures and I’m like, ‘wow,’ like, I would never want to look like that guy,” Moretti says. After seeking treatment, Hafertepen says he feels much stronger now, both inside and out. “The biggest difference is that I have a greater appreciation for myself. I can now look in the mirror, and I am not hung up on these preconceptions of how I look. I’m not obsessed with focusing on flaws, how skinny I am, how weak I am. I see beautiful Dylan,” he says. “I’ve made considerable progress in the past couple years through therapy, and reinforcing positive self-image.” 

Recovery is Just a Phone Call Away

If you believe someone you love could be suffering from the symptoms of a mental health disorder, call Center for Discovery now at 800.760.3934. We’ve been helping families find their way to lifelong healing for nearly 20 years. Call today and speak with one of our highly trained admission specialists. Or click on the link below for a FREE assessment or virtual tour to see the treatment center closest to you. All calls are completely FREE and strictly confidential.

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Bigorexia: When the Obsessive Desire for Muscles Is a Dangerous Medical Condition for Some Men, by Gio Benitez, John Kapetaneas, Alexa Valiente. Retrieved November 8, 2016.

ABC News: Bigorexia: Dangerous disorder on the rise among men. Retrieved November 8, 2016. by Lori Corbin

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation: Muscle Dysmorphia & Body Image in Men. Retrieved November 8, 2016.

Association for Applied Sport Psychology: When Building Muscle Turns into Muscle Dysmorphia, by Jennifer J. Waldron, PhD. Retrieved November 8, 2016.

Huffington Post: What Does It Feel Like to Have Body Dysmorphic Disorder? by Dylan Hafertepen. Retrieved November 8, 2016.

The Fix: Bigorexia – Addicted to a Delusion, by Cameron Turner. Retrieved November 8, 2016.