Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder (MDD) is a type of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD is a common but often under-recognised mental illness where a person becomes obsessed with parts of their bodies and how they appear to other people. BDD affects men and women equally, but muscle dysmorphia occurs largely in males.
Men with MDD typically see themselves as not being muscular or lean enough. It is sometimes referred to as ‘reverse anorexia’ or ‘bigorexia’. Those who take part in body building are particularly at risk. Other risk factors including having a low self-esteem, an existing mental health concern or genetic predisposition to mental illness, and a history of bullying about weight and appearance, particularly relating to muscularity.
Some common signs of MDD include:
- Spending excessive time doing strength training and weightlifting, to increase muscle mass
- Being overly preoccupied with your muscle size, shape and body fat
- Feeling anxious if you cannot train or if you miss a workout
- Overtraining or training when you are injured or unwell
- Disordered eating behaviours, including following special or restrictive diets and using protein supplements to increase muscle size and/or reducing body fat
- Using steroids or other illegal substances
- Compulsive comparing and checking of your body and shape
- Feeling anxious, distressed and/or experiencing mood swings
- Prioritising exercise and training sessions over everything else, including your relationships, work or study
- Being scared about losing muscle if you stop training or using steroids
You may also worry about other aspects of your body or appearance, such as your hair, skin, or genitals.
While there are many benefits of regular exercise, it becomes a problem when it interferes with your life and negatively affects your relationships, work, study and mental and physical health. If you recognise you have symptoms of MDD it’s important to seek help. Speak with your GP who can discuss treatment options with you, including psychological counselling and medications.
Read more about body image at Reach Out; including hearing from other men about their thoughts around body image
- Phillipou A, Castle D. Body dysmorphic disorder in men. Aust Fam Physician. 2015;44(11):798-801.
- Phillips KA, Castle DJ. Body dysmorphic disorder in men. BMJ. 2001;323(7320):1015-1016. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7320.1015
- Muscle dysmorphia: Recognising a growing problem among young men.
- Butterfly: Body Image Disorders