Bigorexia: The Adonis Syndrome

By Julie Alvira, MD, MBA

In recent years there has been a greater focus on becoming healthier, looking good, and exercising. Most fitness centers have experienced an increase in memberships both for men and women. Busy people are taking the time to take care of themselves externally and internally, incorporating exercise as part of their everyday routine before or after work, and becoming more concerned about their nutrition. But what about when a person becomes obsessed with their own physical appearance? Specifically, those gym goers who are already big, powerful, ripped, lean, and with abs of steel and that most people could agree possess THE PERFECT BODY? Well, sometimes behind all that muscle mass lies something deeper.

Exercise to stay fit and healthy

Most of us practice regular exercise and physical activity not only to feel good because it increases the “happy hormones” or endorphins but also because of the endless benefits to our health. Mayo Clinic (2014) explains that exercise is good to control weight, help the body fight diseases, improves mood, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, helps with sexual drive and performance, and helps with stress and its effects. Krauss (2012) see exercise as a tool to lower the chance of developing dementia because of the constant blood circulation that helps preserve neurons. Exercise helps with the metabolism of glucose and fat, which helps slow or prevent acquiring Alzheimer’s disease. On another note, strength and resistance training exercise helps with building muscle mass. The combination of cardio plus resistance offers better results––physically and emotionally. But what about when a person becomes fanatical about building muscle mass? When the concept of exercise to stay fit and healthy is not enough?

Body dysmorphic disorder mental illness

Without obsession, life is nothing.” John Waters

An obsession is good when it’s a healthy one but when it becomes unhealthy, it can impair our thoughts, effect our emotions, and our whole wellbeing. When a person develops body dysmorphic disorder, which is a chronic mental illness, they become obsessed with their appearance and body image and develop self-consciousness. They think there is something wrong with their body, feel ugly, and have a need for reassurance from others to feel good. In many cases, a person can get numerous cosmetic procedures but other times turns to intense exercise to try to fix interior flaws. There are combinations of causes such as: abnormalities in the brain, family history, culture, past experiences, and a previous psychiatric disorder (Mayo Clinic, 2013).

Bigorexia––Adonis Complex

A type of body dysmorphic disorder known as bigorexia, reverse anorexia or Adonis complex is becoming very popular among men gym goers. It is widely known that for many men muscularity equals masculinity. A man with bigorexia is not the typical person that seeks to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is the male bodybuilder that becomes obsessed with his body because he is unhappy, one whom sometimes seeks injectable anabolic steroids, chest implants, and other type of cosmetic procedures to feed an emotional emptiness, which in some cases can be an underlying depression. Bigorexia can be misdiagnosed because there are a great number of men who just want to improve their physical appearance to attract partners. The problem here is when a vicious circle forms. According to Brown University, the more a person focuses on his body, the worse he tends to feel about how he looks. There are a number of factors that can lead to body dissatisfaction ranging from the comments of family and friends to deeper emotional issues such as different kinds of abuse, discrimination, and sensory experiences.

Nowadays, exposures like social media does not help because of the increase popularity of body image acceptance and idealization of bodies leading to an increase comparison of a person’s body to others. A study at Stanford University showed that when a man feels uncomfortably obsessed with his body, sometimes it can result in sexual problems and risky behaviors.

Dr. Murray, a clinical psychologist explains that unless a man acknowledges the problem and seeks help, treatment can’t be offered. In our society, it is very hard for this kind of man to seek help because of the “no pain, no gain” mentality and masculinity. If treatment occurs, it is done with the same techniques used to treat anorexia disorders. On the other hand, recent research by Phillips (2015) in the American Journal of Psychiatry presents that body dysmorphic disorder in general, is related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and benefits from psychosocial treatment and motivational interviewing techniques to engage and retain patients in treatment. Both disorders have many similarities but also differences that are still under research to find better approaches to the underlying symptoms and causes.

Julie Alvira, M.D., MBA Healthcare Management creator of AJBodysculpt. www.ajbodysculpt. com. A health, wellness, and fitness platform that provides you with the necessary tools to get into a healthier lifestyle. Health & Wellness Keynote Speaker/ Corporate Wellness Consulting/ Coaching/ Writer. You can see her fitness videos in Youtube: AJBodysculpt. Contact: