Inside the growing ‘muscle dysmorphia crisis’ among young people

Inside the growing ‘muscle dysmorphia crisis’ among young people

Muscle dysmorphia, defined as a preoccupation with a perceived lack of muscle, has become increasingly prevalent, causing what experts call a “silent crisis” in men. Psychological health

Like many ’90s boys, Jonathan Freelove played with action figures. He-Man, Ninja Turtles, and ThunderCats were his favorites. Although the characters were fictional, he knew that one part of them resembled the human world: their torsos. The bulging biceps and defined abs on the plastic mannequins were his first introduction to what masculinity and male physique could look like.

By adolescence, the god-like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rocky Balboa were their idols. He was picking up his father’s copies of Men’s health Around the house and flick through. It was 2001, and headlines included: “From Fat to Flat,” “Sex.” money. Muscle.” and “She looks great naked.”

Determined to resemble the lifted bodies he had aspired to since childhood, Freelov began lifting weights, replacing “bad” food with “clean” alternatives. Although his new hobby was well received by those around him, “it was just a form of self-harm, because I hated my appearance,” he says. As his body goals became increasingly out of reach, the habit became an obsession; The more he burned, the more his confidence declined. Within a year of lifting weights, Freelov was admitted to Birmingham’s Priory Hospital for a nine-month stay, due to an eating disorder.

“My ankles were swollen from my severe fluid retention, and I was having an irregular heartbeat,” he says, the result of taking pre-workout powders containing caffeine. But in therapy, there was one thing that puzzled him, and that was what he was trying to get Larger, not smaller. “I was obsessed with muscles,” he says. Then he received an additional diagnosis: muscle dysmorphia (MD).

“The day you start lifting weights is the day you become young forever,” is a popular phrase in the bodybuilding community. While for many bodybuilders this slogan speaks to their quest for ever-bigger muscles, which is what defines the sport, for a smaller segment of the population, it sums up the losing battle that is MD.

What is muscle dysplasia?

MD is a subtype of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that affects two percent of the population. It is seen mostly in men, and is defined as a person’s preoccupation with a lack of muscle, despite having an average build, or in many cases, a very muscular body. This results in repetitive behaviors to try to fix the perceived imbalance: misuse of pre-workout supplements, stimulants, excessive exercise, restrictive eating, and digestion. Body scan.

This condition is not classified as an eating disorder, however, the symptoms often occur simultaneously. It entered the lexicon of psychiatry in 1997, and in 2002, The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Body Obsession in Men and Boys which introduced a new idea that gym obsession could become pathological, was published decades before the fitness industry found its more profitable frontiers on social media.

But it’s important to distinguish between enthusiastic gym-goers suffering from insecurities and clinical dysmorphia. The key sign is when fixations start interfering with an individual’s daily activities, says Viren Swamy, professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University. For example, when George Meacock, 27, from Stoke-on-Trent, would spend a day or two off his diet, or out of the gym, he would develop the paranoia everyone knows about. So, he avoided leaving the house, he says, and at rock bottom, he locked himself in for three weeks. He was planning to commit suicide, but one of his friends miraculously saved him.

Why cases? Muscular dysmorphia rise

While the first recommendationFor more than two decades, concerns about body image have become increasingly prevalent among young males. “It seems to be exploding in recent years,says Dr. Gabriela Vargas, director of the Youth Health Site at Boston Children’s Hospital. Love Island trunks, algorithm-fueled protein shakes, and YouTube videos with titles like ‘The secret of how Andrew Tate got huge while in prison’ are pressuring boys and men to bulk up. “I struggled with that because of how normalized (the gym) is,” Freelov says. “When really, for me, this is a place I shouldn’t go.”

More than half of British men show signs of body dysmorphia, a Recent report is found. Within the community of passionate male gym goers, A A study published last year In the United States I found that everyone Participants who indulged in bodybuilding practices described themselves as suffering from some degree of muscle dysmorphia.

However, men are less likely to seek treatment than women — although one in three eating disorders occur in men, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, only one in 20 people who undergo treatment is male, Vargas says. . Meanwhile, in 2016, it was reported that less than one percent of all research on body image and eating disorders was conducted exclusively on males, leading to Some researchers say That this is a ‘silent crisis’ in men’s mental health.

“We’re still learning a lot about it, partly because it hasn’t been prioritized in research,” says Vargas, MD, Ph.D. “There’s this huge shift that needs to happen in terms of recognizing that this is a huge concern for men,” she says.

Diffuse culture for steroids

Frilov overcame his eating disorder in hospital, but he still suffers from dysmorphia. At his lowest levels, he was visiting the gym several times a day and abusing SARMs, Illegal drugs to enhance muscle Which mimics the effects of testosterone and anabolic steroids, which have been found sold in stores in the UK. He was introduced to it through YouTube influencers, who downplayed strawberry-watermelon drinks as a gym bag must-have. But when visiting a doctor for depression — which he would later learn was caused at least in part by SARMs — he was told he had the testosterone levels of a 90-year-old man. He is still taking hormone replacement medications to reverse the damage.

There are still more than a million steroid users, mostly male, in the UK, according to a report UK Anti-Doping Agency. Research by marketing company Mintel found that nearly a quarter of men aged 16 to 24 in the UK take nutritional supplements for exercise. ““We know that teens who use protein supplements are moving to anabolic steroids,” Vargas says, because immersion in the gym community can increase risks.

On the more extreme end, bodybuilders have died in recent years of suspected steroid-related causes, including famed bodybuilder Rich Piana at the age of 46. Piana freely admitted that he had taken steroids since he was a teenager, but the cause of his death remains unclear.

“If you want to win your class and try to become a professional bodybuilder, you have to take steroids,” says bodybuilder Grant Lloyd, 25, of North Carolina, who uses drugs. He started competing at the age of 14 and suffers from MS, but believes the sport’s endemic steroid culture makes it inevitable.

Unrealistic body ideals on social media

Given the competitive and aesthetic nature of bodybuilding, social media is a natural home for the culture. Oscar*, 27, an online trainer and non-competitive bodybuilder from Liverpool, who asked to remain anonymous, began sharing content on Instagram. “I would get one negative comment like, ‘Oh, why are you giving advice about muscle growth?’” “You’re too small,” he says, which prompted him to experiment with deformity ideas. Now, to acknowledge his growth, he must compare his past and present photos side by side. Otherwise, in his thinking, he would simply feel too small, he says.

Following bodybuilders exacerbated this matter. “Social media shows you the 1% of people who look the absolute best, whose content is performing the best — it creates this echo chamber,” he says, especially because of widespread steroid use..

Greater social media use among teens and young adults has been linked to muscle dysmorphia symptoms, according to A A study published this year. She described social media algorithms as “rabbit holes” that “ultimately perpetuate unrealistic body ideals, which are commonly disseminated on social media and precipitate attempts to change one’s body.”

Toxic masculinity

But the rise in MD goes deeper than algorithms. The appeal of building muscle for some, Meacock believes, is to be “powerful and capable of fighting, intimidating and controlling – these patriarchal ideas of what a man should be.” And Frilov admits that he took up weightlifting in part to appear attractive to women: “If I looked like that, I would be able to get into a relationship.”

Swami sees this intertwining of muscularity and masculinity as a relatively recent cultural change, beginning in the early 1990s, when the fashion and beauty industries realized the market power of targeting men, he says. He says men are starting to buy into the idea that their bodies are non-biological commodities to be invested in. Against the backdrop of evolving gender roles, Swami believes that building muscle provides immediate power to control one’s masculinity: “It is the only form of masculinity that appears to be malleable.”

But for Oscar*, As a trans man, this flexibility has been a lifeline: While you are on the two-year waiting list for hormone therapy, he He started lifting weights to connect with his masculinity. “I thought, ‘Well, if I build more muscle, I know I can look more closely at what I’m feeling in my head,'” he says.

But living in a culture that values ​​muscular fitness can delay recovery, MD patients say. “A lot of the physical symptoms you show to the outside world are pretty cool,” Meacock says. As a result, self-destructive behaviors can be hidden in plain sight. “It’s hard to grasp the nuances of it because for so long we’ve been told it’s good — and no matter what, it’s good,” he says. “Exercise should be treated like medicine, meaning there is always a list of side effects,” he adds.

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