Of 120 bodybuilders surveyed in a paper published last year, 60% suffered with Muscle Dysmorphia, 54% had body dissatisfaction and this correlated strongly with high symptoms of Eating Disorders with 67.5% scoring above the cuff off point for diagnosis.
(Devrim et al, 2018)
As an individual whose main hobby is Bodybuilding and having worked online with populations of both competitive and non-competitive Bodybuilders it is important to have awareness of this.
Whilst I am certainly not qualified to give out prescriptive advice on how to combat this, having suffered with this to some degree at different points of my life how do I think it could be addressed?
STEP 1 - UNDERSTAND THAT BODYBUILDING
IS NOT HEALTHY
From a Physical Health standpoint it’s really not in our best interests to be overly muscular and very low in bodyfat.
The bloodwork from a Competition-ready Natural Bodybuilder makes for pretty grim reading. Hell just speak to one and you'll see what I mean!
Low libido, mood and energy does not make for a "healthy vigourous" young individual.
We need to be aware that Health is far more than just Physical.
Ask yourself the following questions.
- Are you constantly sacrificing social interaction because it doesn't align with your goals?
- Do you socialise with individuals that don't do bodybuilding?
- Is your relationship consistently effected by low libido?
- Does your pre-occupation with your Physique lead to strange eating habits?
- Do you spend an inordinately large amount of time focusing on your Physique?
- Are you able to distinguish yourself as being more muscular than the average?
- Do you have any other hobbies/interests that aren't related to the way you look?
- Does the Process of Bodybuilding (Training & Nutrition) provide you with satisfaction?
- Does the financial costs of your Bodybuilding effect your ability to afford bills?
- Do you associate negative feelings with not being muscular or lean?
- Do your place a large part of your Self-Worth in how you look at that moment?
STEP 2 - ADDRESS THE ISSUES YOU'VE HIGHLIGHTED
Personally these are the things that have helped me with a lot of the problems I had previously.
1. Have friends who don't Bodybuild
The problem with only hanging around other bodybuilders is you end up getting caught in an environment where everyone only has the same interests, as well as the same issues. Having a support network outside of this can help you acquire a wider perspective of other interests that can support positive behaviours.
It can also be nice to meet up outside of the gym and talk about things other "than how many calories you eating at the moment?".....
2. Have Hobbies/Interests other than Bodybuilding
One of the most common issues I see is individuals who "live for bodybuilding".
Not only does this pre-determine them to spend an inordinately large part of their time placing their self-worth in their physique but it also gives them absolutely no other outlet for feeling self-satisfaction, seeing mental growth and challenging themselves beyond the weight-room.
Find a hobby that isn't about having abs or massive guns and allows you to see progress without excessive narcissism.
3. Spend more time focusing on the Process rather than the Outcome
I couldn't be a trainer without talking about the HUGE amount of benefits that come from Resistance Training and eating a nutritious diet.
The issue with Bodybuilding is if we are not careful it can take on a very "Outcome-Based" view. That is that we can become solely focused on what we see in the mirror or at the end of something.
Try to focus a little more on "Process-based" Goals:
- How can I make sure I'm enjoying my Training?
- How can I eat in a way that gives me more Energy?
- What measures can I take to improve my Recovery?
4. Avoid Media that makes you compare yourself to others
With the amount of #fitness accounts out there it can become very easy to be drawn into hours of hyper-visceral content showing extreme levels of physique development.
As human beings are natural response is to compare ourselves to these images. The Genetic elite splashed across your phone screen, pumped up, photoshopped and ready to make you feel badly about yourself.
Audit the pages you follow, if it provides you with no value and leads to negative feelings about your own physique then ditch it. Your filter bubble is far too precious to let shit like that in!
5. Find out how those close to you feel
It took my wife (then girlfriend) pretty much leaving me to realise that I was placing my priorities in a very bad order and placing far too much emphasis on myself and my physique goals.
A focus on dieting, too much training, too little sleep and a new business left absolutely zero time for her.
I know the motivational quotes tell you on Insta to "do this for yourself" but you are going to live a lonely depressive existence without anyone there to support you.
Remember sacrifice works 2 ways in a relationship, if you expect your partner to make them to support your goals you better damn well be willing to make some yourself as a compromise.
As I mentioned before I'm certainly not qualified to give you prescriptive advice, however if you're suffering from issues like I've highlighted above, seek support and don't be afraid to seek a professional.
Don't let what should be a healthy positive way of life turn into something a little more sinister.
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