Explainer: What is Bigorexia, a condition triggered by bizarre fitness diet?
Muscle-oriented diets are a growing fad among adolescents and young adults. iStock
“Bulking and cutting” is a dietary technique in which people alternate between periods of high caloric surplus, which is ‘bulking’, and periods of caloric restriction which is ‘cutting’, to increase muscle definition and to achieve their desired shape.
However, a Canadian study has found that the process of bulking weight and then cutting it could be damaging young people and causing body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
“Muscle dysmorphia occurs when an individual becomes obsessed with becoming muscular. They may view themselves as puny even if they are objectively muscular,” the study’s author, University of California’s Dr Jason Nagata, told Medical News Today.
Muscle-oriented diets are a growing fad among adolescents and young adults who desire perfect six-pack abs, shredded pecs, and bulging biceps, the Mirror informs.
According to the study, the popular gym diet, which involves alternating between periods of binge-eating, “bulking”, and periods of extreme calorie deficit, “cutting”, was found to be followed by half of all the young men who participated in the Canadian survey comprising of 2,762 participants, all aged 16 to 30.
Researchers also found that people of all genders who participated in this diet had a much higher incidence of the condition known as “bigorexia”, a combination of muscle dysmorphia and an eating disorder.
The new study which is published in Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia, and Obesity, is one of the first to look at the impact of this popular diet on mental health.
According to the study, the participants were asked if they had engaged in a cycle of bulking and cutting in the past 30 days, and 12 months.
They were then reportedly asked a series of clinical psychological questions to evaluate the extent to which they had either an eating disorder or body dysmorphia.
It was found that young men were twice as likely to have done a bulk and cut cycle in the past 30 days, and also 12 months, as other genders.
While women who cycled their calorie intake tended to do it more frequently than men, researchers believe that this could be to ensure a consistent body image.
Additionally, those who engaged in this diet were found to be much more driven by a desire for muscularity, rather than weight. They were also found to have a higher incidence of both eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, which clinicians group together as bigorexia.
The results and findings of the study have caused its authors to call for a change in approaching bigorexia as a public health issue.
Bigorexia is primarily a psychological condition, though it can appear in physical ways, Healthline explains.
Some of the possible symptoms of bigorexia are as follows:
• obsession with appearance
• Obsession with diet and dietary supplements
• Medication and steroid use related to physical fitness
• Dissatisfaction with appearance that may lead to low mood or anger
Lead author of the study, Dr Kyle Ganson is reported to have said, “Given the popularity of this dietary practice, and the fact that it is supported and emphasized in many communities (i.e., online, social media, fitness), we need to be thinking of it as potentially overlapping with serious mental and behavioral health conditions that can have significant adverse effects.”
He adds, “Healthcare professionals need to be aware of this unique behaviour and not just screening for ‘typical’ eating disorder behaviours, such food restriction and binge-eating, or ‘typical’ body-focused attitudes and behaviours, such as [a] drive for thinness.”
Dr Ganson notes that muscle dysmorphia has similar psychological, behavioral, and functional symptoms to eating disorders.
However, the difference lies in the fact that it is primarily driven by significant muscle dissatisfaction and an intense desire to gain muscle, he states.
“This may manifest in excessive and compulsive exercise and weight training, dietary practices aimed at increasing muscularity (i.e., bulking and cutting), and use of appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs and substances, like anabolic steroids,” he points out.
It’s important to note that while there are some things that you can do at home to control the symptoms of bigorexia, you may need to seek the help of a professional mental health provider to treat this condition.