Ep. 4 - Body Dysmorphia for Muscles? The Lowdown on Muscle Dysmorphia & Bigorexia
July 20th, 2022
Welcome back to the Body Dysmorphia Recovery Podcast!
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Doug: If you feel that body image issues have too much of an impact in your life, if you try and fail regularly to be kind to that image of yourself in the mirror, if just looking at a photo of yourself makes you feel physically terrible, or if all you want to do is be able to love yourself, lean in my friend and get excited.
This is your invitation to a life where you can love your body. Where body image issues don’t control you, where you can feel at peace with how you look and where you can live without that negative self talk draining you every day. This isn’t fiction. It’s a reality that thousands of people have already reached.
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[00:02:11] Doug: This is the body dysmorphia recovery podcast, where we explore powerful resources to help you heal body dysmorphia and the harmful eating patterns and help you live your normal life after BDD. Even better, we’re doing it without waiting weeks or even months to get treatment. My name is Doug Sands and I’m your body dysmorphia hypnotist.
On this show, you’re getting cutting edge methods to wipe out BDD once and for all. You’re also getting interviews with leading treatment experts for BDD, body image issues, and disordered eating. We’re giving you tools to work through all areas of body dysmorphia and to get it out of your life once and for all.
Get ready my friend, because this show may change your life for good. Let’s get started.[00:03:00]
[00:03:03] Doug: Welcome back to the Body Dysmorphia Recovery Podcast. My name is Doug Sands, I’m the hypnotist and the host of this show. And in this episode, we’re talking about one of the subtypes of body dysmorphia, specifically muscle dysmorphia. We’re talking about what it is, why it first develops and what we can do to work through it.
First of all BDD isn’t just one homogenous issue. There are other kinds of BDD subgroups. There are two main subgroups of it, one is muscle dysmorphia and the other is BDD by proxy. Now, muscle dysmorphia is what we’re focusing on today. And just as an overview, the other main subtype is BDD by proxy, which is a really interesting one.
This is when you have BDD for someone else. Meaning that you hyper focus on flaws that are real or perceived in another person’s appearance. This exhibits the same brain characteristics of BDD just for other people. And this can isolate you both by driving away others and by [00:04:00] making you anxious, anytime you’re around other people.
And if you want to know what’s actually happening with BDD by proxy, I encourage you to listen into the episode after this one to dive deeper into it. We’re not going to explore this one today, but it’s slated for the next episode, so remember to subscribe. Click that subscribe button wherever you listen to your podcasts, because that episode is one you definitely don’t want to miss.
Now, as always, I want to give the disclaimer that this is not medical advice, nor is it a diagnosis. This is simply information that you can use to shed light on what you might be going through. So let’s get into it. What is muscle dysmorphia? Muscle dysmorphia is a type of BDD, where people think their muscles are not nearly as big as they are in real life.
It’s typically seen in men and it’s often seen in gym bros or people who have an insane amount of muscle. Think bodybuilders who are ripped but perhaps still think that they need to put on more muscle. Muscle dysmorphia can make people feel weak regardless of how big or muscular they actually [00:05:00] are.
That feeling of weakness makes them feel unsafe. And as we’ll see, fear has a lot to do with this issue. It can lead to many different harmful behaviors including orthorexia, plastic surgery and oil injections. And we’re going to explore all of that in this episode. So let’s dive in.
Muscle dysmorphia is definitely male centered. Some studies report that 87% of people with muscle dysmorphia are men or male presenting. And that’s almost nine in 10 of the people who have this issue. Body dysmorphia and body image issues are definitely not just problems for women. In my own practice, perhaps about 65% of the people I see are women and 35% are men.
Now, often, muscle dysmorphia and other issues related to it are what men are coming in with. Now, muscle dysmorphia is also known as bigorexia. It’s the compulsive need to have big muscles, mostly for aesthetic reasons. And this exhibits itself in many ways. It might be by working out excessively or by constantly watching videos of bodybuilders, or it might be by trying to [00:06:00] get big really quickly by focusing only on the upper body, which is something that a lot of guys do at the gym.
But the key here is that this is excessive. The underlying feeling with all of this is wanting to be more muscular, no matter what. And this may be for many reasons, typically it’s for fear. Perhaps it’s the fear of not being strong enough to prevent something terrible from happening again. Remember, every single person experiences hurts and traumas at some points in our lives.
And our brain learns very quickly about how we can go about preventing it. And it may convince the person that being strong, being excessively muscular is the only way to stay safe. There may be fear of being unloved there. The person might be convinced that the people they’re attracted to will only find them sexy if they’re bound with muscle.
And this ties in with a lot of emotions, not just lust. It’s also about a desire of connection with others. It’s also about that fear of being alone. Maybe there’s also the fear of not fitting in with their peers. Maybe they connect with people at the [00:07:00] gym and they fear that if they lose too much muscle or they don’t get big fast enough that they might be rejected by their peer group.
And this can lead people, again, typically men to spend an inordinate amount of time in the gym. At best, this eats up a ton of your time and mental energy. And this may lead to excessive exercise or muscle fatigue, and even injury from stress fractures. It may also lead to eating disorders, specifically orthorexia and anorexia athletica. For those who haven’t heard of these issues, here’s a brief overview of it.
Orthorexia is seen as an unhealthy focus on eating in a healthy way. It’s an obsessive need to eat healthy, or to eat clean, or to never eat anything that’s seen as unhealthy. It can be a socially acceptable way of maintaining harmful or disordered eating because from the outside, it may look very healthy, but it’s all about the degree to which this goes.
Socially, this focus on healthy eating might seem like a good thing at first, but it’s just taken too far. And that’s why this can fly under the radar for so long. I’m [00:08:00] reminded of beauty pageant contestants who might let themselves smell an Oreo or a cupcake, but might cry because they can’t let themselves eat it. And you can just watch that battle playing out between their unconscious, wanting that food so much and their restraint just pulling them back from it.
Now, on another note, anorexia athletica is similar to exercise bulimia and other harmful eating habits. And we’ll explore those differences in detail and upcoming episodes. But anorexia athletica exhibits many of the same characteristics as regular anorexia. It’s defined by a compulsive need to work out as a way to perhaps purge or a way to achieve those unrealistic body image goals.
One major red flag to watch for is that if a person feels they need to work out even if they know they’re pushing their body too hard, or if they freak out and lose their cool if they’re not able to get in that daily workout, this may be a sign that there is a deeper issue here. Now, exercise bulimia, as I mentioned is [00:09:00] similar.
Instead of purging calories through other means, people will purge by excessive exercise to burn through all these calories that they’ve just eaten. Now, all of these people may seem healthy from the outside and people may even comment that the person’s taking a new interest in their health that they’re finally stepping up and making sure that they’re getting the help that they need.
Just remember to dig a little deeper if you’re getting those red flags, if you’re getting that unconscious sign that something might not be right here and ask yourself, is this actually healthy? Is it an obsession? And if these compounding issues sound like things you might be dealing with, I highly encourage you to subscribe, to get more information.
We’re going to be covering episodes in the near future that focus solely on these issues. We’re also going to be interviewing leading experts who deal exclusively with these areas. Click that subscribe button because you won’t want to miss out on what’s coming next.
Now, back to muscle dysmorphia, with this issue, muscles are everything. They start to crowd out other areas of your life, like hanging out with friends or seeking romantic [00:10:00] partners or doing your work or your schoolwork. The need to become big starts to seep into every area of your life. It definitely impacts how you eat. With muscle dysmorphia, food is often seen only as fuel for muscles.
You may have an extreme focus on protein in your diet. You may also limit your intake of sweets or cut those things out entirely. Now, you may have noticed that much of this sounds like the gym bros that you see chugging protein shakes after really big workout. So what actually makes this different? In part, this is severity.
If someone is doing these behaviors obsessively, if someone cannot break their rules even very occasionally, if they seem distressed when facing challenges around their food rules or exercise routine, like part of them does want that treat, or they do want to give up on that for the day, but they’re rigidly stopping themselves, that might be a sign of a deeper issue. What makes this a disorder is the lengths that these activities are taken to. They start to overwhelm everything else in this person’s [00:11:00] life. In part, it’s because of that underlying emotion, maybe that underlying emotion is fear, maybe the fear of being unloved or unworthy, the fear of not fitting in, the fear of not reaching your own standards or the fear of feeling like a failure. It might be anxiety and might be another emotion that’s compelling that person to achieve those goals.
If the person in question gets defensive or anxious or even hysterical when their food rules are challenged or anything else about their routine is challenged, that can be a major red flag as well. Now, muscle dysmorphia, like general BDD can lead to other major issues as well. I’d love to talk about plastic surgery. Plastic surgery is something that people with BDD have been doing repeatedly.
I’m reminded of speaking with people who felt they couldn’t stop getting plastic surgery. They had it on their face, their torso, everywhere they could really get plastic surgery. And this can definitely happen with body dysmorphia. I’d also love to talk about steroid use, even though it’s controlled in athletics [00:12:00] and competitions, many people are still taking steroids. And the statistics of how many people are actually on steroids just might shock you.
It’s a dangerous health risk when taken without the guidance of a doctor. When you’re using them for muscle growth and not to heal an injury, this can be very detrimental to you. For more information, I highly encourage you to talk with your doctor about this. The problem with this is that you can get steroids fairly easy by traveling to countries where they’re legal. And there’s no regulation on what you can or cannot use in many of these countries. This only worsens the problem. It causes your mind to become more focused on your muscles not less. Your mind is always convinced it needs more muscle even when you’ve reached the goals that you’ve set. It keeps moving the bar higher and higher. And when you’re driven by the underlying fear or anxiety, your mind will go to the ends of the earth to keep itself safe.
We also need to talk about oil injections. And this is where oil is injected into parts of the body to make them appear bigger. This causes swelling as that oil [00:13:00] sits beneath the surface of the skin. Typically it’s an oil called synthol. And it’s injected under the skin, typically around the biceps, the pectorals and the deltoids or upper trapezius, the muscles on your shoulders on either side of your neck.
Now, oil injections can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. They are never recommended by actual doctors. Now, synthol is an oil that your body cannot synthesize so it just sits there under the skin. And this may cause extreme health issues later on down the road. Oil injections can also migrate to other parts of the body.
Oftentimes, it migrates downwards into the forearms and this can cause intense pain for years or even decades later. They can even cause strokes or other life threatening complications. Remember, oil injections are not normal. This can be a major sign of muscle dysmorphia. If you’re so convinced that you’re not muscular enough, that you inject dangerous oils into your body to make yourself appear bigger, that is a major red flag.
Now with all of [00:14:00] this, you may be wondering, what about the bodybuilders? Muscle dysmorphia is actually something I see all the time in bodybuilders. Body building is a culturally acceptable way to keep this issue around. In an unfortunate way, this issue actually helps bodybuilders to succeed. If bodybuilder A wants to be the biggest because he wants a trophy and the title, but bodybuilder B wants to be the biggest because he’s driven by a deep seated fear that being less than massive means he’s unsafe, bodybuilder B has a stronger motivation to train and to win. Now this rewards an unhealthy behavior, and can also let that pass under the radar so that these issues are not treated. That’s why this may be something you need to look at if body building is something in your life.
Now, with all areas of body dysmorphia, it’s important to ask, how do we treat it? You can treat it the same way as you would with regular BDD. By working through those obsessive thoughts. By healing through those deeper issues. And remember, with hypnosis, unlike therapy, you don’t have to relive that emotion or that [00:15:00] memory to get it out of your life. With any treatment option that you go with, you are helping to change how you view yourself. You’re helping yourself to be at peace with who you are physically and emotionally. This may have added components as you work through these issues. Maybe it’s helping you to feel safe so you don’t need to appear massive anymore. Maybe it’s helping you to work through those underlying fears and traumas.
There are many different tools that you can use and will explore all of these on this podcast. Perhaps you use therapy, perhaps hypnosis, perhaps BDD, or ED treatment centers. Now, I’m a big fan of hypnosis because it’s so fast and it’s very direct. And we’ll talk more about how it can help you to change those issues very quickly.
And now as we wrap up this brief episode, it’s time for the empowering metaphor. And this one comes from Aesop’s fables. Now, know that we, as humans have been learning from stories for pretty much all of human history. It’s a really effective way to communicate what needs to be said and to get across the message that our unconscious needs to [00:16:00] hear.
Today’s empowering metaphor is the fable of the lion and the mouse. Once upon a time on the Savannahs of Africa, there was a mighty lion, very strong, very beautiful. He had a Maine that flowed in the wind. And at one point, he caught a mouse. And as he looked down at that little animal wiggling beneath its mighty paw, it thought this would be a nice little snack.
And then the mouse begged to be released. But the lion didn’t really care to. He was a little bit hungry, and even though it was small, it would be a nice start to the day. And then the mouse said, if you release me and spare my life, one day, I will return the favor in full. And the lion laughed, but having nothing else to do, he let the mouse go and decided to catch something else for food that day.
And several weeks went by, and as often happens, hunters came into the area and started to lay traps that they would check every night to try to catch big animals. And one day, the mighty lion got caught in a net and he strained with all his might and used his massive muscles to try to break free, but those ropes were too strong and he [00:17:00] started to roar in anger and frustration. And unbeknownst to him, the hunters had heard and they were on their way to claim their quarry. But, so did the mouse and before long, that mighty lion caught up in that net was joint by that tiny little mouse. And that mouse working quickly, chewed through the rope and set the lion free.
Thank you again for listening in to this episode of the Body Dysmorphia Recovery Podcast. Remember to subscribe because our next episode, we’re talking about body dysmorphia by proxy, and it’s going to be a really interesting conversation. You won’t wanna miss this one.
My name is Doug Sands, and I help people with body dysmorphia, to wipe out BDD, to heal harmful eating issues, and to finally live that normal life again, often in as little as two sessions.
Thank you so much for listening into this episode. And I look forward to seeing you right back here in the next one.
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To your journey towards life without BDD or body image issues,