Bigorexia becoming a dangerous problem for some men

Bigorexia becoming a dangerous problem for some men

By Susan Kim, Stephanie Graham. CREATED Sep 6, 2013

Alfonso Moretti is a successful personal trainer, helping his clients stay on a track through healthy exercise routines.  However, he drifted off course early in his career, after becoming obssessed with building big muscles.

"It takes over your life, so every decision you make becomes about the workout and how your body looks.  I used to track and weigh every single ounce of food that went in my body, I used to wake up a 3 o'clock in the morning to drink protein shakes, I never missed a workout, ever, ever, ever," he recalls.

That all-consuming desire to bulk up is called muscle dysmorphia; also known as 'bigorexia,' and, the number of men susceptible to this disorder is growing.  

Dr. Michele Kerulis is the Director of Sports & Health Psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology.  She says, "About 45% of men are dissatisfied with their body image.  1 in 10 people who are diagnosed with an eating disorder is a man."

Dr. Kerulis says men of all ages are falling victim, and the emotional effects can be severe.

"This obsession can start quickly or it can begin over a period of time. We see psychological abnormalities including irritability, angry outbursts, which sometimes people would call a 'roid rage.'   We see depression, sometimes mania," Dr. Kerulis explains.

For Alfonso, the desire to be big started young.  He recalls, "I can remember as young as 13, 14 looking at some of these muscle magazines, and I was conditioned to think that's what a man looked like so big shoulders, big legs, just big muscles with veins everywhere. "

His routine was not only emotionally debilitating, the extreme workouts caused physical damage, which, for Alfonso, was a wakeup call. 

"I finally came to a revelation, only after 11 or 12 years because I had neck surgery.  I had major neck surgery.  I had ruptured a disc in my neck, and it basically paralyzed me on the right side of my body," Alfonso says.

Dr. Selene Parekh says physical injuries caused by bigorexia can range from muscle strains and stress fractures to organ failure.  "So individuals who have 'bigorexia,' a lot of them tend to use supplements and if you, you overdose on these supplements, without having a balanced diet you can develop kidney and liver failure, and as that happens you may need a liver or kidney transplant or your could eventually die."

Now, Alfonso encourages healthy body image and realistic workouts, urging other men not to go down the path he did.

"I look back now and I see those pictures and I'm like, 'Wow,' like I would never want to look like that guy," he exclaims.
Dr. Kerulis says, your can combat this disorder through cognitive behavorial treatment and a healthy exercise regimen, with the help of a medical doctor, nutritionist and pyschologist.