Reverse Anorexia Explained: Causes, Characteristics, and Treatments

Body dysmorphia is a mental disorder that causes a person to formulate extreme misconceptions about their weight, body shape, or general physical appearance. Body dysmorphia is closely associated with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, two conditions characterized by obsessive and compulsive thoughts towards weight loss. Another less well-known association of body dysmorphia is reverse anorexia, a condition marked by the compulsive need to build muscle mass.

Also known as ‘bigorexia’ or ‘muscle dysmorphia’, reverse anorexia primarily affects men and shares many of the attributes of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Just as people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa become fixated on losing weight, individuals with reverse anorexia become fixated on gaining muscle.

Causes of Reverse Anorexia

Although research into reverse anorexia remains scarce, experts have identified three major causes for the development of muscle dysmorphia:

Brain chemistry:Heightened incidences of reverse anorexia have been linked to atypical brain chemistry, especially imbalanced levels of mood-affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA.

Environmental factors: Social or cultural pressures may also increase a person’s risk of developing reverse anorexia. These pressures include emotional trauma, family issues, childhood bullying, and social media trends.

Genetic factors: Reverse anorexia is more common among people who have a relative with the condition, indicating that there is a genetic component to muscle dysmorphia.

Characteristics of Reverse Anorexia

Without treatment, reverse anorexia can lead to the development of a wide range of serious physical and mental health problems. If you want to spot and respond to reverse anorexia early, keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Working out several times per day, even at the expense of other professional or personal commitments.
  • Constant weight checks.
  • Restrictive eating habits.
  • Increased anxiety or distress if a workout is missed.
  • Constantly checking and obsessing over physical appearance in the mirror.
  • Constantly comparing your muscle size to other men.
  • Abuse of anabolic steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs to cut body fat and increase muscle mass.
  • Wearing baggy clothes or avoiding social interactions due to embarrassment regarding your body shape.

Treatment Options for Reverse Anorexia

The most effective treatment option for people with reverse anorexia is to partner with a therapist specializing in body dysmorphic disorders and begin a program of cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or dietary therapy. The goal of this process is to address the obsessive nature of reverse anorexia and break the condition’s underlying relationship with unhealthy or unrealistic body image goals. In some cases, this program may be supplemented with prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant medications.

If you or someone you know is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, please seek help and reach out to a medical professional.

Sources: Very Well Mind, SOURCE, Healthy Place, International OCD Foundation, Renewed Eating Disorders Support

Photo: Pixabay

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