Do you have muscle dysmorphia?

Do you have muscle dysmorphia?

Flexing your muscles in the mirror to check out the progress you made in the gym may seem innocent, but those with muscle dysmorphia may see a distorted appearance.

This form of body dysmorphia stems from an unhealthy obsession with the appearance of your muscles and distress about not meeting your own expectations of how you should look.

“Most patients with muscle dysmorphia and other body dysmorphias have poor insight and see significant flaws in the mirror that are absent to anyone else who looks at them,” explains Dr. Laura Yahr Nelson, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wis.

Both boys and girls can struggle with their body image. A study found that muscle dysmorphia impacts 2.2% of boys and 1.4% of girls. Many experts believe societal pressures and social media are at fault as they can create false expectations and lead to an unhealthy obsession with one’s appearance.

Of course, exercising and gaining muscle is healthy, but too much can eventually cross a line.

“It crosses into a disorder when preoccupation with your muscles and appearance begins to harm relationships, work, sleep or your overall health,” says Dr. Yahr Nelson.

If you suspect that you or your child have muscle dysmorphia, she recommends following these three steps:

  1. Reflect – Take a moment to think about your relationship with both your body and exercise. Do you notice yourself frequently assessing and analyzing your body in the mirror, also known as body checking? This can exacerbate dysmorphia.
  2. Seek feedback – Check in with your family and friends to see if they have noticed any concerning behaviors. Have they noticed you being restrictive with your diet, using excessive amounts of supplements or having a preoccupation with exercise?
  3. Seek help If you suspect muscle dysmorphia, it’s recommended that you get evaluated by a qualified physician or therapist. They may recommend anti-anxiety medication or participation in cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can include psychoeducation, goal setting, cognitive restructuring, exposure and response prevention and perceptual retraining.

“We have seen a great frame shift regarding body positivity in our society, but we must not let that deter our wellness,” says Dr. Yahr Nelson. “Regular exercise and healthy diets ensure that we have the physical and emotional energy to live our best lives.”

Find behavioral health services and resources in Illinois or Wisconsin.

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About the Author

Anna Kohler
Anna Kohler

Anna Kohler, health enews contributor, is an external communications specialist for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She received her bachelor's degree in public relations from Illinois State University and has worked in health care public relations and content marketing for over five years. In her free time, she enjoys working out, exploring new places with her friends and family, and keeping up with the latest social media trends.