Muscling the mirror

Male students suffering from muscle dysmorphia, a body-obsessive disorder, struggle to see past a distorted self image.

Male students suffering from muscle dysmorphia, a body-obsessive disorder, struggle to see past a distorted self image.

For some men, body image is a major concern that can turn into an unhealthy obsessive disorder called bigorexia, also commonly known as muscle dysmorphia. This disorder affects many college men as they make the transition from adolescence into adulthood.

“Muscle dysmorphia is very similar to anorexia, where someone who is stick thin will look in the mirror and see the person they were when they weighed 200 pounds,” said Tricia DePoe, fitness coordinator of the IBC Student Recreation Center, adding that someone who struggles with muscle dysmorphia disorder could be very muscular and symmetric.

“Others will look up to him,” she said, “but this guy looks in the mirror and he keeps seeing the kid that was 150 pounds and without the muscle on him.”

Ralph Longo said he hadn’t heard of the disorder.

“As someone that works out a lot and that goes to the gym a lot, my body is something that I’m always looking to improve,” Longo said. “I really just want to get bigger, more muscular, more defined.”

Longo spends a good portion of his day counting calories, mixing shakes and working out to achieve his goals. At 5 feet, 10 inches and 180 pounds, Longo ingests more than 2,500 calories and about 200 grams of protein a day to put on more mass.

“I usually take two protein shakes a day,” Longo said. “I take one shake right after my workout and one after I eat. Each shake has about 48 grams of protein in it.”

The nature of bodybuilding requires very strict dietary and fitness routines, which often promote a culture where this disorder is praised. Men with bigorexia are characterized by a complete preoccupation with muscle development, to the point that they will miss important social and professional commitments in order to exercise. They can also experience a lack of satisfaction with food, due to overeating and experience a noticeable change in mood when gym or meal schedules are thrown off.

Sophomore political science major Robert Bishop is also familiar with the disorder.

“One friend of mine has been going to the gym for a while now, and pretty much all of his life is dedicated to the bodybuilding,” Bishop said. “He doesn’t even compete. He just wants to look good.”
Bishop is also on a mission to improve his physique, but his approach is a little more balanced, he said.
“Bodybuilding, for me, is just a hobby. The most important things in my life are school, family, religion, and then working out is just a hobby,” he said. “I try to make sure that those values come first.”

After spending two years working at the IBC, DePoe has developed theories about bigorexia.

“You’ll find that some men strive to be like the guys in the fitness magazines or the athletes that you see on TV. What they don’t see when they look at these images is that that athlete or those fitness models get paid to work out,” DePoe said.

The disorder is rooted in the images held in the men’s minds. DePoe said that as weight fluctuates, we don’t necessarily see the change.

“With anorexia, when you lose 20 pounds, you look at yourself like you were when you were 20 pounds heavier, whereas everyone else is like, ‘Oh, you look great,’” she said. “And it also [works] the other way around. Someone who strives to put on muscle mass will look at [him or herself] in the mirror [and] still see the skinny kid from high school.”

Bishop was that guy, he said.

“When I was a freshman in high school, I was really skinny, and I wanted to go out for safety on the football team, so I knew that I had to gain weight,” he said. “Now that I don’t play football anymore, my goal is pretty much to focus on bodybuilding.”

Today, Bishop can be found at the IBC almost everyday.

The IBC is holding a body composition challenge to give clients a little extra motivation to stay balanced. In addition to equipment, the IBC offers a wide variety of services to assist students towards their fitness goals – including yoga, Pilates and circuit express sessions, nutrition and diet counseling and more.

DePoe recommends beginners take one or two of the group fitness sessions to learn the basics.
“We don’t have personal training,” she said, “but we have group fitness leaders who are there to make sure you have proper form, that you are doing [the exercise] right, to answer any questions.”

Quentin Williams and Monica Sellecchia can be reached at and

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