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Some Muscle Men View Selves as 98-Pound Weaklings

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Despite having the muscled physique of a Hercules, some men see a pip-squeak when they look in the mirror, study findings show.

The report, published in the September 30th issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that as more men seek muscular bodies, more may be at risk of developing muscle dysmorphia.

Men with muscle dysmorphia have a distorted body image, seeing themselves as having tiny muscles even if they are heavily muscled. This concern can lead to an obsession with gaining muscle and definition at any cost, including over-training and using potentially dangerous supplements such as anabolic steroids.

In the current study, lead author Precilla Y. L. Choi of Loughborough University in the UK and colleagues evaluated questionnaires that measured self-esteem and body image, among other attributes of mental health, for 24 male bodybuilders diagnosed with muscle dysmorphia. Their responses were compared with those from another group of bodybuilders without the disorder.

According to the report, men with muscular dysmorphia reported greater dissatisfaction with their overall appearance, muscle tone and weight. While they saw themselves as less attractive than their peers without the disorder, their appearance was also more important to them.

The findings also suggest that men with the disorder may view themselves to be less healthy than their gym-going peers, but this finding was not statistically significant, the authors note.

“The findings confirm the nature of the disorder in that those with muscle dysmorphia syndrome have poorer body image and are less happy with their bodies,” Choi and colleagues write. “Moreover, in addition to a desire for greater muscularity, they are very concerned not to gain fat.”

The researchers conclude, "In a changing culture where men's bodies are becoming more visible alongside an increased acceptance of physical exercise as a desirable activity, muscle dysmorphia may be one negative consequence of physical exercise behavior, particularly weight training, being motivated primarily by physical appearance."

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine 2002;36:375-377.