T Nation

Reverse Anorexia?


Hey guys,

I'm sure many of you have heard about the "Adonis Complex" or reverse anorexia which generally speaking, entails a lifter never being happy/satisfied with the amount of muscle that they have. Now, I'm certainly not huge by any means, but logically I know I've made good progress, however, sometimes I feel as though I've accomplished nothing.

I go through periods of feeling great and periods of feeling like I suck. I am currently 208lb at 5'10 and 19 years old. Sometimes I am quite happy about the progress I've made and sometimes I just feel like crap about it. I can never seem to view my progress objectively, but I always seem to give the benefit of the doubt to other lifters I see.

I often use my arms as a measuring stick for progress in my whole body as I rarely work them directly and I feel that they grow quite proportionatly to the rest of my body. I figure that if my arms are shrinking or growing than the rest of my body must be doing close behind.

Saying this, I feel like a little anorexic girl who weighs herself numerous times throughout the day, but I do feel the need to measure my arms a number of times throughout the day to make sure they arent shrinking. I do this, despite knowing that muscle loss is not nearly this rapid and that any increases or decreases in size are most likely a result of hydration, glycogen storage, etc.

Is this ambivalance towards one's own progress a normal occurence among lifters or is there perhaps something wrong with me? I know that dissatisfaction is necessariy for improvement, but how much dissatisfaction is psychologically healthy? And are there any suggestions to help the problem? Thanks in advance.


Nothing wrong with always seeking improvement. But I'd suggest thinking about how little 10 more lbs is going to matter in the scheme of things. Stop and think that it's not going to make your life much different. Remind yourself of all the postive things in your life that have nothing to do with your size. And then...eat good, live hard, and LIVE it. Don't over-analyze or obsess.


I would say many others feel the same. I, for one, don't see exactly what the mirror shows. People say otherwise, but I don't view myself as being big. I can't get that average image out of my mind. I guess it stems from me being small most of my life.


Serious bodybuilders teeter on the edge of what many would call obsessive compulsive disorder. I am sure that if anyone saw how my protein shakes are made six at a time the night before, my food for the next day is Tupperwared and stacked in the fridge, my eating is usually timed to around 3 hours between meals and my day often revolves around making it to the gym, very few outside of bodybuilding would call it anything but an obsession.

However, what separates the actions of dedication and the actions of obsession and compulsion could very well be the performance of a repetitive action over the course of a day while expecting to see a drastic change over that time period...or doing so as comfort that you are not changing too drastically. That and the neglect of personal duties or any and all social interaction are what should dictate whether someone has crossed that line.

You measuring your biceps all day long crosses that line. It is physically impossible for there to be much of a change to warrant that action which makes it a compulsion. If this floods over into other aspects of your life, you could very well need counseling in order to regain order.

In all truth, many bodybuilders fall very close to this line simply because we are people who see a need for perfection in some aspect. I was told by my assistant a few months ago that I was a perfectionist and sometimes lingered on ideas with a patient longer than necessary just to make sure all bases were covered. She's right. I hate to make mistakes and my only true fear in life has always been "failure". I have no doubt that I straddle that line, but not in the sense that the Adonis Complex attempts to portray.

That book seems to view bodybuilding as a mental defect, as if "normal" is indicated by someone who really doesn't care how they look physically. I disagree with that. I always see a need for improvement. I also would get looked at as if I were crazy if I told anyone I was trying to get bigger or anymore muscular. The truth is, I passed up "normal" awhile ago. Normal people don't have arms as big as some people's thighs.

My goal was never to be "average" or normal.

Your issue, however, is if your obsession is destroying other aspects of your life that are important as well.


This is one of the most insightful posts I've read on this site. It's interesting because I overcame OCD in many ways because of activities like mastering a musical instrument (guitar), mastering my body (weight training), and mastering body mechanics (martial arts) involve. I can definately relate to that Type-A constantly dissatisfied and need for perfection attitude.


Can't say anything much better than X said, but I'll still throw something out there.

I'm not a big guy; people think I am but 6'4" 209 lbs is not big. I have managed to pack on over 20 lbs of muscle in the past two to three years, though.

Nevertheless, I find myself feeling exactly as Matgic does, and he and I have discussed this. We get a "high" feeling from a compliment or the day of a fantastic workout, and at times those days make me feel as though I am a Greek god, a "statue" of masculinity.

To me, making myself look masculine and muscular and strong is an extremely powerful feeling.

Is this a lie that I live? Or do I look and am I powerful, masculine and strong?

Besides the fact that it's all relative, it boils down to, as always, the middle of the road I think. I am both lying to myself due to insecurities, but at the same time do look powerful.

I also know that these conflicting feelings occur, for me, not just in lifting but in college, romance, my career choice, etc. I'd be willing to bet that Matgic and others share this with me.

Sometimes, perhaps we feel as though academically or professionally we have made great progress, and truly honed our skills and tools for what it takes to succeed in areas that are not lifting... yet, that demon hits us, maybe in that wolf hour TC talked about this week, or just maybe when we let our emotional guards down or feel like beating up on ourselves a bit.

So, is it healthy? Yes and no. With it, I manage to put myself in states of feeling nearly worthless (in lifting, life, etc). But without it, frankly I don't know if I'd ever have the will to push myself to succeed.

It's a strange relationship we have with our insecurities. Greatness strength/weakness type of thing.

Although, maybe I just need to chill out and get counseling. Haha.

my two cents,

The Boomster


I think the official term for these feelings is 'muscle dysmorphia' and it is exactly as you describe: obsession with getting bigger. There is a decent book on the subject, 'Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder' by Samuel W. Fussell, that most in T-Nation would find to be a good read.


I think the difference is that Anorexia is unhealthy, unless you turn to steroids or other drugs muscle building doesn't have to be. In fact it's probably healthy.


Actually, "muscle dysmorphia" isn't just an obsession with getting bigger. It describes not seeing yourself as big at all even though you may weigh 250lbs and be bigger than everyone else. Simply wanting to get bigger is being confused with this which is why bodybuilding is seen by some as some type of mental disorder. I am not "muscle dysmorphic". I know I am a big guy. That doesn't mean I wouldn't mind gaining more muscle in certain areas. If I looked in the mirror and saw a skinny guy looking back at me, that would make me muscle dysmorphic.

Along with that, most of us experience not seeing ourselves as "gigantic" like everyone else seems to. I must get a comment almost daily about size, but I honestly don't walk around thinking of it until someone points it out. Part of that is because I hold myself to a different standard than "average". I know I'm not tiny, but I also know I am not the biggest person out there and that I have areas I would like to bring up. Therefore, I have seen HUGE and in my opinion, I'm not it. To say this out of context would change the meaning.


I definitely do feel smaller some days more than others, but I don't get really down in the dumps about it. Your situation sounds a little scary; especially Jimmyboom - you sound like a drug addict. I would definitely say you've crossed the line into unhealthy obsession.

I must say, most interesting forum post in a while.


I think this is a by-product of being part of T-Nation. "Average" and "normal" take on different meanings here.

I am 5'11, 180lbs; I do not consider myself big. Yet, many people do. Sure, I am bigger and stronger than the average person, but how hard is that? For even more context, I have been interning at a High School this semester; some days, I swear that the "obesity epidemic" is over and that we now have a "manorexic endemic". Put yourself beside many of these young 'uns, and it isn't hard to think of yourself as monstrous. One must be careful, lest one get lazy.

But on T-Nation, if one looks at straight numbers, I can't compete. Compared to othes on here, I have just begun my journey and have a long way to go.

This also seems to carry over into conversations with others... My sister has learned that if she really wants to irk me, she can call me "skinny".

Many people in our world want to be "skinny", as in "not fat". I have figured out that when my sister calls me skinny, she is just saying I am not fat (and that my waist is not large). It took a while to get her to recognize that I don't take being called "skinny" as a huge compliment; I'm not sure that she compleletly understands what I mean. I don't think she ever will.

It's interesting what this fitness thing can do to your perceptions.



Man... Reverse anorexia sounds like what most of America has. Keep on eating even though you're fat...

Anyways, "208lb at 5'10 and 19 years old" sounds good. If that's your pic in the icon/avatar, I think a lot of peeps would want to say shut up. You have good mass already, and you have many years left.

But really, I think X and Boom covered all the stuff. I'd just say, personally for me, being dissatisfied is the driving force. You get satisfied, you quit. Just don't let it overwhelm your life. Use it like a positive force, sort of how they have aggression training. Using something that could be negative when uncontrolled as a positive force when focused. Multiple times a day might be too much, but honestly, if you're actually keeping track of the numbers, it could be useful. Just take the average value of the past 7 days or so as it'd be less prone to noise.



After reading a few responses, a few more thoughts popped into my head.

Ask yourself a few questions:

Am I better than I was six months ago? A year ago? Three years ago?

Is there any reason to believe, logically, that six months, a year, three years from now I won't be above and beyond what I am now?

TS hit it when I think he agreed with me in that it is the driving force (dissatisfaction). If it is what has allowed people to become what they want to become, to achieve their goals and strive for more and more achievement, it is good. Anorexia implies detriment to ones physical and mental health. It sounds like people lke us are just striving to better ourselves on many different planes. I find the lessons learned from lifting (planning, consistency, goal setting) are applicable to all areas of life, as I'm sure we all know by now.

But remember Matgic, as we have discussed before, it is still important to draw self worth from many different things.
But lifting is a good tool to learn how to progress, and then take it into other areas of our life too, and spread ourselves out, so that we may experience as much life as possible.

Attack life as we attack the iron, and the sky is the limit.

The Boomster


Maybe you have a point Salty, and I see what you're saying. I just think my word choice ("feeling high") affected your opinion and may have been inappropriate. I don't consider myself to have an unhealthy obsession, because that would imply it consumes my thoughts ALL the time and runs my life for me.

That, is only true SOME of the time. :wink:

-The Boomster


Fuck. That's how I should have phrased my comment. My exact sentiments.


Prof X's first comment sums it all up perfectly.

It's not a disorder (problem) unless it's negatively affecting your ability to carry out every day life functions.


I know what you guys mean. I don't know wheteher it is me but when i look in the mirror i see a skinny shit. However, im a good 30lbs heavier than the boxer Ricky Hatton and I think he has a fairly impressive physique. My BF is probably lower than his too, yet I think I am a skinny shit.



Thanks guys...some really interesting stuff has been said. Logically, I know that my arms will not shrink in a day, yet I still feel them smaller at some points than others. Even though I know that they are not shrinking, it still feels like they are and discounts my logical side of thought.

I suppose I need to really consider how much my involvement in physical culture has influenced my life choices. To some extent, it must have an effect, don't you agree? If I know I have to lift the next day, I'm probably not going to stay our real late and try to get that piece of ass that may or may not come around. I definetly feel myself passing up some opppurtunities in order to "save my energy" for the gym and regular meal preperation/planning. I hardly drink anymore which is probably a good thing, but I've become a bit less social as well. Rather than pulling an all nighter to finish a paper, I'll opt to go to sleep and hand it in late rather than ruin my rest and recovery time.
Who really knows were dedication crosses the line and becomes obsession.


Thanks, all easier said than done, but I will definetly keep those things in consideration


Good book. I found it incredibly interesting.