The Adonis Complex

Il Complesso di Adone

Muscle dysmorphia: when fitness becomes a real obsession.

02 February 2021

Posted by: Dott.ssa Maria Cassano

Reading time: 4 min

Exercise is an essential activity for the proper functioning of our body. A little daily movement allows us to feel fit and in tune with our bodies. On the other hand, those who train intensely know that consistency is essential not only to achieve but also to maintain evident results on muscles, lean mass, and posture: we are talking about toning and improving the body, of course.

As in all things, however, it is important to keep in mind what our body really asks of us, and not to overdo it in search of impossible goals.

In today’s world, exercise is increasingly promoted and valued as a fundamental moment for physical and psychological well-being. We are witnessing the alarming spread of a “new” pathology, which falls within the category of the most recently acquired eating disorders. In the scientific world, this pathology is known as vigorexia (and muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia). 

Let’s see what it consists of and what consequences it causes.


Muscle dysmorphia: what it is and what it causes


Muscle dysmorphia is also known by sports lovers as the Adonis Complex: this pathology is not to be underestimated. It takes its name from the famous Greek mythological figure, Adonis, who was a true symbol of youthful male beauty, understood as physical perfection in aesthetic form.

Muscle dysmorphia is mentioned for the first time in a well-known 1993 article by Pope, Katz and Hudson, who proposed the definition of “inverse anorexia” for this disorder, to clearly contrast it with anorexia nervosa. Inverse anorexia: a term that immediately inserts this contemporary trend into a real eating disorder and which, as we will see, is very far from a concept of external beauty that can no longer be separated from inner well-being.


Why are we talking about reverse anorexia for muscle dysmorphia?


Those affected by this pathology also suffer from bodily despair but, unlike those affected by anorexia nervosa, which is perceived as excessively fat and/or heavy, the vigorexics continue to feel flaccid, too thin or minute, despite possessing in physical realities that are toned, trained and endowed with often hypertrophic muscles. They are always looking for new toning goals and muscle growth, and therefore find themselves experiencing a perennial dissatisfaction with the results achieved even if everyone sees otherwise.


Those most at risk


Young male adults between the ages of 25 and 35 are generally most at risk, followed by those between 18 and 24; however, there is no lack of an increase in the over 40 age group, which includes all those who, chasing the illusory idea of ​​regaining their lost youth, invest time and ever-increasing energy in workouts that become gradually more hard and intense feeding less and less flexible and varied.

But what specifically is muscle dysmorphia and how does the person affected by it change his or her lifestyle?

It is good to keep in mind that by muscle dysmorphia we mean a pathological dependence on physical exercise and motor activity, accompanied by an obsessive concern for one’s own aesthetic appearance and the desire to modify it, aspiring to perfection.

A concept that is very different from the aesthetic standards and the SOTHERGA philosophy, in which beauty is never born from an upheaval or from continuous unattainable changes but rather from awareness and the will to improve, with a vision on beauty but also well-being.

Muscle dysmorphia occurs when you play sports beyond the limits normally set by effort, boredom, and fatigue. Those affected by it gradually and at the same time substantially change the way of understanding exercise, significantly altering expectations and time dedicated to it. Physical exercise, often exhausting and taken to the extreme, becomes an absolute and all-encompassing priority that invades every space of one’s life, not just free time: this naturally causes sometimes even dramatic consequences on one’s social life. Both emotional and working relationships are neglected, overshadowed, or even abandoned, as well as most of the free time that tends to be devoted almost entirely to sports.


How eating habits change


Eating habits also undergo a clear transformation. Vigorexic subjects prefer a rather strict and healthy diet, mostly introducing high-protein foods and eliminating fats and carbohydrates. Nutrition, like physical exercise, turns into an obsession: it, therefore, becomes limited to a few foods and rather anxious, accompanied by a sense of guilt and many hours of compensatory physical activity. The use of supplements, especially anabolic ones, is also frequent, in an increasingly nagging attempt to boost muscle mass and push performance beyond the limits imposed by human nature.

The causes of Muscle dysmorphia are attributable to psychological, social, and biological factors. It seems that low self-esteem and worrying insecurity play a decisive role, to which is added the chronic dissatisfaction with one’s own physicality and with oneself in general. The attempt to strengthen one’s body could be the metaphor of the effort that the subject makes to strengthen the internal image of himself. Also relevant is the role of the media and social networks that constantly propose distorted and distorted models of beauty, success, youth, happiness, and self-realization.

Compared to other addictive disorders and the most common eating pathologies, muscle dysmorphia is difficult to identify, precisely because the people who suffer from it often seem to take care of themselves in an exemplary way, mainly arousing feelings of envy and desire for emulation in those who observe them.

Despite the fact that there are alarm bells, muscle dysmorphia currently remains a highly underestimated disorder on which it is beneficial to turn the spotlight.

Dott.ssa Maria Cassano


Our treatments

Talking about fat and excess weight:


Rimani nel loop, iscriviti alla newsletter per non perderti le ultime sui trattamenti SOTHERGA

This website uses Google Analytics to collect usage data, in order to offer an even better user experience. By clicking on "I accept", you allow the tracking of your interactions on this website. You can withdraw your consent at any time. You will find the dedicated setting in the footer of this site. To find out more, read our privacy e cookie policy.