Skip to content

Reveal today's advent calendar offer!

Results reveal the extent of bigorexia

With research showing that three in four exercising males consider anabolic steroid use, is reality TV fuelling a crisis of confidence among men?

In October, we surveyed exercising males across the UK to understand their attitude towards looking good and the role of image and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs).

From the research, we found:

  • More than half of men (52%) work out four to six times per week.
  • 96% of men polled are unhappy with their bodies.
  • 61% of men want to be bigger.
  • 70% feel guilty if they miss a weights session.
  • Two in three believe reality TV puts pressure on men to look good.

The results are in line with findings reported in the BBC earlier this year [1], which showed that bigorexia is leading to depression in some gym-goers.

What is bigorexia?

Bigorexia or muscle dysmorphia describes when people feel they need to gain extremely large muscle mass – often described as bulking up or getting bigger. Reality TV, men's fitness magazines and social media are all thought to play a part in perpetuating the desire to workout and eat for aesthetics [2].

Awareness of anabolic steroids

80% of people surveyed were aware that anabolic steroids can cause shrunken testicles, mood swings, severe acne, oily skin, and hormone imbalances. And three in four of men have considered taking them.

Overall, 41% confessed to taking image and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs), with the biggest motivating factor being to boost body image. Two in three were taking anabolic steroids in a bid to stay young, while 62% were using them to increase their sex drive.

Surprisingly, more than two in three (69%) consider themselves to have a healthy relationship with exercise, despite 70% feeling guilty if they skip a workout.

Dr Daniel Grant, head of medical education at Medichecks, believes the findings are worrying. He said:

“With probably over a million steroid users in the UK right now muscle dysmorphia or ‘bigorexia’ as it is also known, is a pressing issue. The mental health of our male population is a growing concern, and this research offers valuable insights into fears around body image and exercise, which will be inevitably fuelling anxiety.

“More than two in three believe they’d look better with an extra 10lbs of bulk, and almost all (96%) said they were unhappy with their body. Education is important here, changing mindsets to be accepting of different body types and a healthier attitude to body image. But it’s clear that reality TV has a significant part to play.”

Dr Grant added: “While 83% of those polled say that the use of performance-enhancing drugs shouldn’t be a dirty secret, we’re finding that many users don’t tell us they are taking them despite us asking them to share this information with us. We don’t condone steroid use but we are passionate that we have a responsibility to advise individuals on their consumption so we can help them safeguard their health. It’s the elephant in the room and as a healthcare company, we feel compelled to provide this counsel.

“In fact, in our research, 90% said they wanted more advice on safe use of anabolic steroids. Advice without judgement is key here. We can look at bloodwork and identify what symptoms and anomalies may be attributed to use of IPEDs, and give feedback on steps to alleviate issues.” 

Other survey findings included:

  • 85% work hard to keep toned and muscular
  • 38% confessed that weight training schedule always or often interferes with other aspects of life
  • Almost half (49%) said they always feel more confident if they had more muscle 
  • 41% are unhappy with the person looking back in the mirror

Where to go for help

If you or someone you know is concerned about bigorexia, help is available.

  • Mind - it can be upsetting and frustrating to see a loved one's obsessive worries and compulsive behaviours impact their day-to-day life. But there are ways you can support them. Visit Mind’s page on body dysmorphic disorder for more information.
  • CALM - anyone can hit a crisis point. CALM runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat – open from 5 pm to midnight every day, for anyone who needs to talk about life’s problems.
  • NHS - body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others. Visit the NHS website for more information.

References

  1. BBC News. 2020. Body dysmorphia: 'Bigorexia leading to depression' in gym-goers. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-54733684> [Accessed 17 November 2021].
  2. EmotionMatters. 2021. What Is Bigorexia?. [online] Available at: <https://emotionmatters.co.uk/2019/05/10/what-is-bigorexiamale-body-image/#:~:text=The%20term%20'Bigorexia'%20or%20muscle,workout%20and%20eat%20for%20aesthetics> [Accessed 17 November 2021].