Getting into the 'wrong' shape

RECENT studies have shown pumping too much iron could be linked to a psychological disorder called muscle dysmorphia.

Southern Cross University PHD candidate, Johanna Nieuwoudt, said the condition occurred when people believed they were not muscly enough and subsequently body-built to a point that could affect their physical and mental health.

The Lismore-based student has conducted several studies on muscle dysmorphia and she said it was similar to eating disorders, such as anorexia. Ms Nieuwoudt claimed it was even regularly referred to as "manorexia".

"The condition can be harmful, especially when combined with steroid abuse," she said. "There can be musculo-skeletal injuries and people with the condition are more likely to train when they are injured or ill. Their social life suffers and the quest to get bigger can become obsessive, with their relationship with their body overcoming all else."

Ms Nieuwoudt said those with symptoms often didn't believe they had a problem because they felt as though they were living a healthy lifestyle.

During her studies Ms Nieuwoudt has interviewed 116 men and measured muscles in gyms around Northern NSW. She found about 10% of weight-lifting men showed symptoms of muscle dysmorphia and she said younger men with large biceps were most at risk.

"What I did find is people who had bigger biceps did have higher scores on the muscle dysmorphia test," Ms Nieuwoudt said.

"You can hide your tummy or your legs underneath clothes but the bicep is pretty much in view. That's why it's related to body image disorders."

Since the first study on muscle dysmorphia was published in 1993 the science community has debated whether it is a psychological disorder.

"There is a lot of discussion and many researchers cannot agree whether muscle dysmorphia should be categorised as a body dysmorphic disorder or an eating disorder," Ms Nieuwoudt said.

"Even eating disorders in males is quite new."

Ms Nieuwoudt recently submitted a study on muscle dysmorphia to the Psychology of Sport and Exercise Journal and is currently working on another.

"Now we know it is in Australia and we need to focus on it. Once you know about it you can have prevention programs," she said.



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