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The fiction of healthy addiction?

When the quest for a more muscular appearance begins to cause excessive psychological stress and negatively affect important relationships it ceases to be a quest and starts to become an illness.

When the quest for a more muscular appearance begins to cause excessive psychological stress and negatively affect important relationships it ceases to be a quest and starts to become an illness.

Week in and week out you will find never-ending streams of encouragement pouring from this page, aimed at motivating you to get in shape, hit the gym, or excel in your chosen sport.

If left unchecked, Muscle Dysmorphia and any other obsessions with training or sports can eventually lead to depression
- Matthew Muscat Inglott

More often than not, undying dedication to exercise or sport tends to be something we view as admirable or respectable. If you’re going to get addicted to something, what could possibly be better than exercise, right?

They also say, however, that too much of anything is bad for you, and exercise is no different. Today we shall reach out to the much smaller portion of our population who might be taking things a little too far.

It seems like the idea of a healthy addiction might actually be nothing but fiction. If you’re a health nut or a competitive athlete, ask yourself the following questions and give truthful answers, because if you say yes to three or more, you might need to consider some serious changes.

Do you feel anxious when something prevents you from getting to the gym for your usual workout or from drinking your early afternoon protein shake?

Do you carry your own food with you in plastic containers wherever you go if you are going to be out for more than a couple of hours?

Do you continue to train when you’re injured, even though it hurts?

When planning your time, do your regularly prioritise your workouts above engagements with family or friends?

Do you ever experience guilt or shame about your results?

Do you ever find yourself working out to avoid feeling bad, rather than to feel good?

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more questions, then a little soul-searching is most definitely in order. When something starts to impair our ability to lead a normal life, we probably have a ‘disorder’ on our hands.

‘Body Dysmorphia’ is a disorder associated with men obsessively attempting to gain muscle mass. It is gaining momentum as a recognised disorder and shares many similarities with the far more widely known disorder, anorexia.

The disorder includes bulking up to extreme sizes, as well as ‘cutting’ down to extreme leanness, so that the muscles are unobscured by body fat and exposed in all their glory.

When the quest for a more muscular appearance begins to cause excessive psychological stress and negatively affect important relationships with those dearest to us, the bottom line is that it ceases to be a quest and starts to become an illness.

If left unchecked, Muscle Dysmorphia and any other obsessions with training or sports can eventually lead to depression.

The key characteristic with this and most other obsessions is the failure to recognise when enough is enough. The lack of any clear and realistic goals means we are left chasing a finish line that is continuously moving further and further away.

When we consistently fail to reach it, we constantly experience a feeling of failure. If you entirely define yourself solely by the physical appearance of your body or your performance on the playing field, constant feelings of inadequacy will eventually take their toll.

If you fail to achieve what has become most important to you, there is precious little left in life to feel good about.

We all have things we are afraid of or simply like to avoid for some reason or other. That’s fine, but when these things start to take control over our lives, things get hairy.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping your house clean or eating less fatty food, but if you start cleaning so often or dieting so extremely that the quality of your life and the lives of those around you begins to suffer, then you’ve got a disorder on your hands.

Many of the traits exhibited by anorexic women and a smaller number of anorexic men are actually shared by the men and smaller amount of women who crave more muscular size.

So if you think you might be taking your sport or exercise regimen a little too seriously, do not underestimate the possible implications.

The line between dedication and obsession can sometimes become very fuzzy indeed, and when we receive nothing but praise for our efforts it becomes even harder to make the distinction.

For this reason, when somebody demonstrates dramatic changes in their appearance in either fat loss or muscle gain, while it’s great to offer lashings of praise and admiration as most observers will, it is also a good idea to show some sensitivity.

Ask how that person feels about their sudden transformation, because their response could very well reveal telltale signs of suffering within, and a potentially dangerous obsession.

Ask yourself these final questions:

Are you ashamed of yourself or your body despite dedicated adherence to a rigorous exercise and nutrition regimen?

Does your training and diet cause you to miss out on things in life you would really like to do but can’t?

If so, seek help, or start talking about your situation and your feelings to those who are closest to you.

You may not have realised you had a problem, but recognising it before it’s too late and doing something about it could make all the difference to your long-term health and happiness.

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