Social media feeds us with messages that are sometimes assimilated consciously, and other times not. Some of them concern our sporting activities: ‘practicing sport is healthy but doing a lot of sport is even healthier!’ But in reality, as is the case with food, excess is never beneficial. To do too much sport can be problematic and in particular, it can lead to a very particular addiction: bigorexia. Affecting men, far more often than women, this disorder was first recognised as a disease by the WHO (World Health Organisation) in 2011.
A person suffering from bigorexic is addicted to sport to the point where he/she will practice it several times a day in the search of better results. This addiction is linked to the phenomenon of dismorfofobia: a fear of becoming out of shape or quite simply, ugly, – a totally misplaced self image. Or, it is linked to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD): an image of ourselves as being far less muscular than what we really are. The combination of these two phenomena causes athletes to become completely obsessed in achieving their physical goals; participating in muscle building sports even though the bigorexic is often, already very muscular. It is a disease that not only affects many bodybuilders *, but also people participating in fitness and endurance sports.
To compound the situation, the participation in sporting activities generates the release of endorphins which gives us a sensation of well-being and euphoria. So, we can even become addicted to these ‘feel-good’ hormones.
The life of the bigorexic can become so sports-orientated that it ends up getting in the way of a professional career and family life.
The causes leading to this addiction can be psychological such as a lack of self-esteem, a malaise, perfectionism or a tendency towards anxiety. If a bigorexic person does not get his quota of daily sport, he might suffer from mood swings and increased irritability as it corresponds to a period of abstinence. Dependent on a daily dose of sport, the bigorexic person also risks chronic injury because he/she will continue to practice sport in spite of a needing to rest, which can also lead to exhaustion and nutritional deficiencies.
This type of addiction can also be linked to eating disorders such as orthorexia.
So beware, if sport starts to take priority over your health or your family, or if you tend to participate in sporting activities without having specific goals other than that of making you more muscular or faster to the detriment of your sleep or recovery periods. Bigorexia is an addiction with the same symptoms as an addiction to games, drugs or anorexia (addiction to deprivation).
Regular (but not excessive) sport has many benefits, both physical and psychological. To make the most of it, choose a sport that suits you, according to your abilities, according to where you feel pain or not, and of course according to your tastes. You should enjoy your physical activities. For an adult, the WHO advises to participate in 2h30-5h of a moderate activity every week, or 75 minutes to 90 minutes of high intensity activity.
If you have goals, you can happily undertake sporting activities as long as it’s not obsessive. Do not hesitate to surround yourself with professionals to make the most of the benefits of a balanced lifestyle.
* Mosley, P.E. (2009). Bigorexia: bodybuilding and muscle dysmorphia. European Eating Disorders Review, 17 (3), 191-198. doi: 10.1002 / erv.89710