By Andrea Bidowski
As a society, we are urged to eat healthy foods and get regular exercise, however, is there a case where there really is too much of a good thing? When it comes to physical fitness, do some people take it to the extreme? Trying to understand the balance between health and what could be considered an ‘unhealthy’ obsession is, at times, a challenge.
Bodybuilding often involves dedication, foregoing occasional social engagements, restricting food choices, and often, a preoccupation with one’s physical appearance. Some of these aspects could be or become characteristics of an eating disorder; however, it would not be wise to think all bodybuilding could lead to or become an eating disorder! Just as some individuals are passionate about video games or graphic novels, others prefer the feeling of working out at the gym and sculpting their bodies. In recent years, more research has addressed the unique psychology of bodybuilders, the use of steroids, and the possibly unhealthy eating patterns that accompany such a competitive sport.
While not all bodybuilders engage in unhealthy habits, some do use a shortcut method to gain size through the use of anabolic steroids. While most professional competitions test for any banned substances, it does not hinder some from using the potentially lethal drug concoctions. A study looking into the use of anabolic steroids among bodybuilders revealed that among the top reasons athletes engaged in the use of steroids were to excel in the sport, a desire to be more muscular, and the enhanced feeling of confidence that accompanies the increased muscle mass (Wright, Grogan, & Hunter, 2000).
Perhaps by addressing and understanding the psychology beneath this desire for increased confidence and its socio-cultural influences, gender issues and body image, and the perceptions that accompany weight and appearance, researchers and health professionals will be better prepared to work with clients who may pursue the bodybuilding lifestyle. Research into the impact of body image on an individual has grown significantly over the last few decades, which in general, pertains to a person’s perception, feelings, and possible obsession over how they view or think about their body (Grogan, 2006). When comparing experienced and inexperienced bodybuilders, along with weightlifters, researchers discovered that the experienced bodybuilders reported a higher level of bodybuilding dependence and social identity linking to their bodybuilding passion, while also reporting lower levels of social physique anxiety (Hurst, Hale, Smith, & Collins, 2000).
The definition of body image and the findings that link one’s personality to one’s physical characteristics spark one question: Can a hobby and passion, such as bodybuilding coexist with a healthy body image? Thankfully, the two can coexist. However, in order to strike the balance that often seems elusive, self-care, planning, and self-education are as needed as the weights and protein powder!
Andrea Bidowski is a writer/editor, and a Master’s graduate student in Mental Health Counseling at Capella University. She lives in Andrews, Texas, USA. Andrea.Bidowski@Gmail.com
Grogan, S. (2006). Body image and health: Contemporary perspectives. Journal of Health Psychology, 11(4), 523-530.
Hurst, R., Hale, B., Smith, D., & Collins, D. (2000). Exercise dependence, social physique anxiety, and social support in experienced and inexperienced bodybuilders and weightlifters. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(6), 431-435.
Wright, S., Grogan, S., & Hunter, G. (2000). Motivations for anabolic steroid use among bodybuilders. Journal of Health Psychology, 5(4), 566-571.