Due to unrealistic body standards promoted in social media and entertainment, “more boys and young men today are bulking up to the point of risking their overall health,” according to The Washington Post.

Why? Muscular body types are becoming the ideal among men, as Jason Nagata, a pediatrician at the University of California at San Francisco specializing in eating disorders among adolescents, told The Washington Post.

According to Nagata, boys have “body ideals just like girls do.”

“The idealized masculine body type is big and muscular, and because of that, many boys are trying to get bigger and more muscular,” Nagata continued.

But keeping up with this muscular ideal is dangerous both boys and men — both physically and mentally.

What are the health consequences of extreme strength training among men?

While the Washington Post notes that “a measured amount of weight training can be positive and healthy,” extreme weight training can have dangerous consequences on one’s health.

Building muscle, paired with the “the associated risky behaviors of skewed nutrient intake and excessive exercise,” is just as dangerous as “the drastic weight loss associated with more frequently discussed eating disorders such as anorexia.”

Both lowered caloric intake and too much exercise leads to inadequate nutritional intake and fails to meet the metabolic needs among teen boys. Additionally, this causes the body to go into “starvation mode,” as Nagata told The Washington Post.

According to Nagata, this leads to slower hormone production, including testosterone — which is “critical for muscle building.”

“Boys with eating disorders, if they’re in this relative malnutrition state, they will have lower testosterone levels and lower libido levels,” Nagata said. “I think one of the big challenges is many of these boys and young men are engaging in these behaviors with the ultimate goal of increasing or maximizing their performance and appearance. But in the end, it can actually stunt their growth.”

What are the symptoms of male body dysmorphia?

Per The Washington Post, a common red flag among boys and men is an overobsession and preoccupation with “appearance, body size, weight or exercise in a way that worsens their quality of life.”

Nagata told The Washington Post, “It’s not just the activity itself, it’s also the way the activity makes them feel.”

“So when someone says that the exercise is really causing them more worry or preoccupation than joy, and when it starts to impair their schoolwork or social functioning, those are all red flags regardless of the actual activity, but just how they perceive it,” Nagata continued.

Here are some other warning signs of male body dysmorphia, per The Washington Post:

  • A hyper-fixation on food intake — and what they’re eating.
  • Having a “highly-regimented” diet.
  • Eliminating specific food groups out of their diet.
  • Increasing their protein intake to the extreme.
  • “Obsessively” looking at or checking their body.
  • Or doing the opposite — “hiding their appearance.”

According to research published the National Library of Medicine, “Men with body dysmorphic disorder are most commonly preoccupied with their skin (for example, with acne or scarring), hair (thinning), nose (size or shape), or genitals.”

“The preoccupations are difficult to resist or control and can consume many hours each day,” the study continues. 

What percentage of men suffer from body dysmorphia?

According to research published by Nagata in the Journal of Adolescent Health, “Nearly 22% of young men report engaging in muscle-enhancing behaviors.” Meanwhile, 17% had a specific diet to build muscle, 7% used supplements and 3% participated in “androgenic-anabolic steroid use.”

Additionally, according to research published in the National Library of Medicine, “the percentage of men dissatisfied with their overall appearance (43%) has nearly tripled in the past 25 years.”

According to the same research, “Body dysmorphic disorder affects as many men as women.” This seems to be true — according to research published in the Australian Family Physician, body dysmorphic disorder impacts 2.2% of male adults. In comparison, it impacts 2.5% of female adults.

How do you treat body dysmorphia in men?

Experts recommend cognitive behavior therapy, as well as serotonin reuptake inhibitors — typically used as antidepressants, per the Mayo Clinic.

According to the research published in the National Library of Medicine, cognitive behavior therapy “helps patients develop more realistic views of their appearance, resist repetitive behaviours, and face avoided social situations.”

Before you move forward with treatment for someone in your life, or for yourself, make sure to consult with a doctor first.

What do you do if men in your life are suffering from body dysmorphia?

Again, it’s worth mentioning that physical activity among teen boys is encouraged — the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an hour of physical activity per day for kids and teens. As The Washington Post points out, “exercise and strength training can be a positive for many.”

Varga told the Post “if a young person wants to increase their physical activity I encourage them to talk about this with their parents, coaches and primary care provider.”

But if a teen boy’s — or man’s — fixation on strength training starts to get extreme, it could be a red flag. As mentioned before, cognitive behavioral therapy and serotonin reuptake inhibitors can help. In extreme cases, hospitalization might be necessary, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Before moving forward with any treatment, make sure to consult with your doctor.