Monday, 23 February 2015

"What is Reverse Anorexia?" (By: Megan Dottermusch)

Disclaimer: “Reverse anorexia” is not a medical, diagnosable, DSM-V term, but rather vernacular to describe an obsessive mindset.

Reverse anorexia is a type of body dysmorphic disorder in men and women that can lead to severe physical and emotional consequences. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 22-28, but the entire month provides an opportunity to inform people that eating disorders affect both genders. I once thought body image issues were something that only women struggled with, but I’ve since discovered that men also wrestle with these demons.

Leigh Cohn, President of N.A.M.E.D. (National Association of Males with Eating Disorders), was instrumental in helping me understand the struggles men have with eating disorders. I discussed this problem with him to find out how we can educate the public and work to end the stigma surrounding body dysmorphia.

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an image disorder that causes the affected individual to have an altered sense of their appearance. According to Cohn, BDD is often generalized and referred to as “reverse anorexia.” Of course, almost all of us have some body part that we would change if we could, but we don’t become obsessed over it. Someone with BDD is so consumed with fixing an imperfect body part — or the part that they perceive is imperfect — that this obsession negatively affects their ability to live a normal life. They consider their imperfections, which in reality may be so slight that they’re not noticeable, to be so obvious to others that they withdraw from friends, family, and school, and may even go so far as to seek plastic surgery.

We typically see BDD develop in adolescence, affecting men and women at roughly the same rate, although Cohn says it is likely higher in men. While experts can’t pinpoint the exact source of this disorder, some people have a genetic predisposition to developing BDD. One explanation is that their brain may be unable to adequately process serotonin, the neurotransmitter that determines a person’s mood or disposition. Other risk factors include damaging experiences, such as bullying, emotional trauma or a negative family environment. It is not unusual for individuals with BDD to also have obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, additional eating disorders, and depression.     

Reverse Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa can best be described as an obsessive fear of gaining weight. In people with this condition, regardless of how thin they become, their mind insists they are overweight. Although it is thought that men have lower rates of this condition, this may be the result of misdiagnosing the condition in them. As awareness increases, anorexia nervosa may be recognized more in men, and therefore treated in greater numbers. 

However, reverse anorexia is a type of BDD, primarily affecting men, in which men want to be bigger or more muscular. Reverse anorexia is sometimes referred to as bigorexia, or muscle dysmorphia.

Cohn explains, “Whereas someone with anorexia would look at a little flab under their arms and think, ‘I’ve got to lose weight,’ someone with reverse anorexia would look at their muscles and think, ‘Those need to be larger … those aren’t big enough ... my abs aren’t defined enough.’ ”

What are the signs and symptoms?

It’s important to know the symptoms of reverse anorexia so you don’t assume everyone lifting weights at the gym has this body image issue. According to Cohn, “Males with reverse anorexia obsess about taking supplements and steroids, and steroid use is a really big problem among people with BDD.”

In addition to anabolic steroid use, symptoms include an obsession with working out, building muscle and decreasing body fat. In fact, these individuals place such a high priority on working out to the exclusion of other activities, such as school, work or hanging out with friends, and are agitated when they have to miss a workout session. They also adhere to an overly strict diet that focuses on eating protein (to build muscle), and excludes carbohydrates. Other warning signs include weighing themselves more than once in the course of a day, and spending a considerable amount of time in front of a mirror examining their muscles. However, sometimes this condition may also cause men to avoid looking at themselves in the mirror at all or they may wear baggy clothes in public because they feel that their bodies are inadequate. 

Seeking Treatment

Left untreated, BDD can be an emotionally debilitating and paralyzing condition that can also have serious physical consequences. Research has shown that steroid use can adversely affect the body, and limiting one’s diet to the exclusion of other foods that provide nutrients can lead to malnutrition. Combined with the emotional and mental turmoil that those with reverse anorexia suffer, along with their social isolation, it becomes apparent that these individuals cannot lead a normal life without intervention. 

While the public is pretty knowledgeable of the dangers of anorexia among women, we need to raise public awareness that body dysmorphic issues, which predominately affect men, are just as dangerous. It’s important to understand that women are not the only people who struggle with eating disorders, and equal attention should be given to men so we can identify and treat these problems across the board.  


If you suspect that you have an eating disorder, or think that you know someone who does, please seek professional help for a proper diagnosis and clinical counseling. Mental health assistance in the form of treatment and counseling has proven to be effective in combating eating disorders in both women and men. For more information on help and support, visit the websites of N.A.M.E.D., the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee, and the National Eating Disorders Association.

About the Author

Megan Dottermusch is the community manager for Counseling at Northwestern, the masters in counseling program offered by The Family Institute at Northwestern online. She earned her B.S. in Business Marketing from the University of Maryland and was an active member in Kappa Delta Sorority. While serving as Risk Manager on her chapter’s Executive Board, Megan was a confidant and resource for its members seeking help for personal and emotional issues. As a result, she has become passionate about combatting mental health stigmas, promoting wellness through proper nutrition, fitness, and everyday mindfulness.


Posted on 02/23/2015 12:53 PM by Megan Dottermusch

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

"Putting the Routine to Rest" (By: Maria Grasso)

I tend to think I’m a pretty smart gal.  I placed pretty high in my middle school, spelling bee after all (that’s an indicator, right?).  So it’s mind bending to figure out why it took me 27 years to understand the difference between two simple English words.  

My addiction to the word “routine” was certainly in play at a young age.  I discovered pretty early on that if you create systems, then you usually know what you are going to get.  Plug and chug.  So I did, and for the most part it worked.  My addiction to routine, when left to the wild mind of this overly passionate teenage girl, came to be a major cause for my battle with anorexia, though.

Cool, now let’s skip a bunch of stuff and cut straight to the chase.

As I recovered the unexpected happened, I fell even more deeply into Routine’s dizzying spell.   

WHAT? HOW?  (Sweet, thanks for asking!)

Well, I was fixated on what I knew and conditioned only to respond to the familiar.  I was aware that I was recovering but stuck on the big, bad “how”.  I basically took the same wheel I had been spinning around in like a little gerbil and just made it bigger. Bigger wheels are always better, right? I knew what my old routine got me, so if I just multiplied the calories a bit, I wouldn’t die, and I would recover.  Two cheers for me, I figured it all out! Hooray…

My obsession with routine gave me the context to develop my eating disorder AND recover from it…how could that be? See, I already had the systems in place, I just manipulated them to achieve a different result.  Insert more coins, pull more levers, get more prizes.  

It’s not hard for us outsiders to see that little ol’ me was not in recovery (also, I’m a poet).  Let’s fast forward to the point here.  I didn’t understand basic English.  

A plan and a routine are two VERY different things.  Successful people have a plan for what they are going to do with the time gifted to them in order to achieve a very worthy goal or ideal AND they actually make progress on it.  Cool. Love it, that’s totally what I wanted…and totally what I was NOT doing. 

I was thinking “plan” and acting “routine”.  A routine (especially mine) basically amounts to insanity, though…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. There was no worthy ideal or goal I was after, in fact it was quite unworthy…and superficial…and dangerous.  I was repeating action after action because I knew what it would get me.  And if you know me, I like to know what I’m getting.  Shocking.

I was caught up in an insane version of what I had thought was a “plan”, just like all the awesomely, successful people I knew. What I didn’t realize is that I was so far from being “successful”…I was just doing stuff for stuff’s sake.  I had no worthy ideal in mind, and no progress towards it.  See that’s what the plan is for…progress.  Somebody should have given me a darn dictionary.   

I figured this all out about two years ago when my boyfriend at the time was making me some wild dinner of salmon and cream-cheese filled croissants.  This was not our first crazy cuisine rodeo, friends.  We had been doing this for quite some time now.  

I remember saying to him, “Hey, did you know you kind of saved my life?”.  

What happened to me, started here with him and our relationship. I had a worthy ideal in mind always: quality time.  That ideal was more valuable to me than routine, and now I wanted a plan for how to constantly progress towards that ideal.  

I did not share with you the part of the story where I told him that I was afraid of eating things outside of my “routine”.  This might be the most critical element in moving from your routine to your plan.  If we share our fears with others, it’s often the first step in overcoming them.  People who love you want to help you step over your fears on your way to something better.  They want to show you that the hideous swamp monster hanging out in your closet really is just a shadow of something from your past.  

Can you promise to do these two things today? First, jump off routine and do something that you’ve always wanted to do that honestly scares the pants off of you.  Then, go thank the person who always told you that you could.

About the Author

Maria Grasso has a passion for people and commitment to education.  In her youth, she served as a Youth Ambassador for a United Nations Association development program in both South Africa and Namibia where she assisted in school development and built water sanitation facilities and homes for rural families. After graduation, Maria moved to Houston, Texas to work in urban education and nonprofit administration at an innovative Houston high school for economically disadvantaged students, while completing her Master’s of Business Administration. Currently, she serves as Executive Director of a youth success program that exposes high school and college students to the proven systems and techniques, that when properly practiced, give students a 7-year head start on their career and life. Maria is an advocate for using your body for strength—and loves motivating friends and family to reach their goals and laugh along the way!


Posted on 02/17/2015 10:51 AM by Maria Grasso

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