Many Men Suffer from 'Reverse Anorexia'

ByABC News via logo

June 18, 2005 — -- Women aren't alone in the quest to achieve the "perfect" body -- men are feeling the pressure too.

The difference is that while most women want to get smaller, the men are on a quest to get bigger. The disorder is called muscular dysmorphia and it's changing the face of eating disorders.

Up until three years ago, Michael Lombardi was on a mission for the perfect body.Lombari said he wanted to look "perfect, like Atlas. Everything would be the right size, the right dimensions."

Like many men, Lombardi felt like he didn't measure up to the bodies of men with six-pack abs and sculpted muscles adorning the covers of magazines and in Hollywood movies.

Lombardi's mission for perfection quickly became an obsession.

"I used to go to the gym seven days a week, approximately 4½ hours a day -- two in the morning, two at night and 30 minutes usually in the middle of the day for my lunch break," he said.

But the closer he got to his goal, the further away it seemed.

"It never really ended, because I wanted to get bigger," Lombardi said.

It took four trips to the emergency room from exhaustion and dehydration before Michael realized he had a problem. A doctor soon diagnosed him with muscle dysmorphia -- a mental disorder often described as "reverse anorexia" that affects hundreds of thousands of men.

Lombardi said that no matter how many people told him he looked good, he didn't believe them.

"Men with muscle dysmorphia are worried that they look too small, their bodies are too small, they're puny, they're not muscular enough," said Dr. Kathy Phillips, who treats men with the disorder. "In reality, they look entirely normal. In fact, some of them are incredibly bulked up and muscular."

While impossibly thin women are the female ideal pictured in magazines and movies, men are bombarded with images of six-pack abs and bulging biceps. Researchers say an increasing number of men are unhappy with the way their bodies look.

Psychology Today reported that in 1972, 25 percent of men were dissatisfied with their bodies. By 1997, the percentage of men dissatisfied with their bodies had jumped to 67 percent.

The idealized version of the male body has evolved over the past several decades. The differences can be seen in popular TV shows and movies -- from the regular guy body of Charlton Heston in "Ben-Hur" to a bulked up Brad Pitt in "Troy." And then there's the rather doughy Adam West in the 1960s "Batman" TV series, compared to the muscular Christian Bale who dons the cape in this summer's big-screen version.

"Men are faced with these impossible ideals, and many men feel inadequate as a result and feel ashamed of how they look," Phillips said.

For Lombardi, it took years to accept his body, even if he still has his reservations."You have good days and bad days," he said.

"Good Morning America" medical contributor Dr. David Katz said the first signs of muscular dysmorphia are an obsession with fitness and working out, so that going to the gym tramples all other priorities in their life..

"The idea of missing a workout is completely intolerable," Katz said.

Katz said men with the disorder may also feel unwarranted anxiety about going to the gym, obsessing about how they will get there, how long they can stay and which machines will be available.

Finally, Katz said, those suffering with muscular dysmorphia will be overly concerned about their appearance, constantly asking how they look and looking in the mirror.

He said the best way to treat muscular dysmorphia is through therapy and behavior modification.

"This is a psychological disorder," Katz said. "There is nothing wrong with their muscles or their physical body. It's something wrong psychologically."