Sam stared at his reflection in the mirror, unhappy with what he saw he returned to the living room of his empty flat and did another 100 crunches. He was covered in sweat, fatigued, but he didn't care he wanted that six pack, that ultimate body. Over the last few weeks he had limited his diet to Sushi, BCAAs and protein powder in an effort to give his physique a more ripped look. His diet didn't make sense as he knew deep down he was starving his muscles but, as the paranoia gripped him nothing made sense anymore, he got up from the floor after completing his ab circuit went back into the bathroom stepped onto the scales and grunted in disapproval at what he saw; 17 stone 3lbs, he walked over to the mirror and flexed.....He felt skinny, he felt weak, he hated himself, he gripped the cold ceramic sink and screamed at his reflection in a mixture of anger and frustration. After 3 hours of non-stop exercising he was exhausted and with tears running down his cheeks he quietly went into his bedroom, closed the curtains and cried himself to sleep; It was 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

I’ll put my hand up and and admit I didn’t bother changing my name. This was a fairly standard occurrence during the summer of 2014 when my body dysmorphia had reached its peak I was 243lbs with body fat under 10%.

My mum had passed away a short while before and I had just broken up with my girlfriend both things had knocked my confidence and left me feeling insecure gradually affecting my fitness lifestyle and what i saw in the mirror.

NHS estimates that one in a hundred people may have BD. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that every bodybuilder or guy that hits the gym to improve their physique will have some form of BD. Think about it, without some form of BD would guys have the impetus to push their bodies to the limit in the gym or stick to strict diet protocols? Probably not, would be my answer.

In researching this blog I spoke to a tonne of bodybuilders in varying age groups and found that depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts were sometimes prevalent in bad cases of BD. In this blog I’m going to run through some common causes of BD and offer a little insight into them. Let’s get cracking:

Social media and fitness publications

This is a biggie! Who hasn’t scrolled through Instagram and seen pic after pic of guys in incredible shape? A little understanding of how the industry works is needed here. Fitness models, bodybuilders and the like despite what they may say don’t walk around all year ripped they simply can’t, holding single digit body fat levels for weeks on end would be near on impossible not to mention dangerous. They’ll get in condition and schedule a photo shoot or shoots to enable them to have enough content to last them six months or so, so they don’t have to endure multiple diets. Filters and photoshop are both used to enhance pictures; removing blemishes, stretch marks and scarring are all common practices. I did a photo shoot with a well-known fitness photographer this year and the price included running my favourite 10 shots through photoshop. Take away? Enjoy social media and use it for inspiration but don’t believe everything you see.

Illness or injury

Who doesn’t feel like they’ve lost all their gains after a few forced days off the iron? A little science is needed here; that ‘skinny’ feeling you may get after a few days off is usually lack of muscle fullness or feeling flat. When you eat carbohydrates its converted to a substance called glycogen which is ready to be stored in the liver or muscle cells. Every gram of glycogen carries 3 grams of water so if your muscles are depleted of the lovely stuff you can feel like Peewee Herman even if you like the Rock. The lack of fullness can hit you like a freight train psychologically if you’re unprepared. Fullness will come back quickly once you’ve hit the carbs and the gym. As for injury, speaking personally I tore my left hamstring 4 months ago and after initially panicking and the usual ‘for fuck sake’ moment I adjusted my training and concentrated on my arms (my weakest body part) and put half an inch on them.

Take away

Understand the human bodies processes and try not to freak out easier said than done I know but a little understanding of human biology goes a long way. Major life events: Losing your job, death of a loved one or a relationship break up can all effect your emotional and mental state which in turn can cause BD to rear its ugly head. In 2013 I watched cancer kill my mum in 20 weeks, the fall out from that for me emotionally was catastrophic which caused the episode I detailed above in the intro to this blog I eventually found that there was a tonne of fantastic groups and organisations there to help, 4 years later I watch a respiratory condition kill my dad in the same time frame but was in a much better place to deal with the loss thanks to the infrastructure that was put in place 4 years previously. Takeaway: I don’t care how big or strong you are, its good to talk and there is a whole bunch of help on hand if you need it. Some helpful numbers:

  • Cruse Bereavement 0808 808 1677
  • Mind helpline: 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans 116 123

Steroid use

I’m not going to lie I’m not a biochemist but I do know this, between cycles you do feel weaker and smaller, I’ve got friends who won’t wear vests when they’re not on a cycle but its critical for your physical and mental well being that correct PCT protocol is followed. The better your PCT the better your future gains will be and although its tempting to stay on forever and battle Mother Nature you’ll simply be pissing in the wind and robbing yourself of new muscle size and strength. The trick is to be sensible with your PED use, don’t go using tonnes of gear come off and do a PCT causing you to crash your endocrine system and spin you out. Takeaway: Like good training, great nutrition and sound rest the correct PED use (if you choose to go down that road) is part of a long term process and coming off is just as important as cycling on. Blood work is essential for keeping your hormone levels in sync and there’s a few great companies offering cheap and accurate tests (MediChecks and Youth Revisited are well a punt)

Gym banter and peer groups especially when dealing with the issues above can contribute to BDD too. I’m not saying that us bodybuilders should sit around a Bon fire and sing songs but at the same time be aware that an off-the-cuff comment can cut deep especially if the recipient isn’t feeling great about themselves already so, as the adage says ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’

From the office worker trying to get lean for his lads holiday, the teen trying to get bigger biceps to impress the girls or the IFBB pro prepping to do battle at the Mr O, the motivations and goals may be different but we’re all on the same journey, what can and should be a massively positive journey shared by millions around the world. We should all look after ourselves and our fellow meatheads and offer positive comments and advice especially if you or you feel someone you know is suffering from BDD.

Don’t ever be afraid to offer or ask for help especially if you think that you’re sliding into a dark place and the whole lifestyle is becoming too much for you.