10 Tishrei 5781 / Monday, September 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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Distorted Mirrors

Not long ago, someone asked me if I ever heard of the term bigorexia. I said yes. When they asked me what it was, I said it's a lion that looks in a mirror and sees a pussy cat…


Not long ago, someone asked me if I ever heard of the term bigorexia. I said yes. When they asked me what it was, I said it's a lion that looks in a mirror and sees a pussy cat.


Bigorexia is really a slang term that is meant to symbolize a compulsive disorder – muscle dysmorphia, or MD – which in effect is the opposite of anorexia. While the anorexic female (anorexia is much more prevalent in females than males) is a size 2 young lady who looks in the mirror and sees the fat lady in the circus, the bigorexic male (bigorexia is far more common in males than in females) with a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime looks in the mirror and sees a skinny nerd that can't fight his way out of a wet paper bag.


Many times, the MD guy is huge with bulging muscles from head to toe. But, his compulsion with his physical appearance distorts the mirror image that his eye sends to his brain. To himself, he doesn't seem muscular enough. This leads to such compulsive behavior as overtraining, prioritizing gym time over family time and even work time, as well as use and abuse of steroids, supplements and food additives. Such guys will often forsake normal, healthy eating patterns by swapping green salads for protein shakes. The lab-and-manufactured "fitness stuff" is never a proper substitute for the nutrients that Hashem puts in natural foods. The result ends up in cross-wired emotions, depression and in extreme cases, suicide.


In both the USA and the UK, 10% of male bodybuilders suffer from bigorexia. That doesn't mean that the other 90% are MD-free. Along the continuum from normal to bigorexic, there are many shades of gray where a person might be affected to different degrees.


The common denominator between the bigorexic males and the anorexic females is an obsession with the way they look. That's a tough disorder to treat. NIH research shows the long-range success rate of recovery from such disorders does not exceed 40-50%. That's bleak, because it shows that one out of two people who suffer from MD are suicide candidates. That's scary if you're a bodybuilder.


There's a world of difference between a bodybuilder and a weightlifter. While the latter is an athlete looking to enhance strength, the former lifts weights in order to enhance appearance, oftentimes doing many unhealthy practices along the way to what he hopes will be standing on the pedestal, posing with his flexed muscles and his greased body in the spotlight while a girl in a bikini hangs the gold medal around his neck.


By the way, the above bodybuilder is not necessarily healthy. Chances are the he can't pass an IDF "field fitness" combat-ready test, like running the obstacle course. Why? First, weeks of constant dieting, workouts that continually tax the body almost beyond recovery, and liberal use of potentially harmful drugs bring these guys to burnout and total exhaustion. What's more, since bodybuilders often have big problems with cholesterol, blood pressure and cardiomyopathy. When you think about it and consider how much time they spend in front of a mirror too, these guys are a vain bunch of dudes.


Where did they go wrong?


The Rambam teaches us in Chapter Three of Hilchot De'ot that our entire orientation in striving for health – whether it be our eating or our exercise program – should be to maintain a strong body to serve Hashem in the best way possible. That's the whole ballgame.


As soon as a person forgets what he or she is doing on earth, he or she is liable to fall prey to an encyclopedia-long list of disorders. How do we avoid that? King David gives the solution in a one-liner: "I place Hashem before me always" (Psalm 16:8) – no matter what I do, I look at Hashem and cling to Him, for that's the only thing in the world that can keep a person out of trouble.


Eat healthy, exercise responsibly and may Hashem bless you with long and happy years, amen!



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