In a time when the cult of the image is becoming more and more evident, it is sadly easy for us to get used to unadaptive behavioural reactions from friends, acquaintances, etc. This cult implies, in part, to associate our self-esteem with our physical image , and since this will not always correspond to the ideal of beauty imposed at the time, we can assume that this self-esteem can easily be compromised.

Among the reactions to which we refer we can find a considerable economic outlay on clothing, cosmetics or aesthetics in general, that our state of mind becomes dependent on the approval of others, or even establish toxic emotional relationships . But these behaviours, apart from an impeccable mental health, can end up leading to serious pathologies, such as anorexia, bulimia or vigorexia.

A distorted perception of oneself

Vigorexia is a mental disorder characterized by the performance of disproportionately demanding physical activity , sometimes coupled with the consumption of vitamin or anabolic supplements and a distorted image of one’s body.

This distortion is usually aimed at perceiving one’s own body as thinner or weaker than the real one (contrary to the typical case of anorexia, where the patient perceives it to be heavier than the real one), and usually implies an eternal dissatisfaction with one’s own body, the most immediate consequence of which is that maladaptive behaviours in relation to physical exercise tend to be maintained indefinitely, as well as the feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s own body.

In addition, vigorexia can leave physical and psychological sequelae, in the form of growth disturbances, inability to return to healthy sporting practice…

These behaviours are essentially the same as for any athlete, only taken to the extreme, and we all know people who, in our opinion, spend a great number of hours in the gym, so how can we differentiate vigorexia from simple demanding training?

How do you distinguish it from the sporting requirement?

As with any disorder, vigorexia will be so insofar as the related behaviors involve a significant deterioration in the athlete’s life . If he or she dedicates less time to his or her obligations (academic or work) than he or she would like to train, if the quality of his or her social relationships, his or her sleep is altered, or if his or her health is affected by inadequate training (due to his or her weight, age, physical condition, etc.) or by the consumption of substances.

Due to the great social pressure that exists and the reinforcements associated with the practice of sports , vigorexia is a disorder that involves an addictive component, so most of the time the athlete will not be aware of having a problem, or feel that it is worth living with that problem as long as he or she achieves his or her disadaptive goals.

That is why we must be very attentive to the manifestation of the first symptoms of the disorder , before it is established and becomes more and more so, since in any intervention at a psychological level it is of vital importance the motivation of the patient to solve the corresponding problem.

Psychological treatment

People don’t change if they don’t want to. And when they do want to, people are supposed to work or train systematically in different techniques derived from psychology, which in this case would be, above all, oriented to, on the one hand, correcting the distorted vision of their own body through techniques related to cognitive restructuring, that is, “dismantling” those irrational beliefs that are maintaining the behaviours to be modified. “I am a weakling” has to give way to “But X kg”, I have “x index of muscle mass or body fat”, “I am above average”, etc.

On the other hand, modify the pattern of maladaptive behaviours through the establishment of short-term objectives, seeking to maintain the motivation for change (“I have managed to train less, I can do it”) and managing the contingencies between these behaviours and the consequences of them, whether reinforcements (those that facilitate the repetition of associated behaviours in the future) or punishments (those that decrease these probabilities).

But the most important thing is to be able to generate critical thinking, which protects us from the media bombardment of a limited way of understanding beauty because it is, never better, inside.