Opinion | Gym bro lifestyle normalizes male eating disorders

By Aparna Lakkaraju, Opinions Editor

Trigger warning: This column goes into heavy detail regarding eating disorders.

A certain elusive creature can be spotted at every gym, hitting all-time high personal records at the bench rack and taking pump selfies in the mirror next to the free weights. 

This elusive creature is none other than the infamous gym bro.

The term ‘gym bro’ has roots in the early 2000s and is used to describe young men who spend a significant amount of time at the gym pursuing a muscular, lean body. The time and effort don’t stop at the gym, though — the dedication to the “ultimate” physique follows them around the clock.

Although exercise is healthy and encouraged in moderation to maintain a healthy lifestyle, dedicating an excess of time and energy towards physical appearances can often lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is the obsessive focus on one’s perceived physical flaws. BDD is prevalent, affecting approximately 1 in 50 people.

Men disproportionately deal with Muscle Dysmorphia, a form of BDD that involves the preoccupation with not being muscular or lean enough to the point where it dictates a person’s lifestyle. This obsession can quickly escalate into disordered eating and exercise addictions.

Although eating disorders among women are more commonly discussed, they are prevalent and on the rise amongst men. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, about one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male.

Disordered eating patterns are very visible in the gym bro community, where dieting excessively is commonplace. Whether it be through cutting (eating at a caloric deficit) to lose fat or bulking (eating at a caloric surplus) to gain muscle, restricting food is at the center of the conversation.

Eating clean is healthy only if it is a part of a balanced lifestyle. Orthorexia is an eating disorder that is characterized by an obsession with clean, healthy eating. An individual who suffers from orthorexia can be plagued by guilt and self-loathing if they stray from their rigid diet, which can isolate them from social events and negatively impact their mental health.

Tracking macronutrients such as protein can be an indicator of orthorexia. The stereotype that gym bros only eat bland chicken and rice is heard far and wide, and in many cases, it hits the nail on the head. With high protein goals to reach daily, every meal creates a challenge to consume as much protein as possible, restricts many foods that support a balanced diet and makes eating feel like a chore. 

In addition to disordered eating, exercise addictions are also camouflaged in the gym bro lifestyle. Exercise addictions are extremely dangerous, as an individual suffering from one may continue to workout while injured or skip rest days, severely injuring themselves in the process. 

Social media only exacerbates the spread of disordered gym culture. It perpetuates the concept of “ideal” and unrealistic male bodies and creates new insecurities to obsess over.

However, it is key to remember that not all gym bros are inherently affected by these disorders, and many lead a healthy and balanced life. Moderation should be practiced when it comes to clean eating and exercise to maintain physical and mental health.

Eating disorders are life-threatening conditions that require as much attention as any other life-threatening illness and should be seen as such. The false assumption that eating disorders only affect women prevents men from seeking the help they need and puts lives at risk. 

 

Aparna is a sophomore in LAS.

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