OK, so you get the idea, guys and body image. Do guys really suffer from body image problems? People love to think only girls have body image issues, and as I am sure you can all tell me - that is just not true.This is something, too, that your parents might not even realize - why is that you say? Well, the "ideal" (and I do put that word in “QUOTES” since there really isn't one) male body type put out there by the media and popular culture has changed a TON in the last 30 years. This new image of the “ideal” male body has more muscle. Less fat. Getting to be Halloween time and there are ads all over the place. You even see it in those Halloween costumes - just look around you.... how many have those sewn in six-packs? Huge foam muscles in the super heroes? At first glance, silly and cute. But then seeing that image again and again since the time you were a tot starts to ingrain in you what you think is the ideal dude body.SO is it REALLY true that dude images are different now than when your parents were kids? Um, YEAH - Numbers you want?
Let’s take GI Joe
- In 1964: Mr. Joe was 5'10" tall, had a 32 inch waist, a 44 inch chest, and 12 inch arms.
- Fast forward to 1991: Same 5'10" height, but now he’s down to a 29 inch waist, and up to 16 inch arms (for reference, those biceps would be BIGGER THAN ANY BODY BUILDER IN HISTORY!).
Or you are now in high school and all your buddies are getting some muscles, getting tall, broad shoulders and you still think you look like you’re in 7th grade. No one is saying that isn’t hard – but every kid’s body goes through puberty at different times and at different rates, so sometimes you go later than your buddies. But YOU WILL CATCH UP! Your regular annual check-up with your doctor includes checks to make sure your development is going along normally. If you are worried, you can always get checked out in between annual visits. So rest assured, if your doc says you are normal…. You are normal and you will catch up. Promise.
You know, I was curious and I did a quick Google for “teen boys and body image and overtraining”. What popped up? Page after page after page. After page. Of workout tips and how to buff up and how to train. Nothing about balance. Nothing about loving yourself. All bodies are different. Jeeze – what a load of pressure everywhere! I am hoping that this page starts to pop up on searches to balance everything out when guys like you are looking for healthy body info.
So let’s drill down some more into guys and body image issues and how they can show up in more than one way: They can range from trying to get stick thin to bulking up. Let’s talk about both.
1: Eating disorders and an unhealthy drive to be thin.
- About 1 in 10 patients that are treated for eating disorders are guys. Yup, GUYS. In fact, 10 million guys in the US will suffer from eating disorders this year. Are you surprised? Now, of course there are some sports where low body weight is a necessity – like gymnastics, wrestling, rowing…. But there is a fine line where the drive to be thin takes over your mind and takes over your life. Another group of guys that face this pressure is in the gay community – there is some pressure here to be quite thin. There have been studies done about guys with eating disorders found that homosexual (gay) men weighed significantly less than heterosexual (straight) men, and were more likely to be underweight and to desire an underweight ideal weight (Herzog et al.). Compared to the heterosexuals, homosexual men were less satisfied with their body build. In fact, some eating disorders come after internal confusion over gender identity or sexual orientation. Among guys with eating disorders focused on a desire for extreme thinness, there seems to be a higher risk among gay guys.
- Guys seem to have a higher rate of binge eating disorders – and also about 20 % of bulimics are guys. So, sadly, eating disorders is not just a girl thing.
- For more info on eating disorders in guys and to get help check out National Eating Disorders Association here.
So, yes, to bulk up we are talking about overtraining, protein supplements and even anabolic steroid abuse. Some sports are well known to have steroid abuse in them – baseball anyone? There was an interesting study (Eisenberg et al, 2012 Pediatrics) that looked at Muscle Enhancing Behavior Among Adolescent Girls and Boys. Or in plain speak – Stuff Teens Do To Bulk Up & Why. Kids studied here were teens with an average age of 14 ½ - about half were in middle school and half in high school. Lots of interesting info, but a few interesting factoids:
- Guys’ dissatisfaction with their own bodies has increased as more muscular “ideals” of males in movies / ads / etc have increased in the last 30 years.
- Teens do different things to increase their muscles. Almost every student in the study said they did at least one thing to increase muscle. More than 2/3 of the teen guys changed their eating to increase muscle size or tone. They also used protein supplements (35% guys) and steroids (6%) and other “muscle enhancing” stuff (10%). More than a tenth of boys do 3 or more different things to increase muscles.
- Overwight guys are more likely to do any or all of these. And guys on sports teams are more likely to use supplements or changing eating but not to use steroids than the average guy.
- Premature stunted growth – fancy speak for you stop growing sooner than you should and never reach your full adult height.
- Moobs. Yes, man-boobs. Technically known as gynecomastia.
- Shrunken testes (balls).
- Acne (even bacne)
- Extreme mood swings (ever heard of Roid Rage?)
- Liver damage.
- Kidney failure.
- Increased cholesterol and blood pressure, and early heart attacks and strokes.
Want to know more? – check out NIDA for Teens here.
Finally – OVERTRAINING.
What is that anyway? If a little exercise is good, more must be better, right? NO NO NO! When you exercise and weight train, muscle fibers break and heal back up – the healing process helps to increase the strength – but you need fuel and rest for that process to happen. So mixed in with the training must be rest. And if you jump in and use bad form or too much weight too fast, you can tear a muscle or a tendon, or cause over-use injuries which takes MONTHS to heal – and even can result in your “retiring” from your beloved sport by the time you are 20 or 25. Or leads to surgery to repair tendons and muscles. So, like everything – moderation is key. It is important to eat healthily and to get physical exercise and to think about these things in your life. But when you get obsessed or do too much of a good thing or put stuff into your body that doesn’t belong there – you have a problem and you need to get help. Start by loving yourself and giving yourself a break.