Body image, binge eating, and bulimia nervosa in male bodybuilders

Can J Psychiatry. 2006 Mar;51(3):160-8. doi: 10.1177/070674370605100306.


Objective: Male bodybuilders (MBB) exhibit more severe body dissatisfaction, bulimic eating behaviour, and negative psychological characteristics, compared with male athletic and nonathletic control subjects, but few studies have directly compared MBB and men with eating disorders. This study compared men with bulimia nervosa (MBN), competitive male bodybuilders (CMBB), and recreational male bodybuilders (RMBB) on a broad range of eating attitudes and behaviours and psychological characteristics to more accurately determine similarities and differences among these groups.

Method: Anonymous questionnaires, designed to assess eating attitudes, body image, weight and shape preoccupation, prevalence of binge eating, weight loss practices, lifetime rates of eating disorders, anabolic androgenic steroid (AAS) use, and general psychological factors, were completed by 22 MBN, 27 CMBB, and 25 RMBB.

Results: High rates of weight and shape preoccupation, extreme body modification practices, binge eating, and bulimia nervosa (BN) were reported among MBB, especially among those who competed. CMBB reported higher rates of binge eating, BN, and AAS use compared with RMBB, but exhibited less eating-related and general psychopathology compared with MBN. Few psychological differences were found between CMBB and RMBB.

Conclusions: MBB, especially competitors, and MBN appear to share many eating-related features but few general psychological ones. Longitudinal research is needed to determine whether men with a history of disordered eating or BN disproportionately gravitate to competitive bodybuildin and (or) whether competitive bodybuilding fosters disordered eating, BN, and AAS use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anabolic Agents
  • Body Image*
  • Bulimia / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / epidemiology*
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Bulimia Nervosa / diagnosis
  • Bulimia Nervosa / epidemiology*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / psychology
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Sports*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Anabolic Agents