How many gay men do you know that are on a quest for the perfect lean muscle body and using legal bodybuilding supplements like branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), creatine, whey protein, glutamine, and L-Carnitine, products widely available in grocery and health food stores, to help them achieve it?
Do they talk about “bulking”, “cutting,” and “maintaining” their bodies with regard to dissatisfaction with how they’re looking for an upcoming vacation, circuit event, or summer season? Does their self-esteem depend on it?
A new study of men (rather than previous similar ones on women) suggests that widespread and acknowledged abuse (“29% of the men acknowledged that their use of the supplements might be damaging their health”) of these legal appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs (APEDs) classifies as a new type of eating disorder that threatens the health of men active at the gym.
The study of 195 men by Richard Achiro, PhD. and a team at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles, was released at the American Psychological Assn.’s annual meeting in Toronto. The men studied were 18+, had consumed APEDS within 30 days of the study, and worked out at least twice a week.
According to Achiro, “a scale to determine excessive, risky legal APED use was developed for this study and was found to be both a valid and reliable measure for this population” and “the final model was moderated by the phase of training (i.e., “bulking,” “cutting,” “maintaining”) in which participants were engaged at the time of the study, suggesting that phase of training is a critical factor in understanding seasonal shifts in risky body change behaviors in this population.”
From the study:
Structural equation modeling revealed that internalization of cultural standards of attractiveness (i.e., the degree to which one has internalized the body ideal perpetuated by media representations of lean and muscular men), self-esteem, gender role conflict, and body dissatisfaction each play significant roles in determining risky body change behaviors (i.e., excessive legal APED use and disordered eating) in gym-active men. Specifically, body dissatisfaction was found to mediate the relationship between internalization of cultural standards of attractiveness and risky body change behaviors and to partially mediate the relationship between self-esteem and risky body change behaviors. Self-esteem was also found to have a direct negative relationship with risky body change behaviors while gender role conflict (i.e., the degree to which rigid views about one’s masculinity causes distress) was found to have a direct positive relationship with body change behaviors.
Some additional facts from the study:
Twenty-two percent said they have used the supplements to replace meals. And more than 40 percent said their use had increased over time. In the most extreme cases, 8 percent said they’d been told by their doctor to cut back on supplement use and 3 percent had been hospitalized for kidney or liver problems linked to their excessive use of the supplements.
Achiro suggests that abusers of legally-available supplements sometimes have “core beliefs about being unworthy or fundamentally unattractive” and urges his fellow psychologists to develop insight regarding their clients on this topic.
He adds that most men using them don’t think they’re abusing supplements: “Psychoeducation regarding eating disorder behavior in relation to legal APED use may be necessary given the high likelihood that these men do not perceive themselves to have a problem.”
Do you use supplements at the gym?
Do you think supplement abuse is a problem among gay men?