LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Alfonso Moretti is a successful personal trainer, helping his clients stay on track through healthy exercise routines. But, this fitness expert drifted off course early in his career, after becoming obsessed with building big muscles.
"It takes over your life, so every decision you make becomes about the workout and how your body looks. I used to track and weigh every single ounce of food that went in my body, I used to wake up a 3 o'clock in the morning to drink protein shakes, I never missed a workout, ever, ever, ever," says Alfonso.
This all-consuming desire to bulk up is called Muscle Dysmorphia; also known as "Bigorexia," and, the number of men susceptible to this disorder is growing.
"About 45 percent of men are dissatisfied with their body image. 1 in 10 people who are diagnosed with an eating disorder is a man," says Dr. Michele Kerulis.
Kerulis says men of all ages are falling victim, and the emotional effects can be severe. "This obsession can start quickly or it can begin over a period of time. We see psychological abnormalities including irritability, angry outbursts, which sometimes people would call a 'roid rage,' we see depression sometimes mania."
For Alfonso, the desire to be big started young. "I can remember as young as 13, 14 looking at some of these muscle magazines, and I was conditioned to think that's what a man looked like so big shoulders, big legs, just big muscles with veins everywhere. "
His routine was not only emotionally debilitating, the extreme workouts caused physical damage, which, for Alfonso, was a wake up call.
"I finally came to a revelation, only after 11 or 12 years because I had neck surgery," explains Alfonso. "I had major neck surgery. I had ruptured a disc in my neck, and it basically paralyzed me on the right side of my body."
Dr. Selene Parekh says physical injuries caused by "Bigorexia" can range from muscle strains and stress fractures to organ failure.
"So individuals who have 'bigorexia,' a lot of them tend to use supplements and if you, you overdose on these supplements, without having a balanced diet you can develop kidney and liver failure, and as that happens you may need a liver or kidney transplant or your could eventually die," says Parekh.
Now, Alfonso encourages healthy body image and realistic workouts, urging other men not to go down the path he did.
"I look back now and I see those pictures and I'm like, 'wow,' like I would never want to look like that guy," concludes Alfonso.
Dr. Kerulis goes on to say that you can combat this disorder through cognitive behavioral treatment and a healthy exercise regimen, along with the help of a doctor, nutritionist and psychologist.
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