Researchers Suggest Workout Supplement Overuse Could Be New Eating Disorder

Workout supplements are growing in popularity for people wishing to get in shape, but a new study suggests the rising popularity is also leading to increased abuse of the substances. The researchers who led the study say the findings indicate workout supplement overuse could even be an emerging novel eating disorder.

Workout SupplementRichard Achiro, PhD, California School of Professional Psychology, at Alliant International University, Los Angeles, who presented the research at the American Psychological Association’s 2015 Annual Convention, said the biggest predictor of workout supplement was body dissatisfaction, but a model that included low self-esteem and gender role conflict or an underlying insecurity with one’s sense of gender accounted for a great variance in the overuse of supplements than body dissatisfaction alone.

“This is an interesting and important finding because it points to the fact that using these supplements excessively is about more than the body,” Dr. Achiro commented to Medscape Medical News.

“Rather, it seems that it has more to do with deeper, underlying issues relating to one’s sense of self which tend to be concretized and represented by a perfectly muscular/lean physique in this population of men.”

According to the findings of the study, nearly one-third of all men who use over-the-counter workout supplements in addition to their workout regimen are concerned about their use of supplements, and almost 1 in 10 have been cautioned about their use by their physician.

To analyze workout supplement overuse, the researchers recruited 195 men between the ages of 18 and 5 who worked out at least twice per week and had consumed at least one supplement in the previous 30 days.

The participants were administered the Legal Appearance and Performance-Enhancing Drug Scale (LAPEDS), on online survey designed for the study which asked the participant about subjects including supplement use, self-esteem, body image, eating habits, and gender role conflicts.

According to the results, over 40% of men had increased their use of supplements over time, and 22% had replaced regular meals with dietary supplements not intended as meal replacements. Additionally, 29% of men reported being concerned about their own supplement use, with 8% reporting their physician had told them to reduce or stop taking supplements due to negative health effects.

The findings also showed 3% of the men had been hospitalized for kidney or liver problems related to supplement use.

Discussing the findings, Dr. Achiro noted that eating disorders have traditionally been overlooked in men. “I think it’s been missed because we have historically only characterized eating disorders in line with a woman’s drive for thinness, and we haven’t really considered that, for men, a lot of times, the end in terms of what their physiological ideal looks like is different from women.”

“So it makes sense to believe that the way in which eating disorder behavior is getting expressed in men is different from that of a woman.”

Dr. Achiro also said the problem is compounded by males being overall more difficult to reach in terms of psychological treatment. He encouraged other practitioners to become more aware of the issue and ask patients about their use of supplements if they experience problems with diarrhea or liver problems.

Dr. Achiro stressed that he is not on a “crusade” against the supplement issue. “I think these supplements can be used healthfully by many men, and I’m certainly not opposed to a lifestyle that includes working out for fitness and using supplements, if that’s part of what helps to make a man fit,” he said.

“I’m really talking about the psychological factors, such as low self-esteem, underlying insecurities with masculinity, and body dissatisfaction, that are being expressed in a way that’s looking more and more like an eating disorder in this population of men.”

He concluded: “It’s important to realize that as men’s bodies get objectified more and more in the media and catch up to the way in which women’s bodies have been objectified in the media, it only makes sense to believe that more emotional health or psychological health issues in men are going to start expressing themselves in the form of eating disorders, which historically has not been the case.”

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