‘Hooked on the mirror’: the emergence of a new cohort of gym users affected by exercise addiction, appearance anxiety and the use of fitness supplements
In a society that perpetuates the strive for a perfect appearance, a fit body has become synonymous with success, but simultaneously hard to achieve. This represents a fertile ground for the development of Exercise Addiction (EA) alongside other disorders, such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). This study aims to explore the diffusion of EA in fitness settings in the United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Hungary and the previously unexplored association with appearance anxiety, BDD, self-esteem and the use of fitness supplements.
A large cross-sectional sample (N=1711) was surveyed in fitness settings using the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI), Appearance Anxiety Inventory (AAI) and Rosenberg’s Self Esteem Scale (RSE) in addition to questions surrounding the use of fitness supplements.
Compulsive exercise, appearance anxiety and low self-esteem were present in this sample according to the psychometric measures used (EAI, AAI, RSE). 11.7% scored over the cut off for EA, with alarming peaks in the Netherlands (20.9%) and the United Kingdom (16.1%). 38.5% was found at risk of BDD, mainly female (47.2%). 39.8% used fitness enhancing supplements without medical consultation (95.5%). This cohort of supplement users scored higher in both EAI and AAI. The logistic regression model revealed a strong association between the consumption of sport products and the level of EA across the sample with an odds ratio (OR) of 3.03. Other co-variable factors among female were appearance anxiety (AAI; OR 1.59) and to a lesser extent self-esteem (RSE) (OR 1.08).
This study identified a high risk of EA, appearance anxiety and BDD amongst a cohort of gym users internationally. The previously-unexplored association between these disorders and the unsupervised use of a variety of fitness products, including illicit drugs, highlights the need for informed and integrated responses targeting such vulnerable individuals.