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"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

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Home Trauma Leads to Muscle-Obsessed Boys

Boys who experience home-life trauma are far more likely to develop muscle dysmorphia, meaning an unhealthy obsession with putting on muscle and being especially lean.

In a new study published to Clinical Social Work, researchers found that children who experience at least five adverse childhood experiences (ACE), including domestic violence and emotional abuse, are far more apt to become obsessed with packing on muscle.

Common sense tells us this is a natural reaction, with advanced musculature creating a sense of stability and strength in an otherwise untenable, unreliable situation.

Given that previous research shows that roughly half of American children experience at least one ACE during their childhood, it’s important that parents pay attention to a child’s sudden preoccupation with building muscle.

The researchers noted that while previous studies have demonstrated a connection between ACE in girls and eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder, there has been far less of a focus on muscle dysmorphia.

“Those who experience adverse childhood experiences may engage in the pursuit of muscularity to compensate for experiences where they one felt inferior, small, and at risk, as well as to protect against future victimization,” noted the study’s lead author, Kyle Ganson, PhD.

Dr. Gabriela Vargas, director of the Young Men’s Health website at Boston Children’s Hospital, says roughly 60% of American boys are engaged to one degree or another in changing diet and putting on muscle. “While they may not meet the diagnostic criteria of muscle dysmorphia disorder, it’s impacting a lot of young men.”

Dr. Vargas and other specialists urge parents to pay attention to any dramatic changes in their boys’ exercise and eating routines, including excessive selfies, weighing themselves multiple times per day, and wearing baggie clothing to hide what they consider unflattering physiques.

What can parents do to combat the problem? Recommendations including:

  • Ensure the family dines together as often as possible
  • Refrain from commenting on body shape or size
  • Open, honest, and judgment-free communication
  • Don’t buy nutritional supplements touted to build muscle

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