A Dangerous “Ab-session”

By NATALIE BULIK-SULLIVAN AND CYNTHIA BULIK, PhD
Published: January 21, 2015

Flip through a celebrity magazine, and you will undoubtedly notice a disturbing trend that is rapidly becoming an “ab-session”. The covers of magazines are plastered with models, actors, and sports figures boasting lean, sculpted abs. Headline articles promise rapid ab sculpting via elimination diets and single exercises. Ads for magic supplements promise to accelerate and enhance the effect with “just one trick”. Celebrity testimonials reassure the skeptics that the method worked wonders for them and are the ticket to their now-formidable, and completely unedited, abdominal ridges. Men, boys, women, and girls are all showcased who have discernable six- or even twelve-packs often slathered with oil or contoured to look even more defined.

This ab-session with defined abdominal muscles is unrelated to a desire to be healthy. It is an infatuation with a specific physical feature and focuses on a body type that many people because of their genetic make-up could never achieve. It drives youth and adults alike toward ab-sessional behaviors. Frankly, it’s an ab-omination.

Abs are ubiquitous in the media (ab-iquitous??). It’s not just magazines. Television, movies, the sports field, everyone seems to be compelled to flash his or her abs to the world. Young boys worldwide are modeling their midsections after their favorite soccer stars when their young bodies are just not in a position to look that way.

No one questions that abdominal exercises are necessary for a balanced exercise plan. Core muscles are integral to many sports and activities, and having a stronger core can have positive benefits for health and strength. Being overly focused on your abs, however, has a darker side, and frequent comparison with celebs and athletes can do damage to your body esteem and self-esteem. Excessive focus on the abdominal muscles can also be a sign of a more pernicious problem, namely body dysmorphic disorder or BDD. BDD is a body-image disorder in which individuals have persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance (such as one’s abs). They can spend hours every day focusing on the perceived flaw, and it can become so all-encompassing that it interferes with all aspects of their life.

What are some signs that having desire to have a sturdy core is turning into a dangerous “ab-session”?

There are six warning signs to be on the alert for:

  • The condition or appearance of your abs influences your self-esteem, or you feel inadequate because of your abs.
  • You start missing other activities because you’re so focused on your abs (for example, if you cancel a planned movie night with friends in favor of yet another ab workout).
  • You don’t stop exercising your abs when you’re injured or sick.
  • You compare your abdominal muscles to your friends’ or celebrities’ abs.
  • You spend a lot of time looking at your abs in the mirror, in photos, or feeling your abs for definition (body checking).
  • You engage in dangerous practices to enhance the definition of your abs (like using diuretics or sweat boxes to drop water).

If you or anyone you know is exhibiting these behaviors, it may be wise to raise the topic and encourage a professional evaluation by a mental health care professional with experience in eating disorders or BDD.

The core message is that it is great to have a strong core, but watch out for the dangerous ab-session.

photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/football-cup-ball-trophy-award-566025/