Bigorexia, when sport becomes an addiction

« I think I’m ‘addicted’ to sport. I need to abuse it to feel good. When I go without a day, it’s not going well. She arrives behind her smile, in a large pink sweatshirt. On the chest, an embroidery of golden thread. Good vibes. Positive waves, Nina Begards spreads them. The young woman is a sports coach at Club Vert, in Nevers. She has been leading group lessons for ten years, and individual coaching for three years.

“In college, I had a few extra pounds. I did a lot of dancing: acrobatic rock, African dance and new style. Later, a friend of mine invited me to a group lesson. I haven’t stopped since,” she says. Muscle strengthening, cardio exercises, choreographic sequences… Nina’s daily life is punctuated by sports practice. She occupies it, at least, twelve hours a week.

“What I like is the feeling of well-being after exercise. » Physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins which provide this relief. This is one of the triggers of bigorexia.

First identified in the 1970s by American psychiatrist William Glasser, bigorexia is characterized by an addiction to sports. It was, historically, an appetite for muscle mass and mainly concerned bodybuilders. It has extended to individual sports, running, trail running, extreme sports, and today mainly affects young adults.

“It is better to be ‘addicted’ to sport than to drugs. It’s my drug. As a coach, I have a positive, aesthetic image to convey. Sport gave me self-confidence. »

nina begards

Unlike the professional, perfectionist athlete, the bigorexic practices sport excessively and disinvests in the other spheres of his existence. We also speak of “sportoolism”, in reference to alcoholism. Here, no dependence on a product but on a behavior. The mechanisms at work are identical.

“It is better to be ‘addicted’ to sport than to drugs. It’s my drug,” admits Nina. His interest in sports performance is not unrelated to the cult of the image. She adds: “As a coach, I have a positive, aesthetic image to convey. Sport gave me self-confidence. »

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Also, the thirty-something has revised her diet. « I’m quite on top of it. I avoid industrial products, empty sugars. I adopted a varied diet, rich in good nutrients. I enjoy eating things in line with the physical activity that I practice. No question, then, of going to a fast food restaurant. But Nina allows herself a few deviations when she goes out to a restaurant. « I know how to have fun, but I’m careful the next day, to rebalance, » she admits.

As Patrick Aviat, a former sports doctor, points out, it is not uncommon for bigorexia to be accompanied by orthorexia, an obsession with healthy eating. “It’s all about effort. Orthorexics believe in miracle recipes and, sometimes, consume doping products. »

Photo Frédéric Lonjon.

Bigorexia is an addiction that poses health risks. Excessive efforts can be the cause of fractures, tendonitis, exhaustion which can go, in the most violent cases, to heart attack. “I have pain sometimes but that does not prevent me from continuing. I am aware of the importance of recovery, but I do transference work. When my knees hurt, for example, I don’t do squats, I work on the abs instead. I’m calming things down, ”resumes the coach.
The latter therefore remains, despite everything, attentive to her body.

She maintains a social and family life, with theater classes every week at the Petit Conservatoire de Nevers, and devoting herself entirely to her six-year-old daughter on Wednesdays. “It’s a day where I force myself to do nothing. I think I have bigorexia, but I’m a reasonable patient! »

In clubs, athletes are supervised and often accompanied by a medical team. What about in the Nivernais sports halls?

Do sports coaches have a role to play?

“There are people who cannot do without sport here. Among the 600 members, I would say that they are ten, ”relivizes Marc Pauron, physical trainer at Wood Fit, in Varennes-Vauzelles.

Most of the time, these bigorexics do not recognize themselves as such. But they are identifiable. “We spot them fairly quickly in the room. They come twice a day, every day. »

premium « Beyond ten hours of sport per week, we take risks », according to Patrick Aviat, former doctor

The professional takes responsibility for monitoring their sports practice. His credo: analyze, identify and recommend. “We keep an eye on them. We try to tell them that they do a lot. We are trying to find out why. We can also direct them towards softer activities to lighten the sessions or towards sports psychologists or sophrologists, ”he explains.

Beyond advice, sports coaches often feel powerless to support these particular profiles. “My role is to ask them if they are eating well, sleeping well, hydrating well or if they are in pain. We can’t do much. Afterwards, it depends on the affinities we have with the person,” adds Nina.

Support remains difficult

When Marc Pauron joined his master’s degree in Science and Techniques of Physical and Sports Activities (Staps), in Dijon, bigorexia was still unknown. Today, she is no longer. However, the physical trainer, who became a trainer five years ago, finds that she is still absent from the programs. “I give theoretical and practical lessons at the Maison des Sports, in Nevers. We stay on the basics with group lessons. Bigorexia, mental preparation or additional activities such as sophrology are not among the themes recommended in the training. »

While the time devoted to health education in the training of gym professionals is limited, the care of people with bigorexics remains difficult.

Bigorexics or their relatives can benefit from listening, support or resources from Nivernaise associations.
Addiction France, at the Addictology care, support and prevention center in Nevers, helps people suffering from an addiction, with or without a product. 15 rue du Moulin d’Écorce. Contact: or
the Free Life Movement also accompanies dependent people. 14 Rue Emile Combes, in Nevers. Contact: or

Elisa Zejm

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