Body-obsessed men risk depression in the quest for ripped abs
The new craze among young Irish men for ripped physiques like those of Hollywood superstars Tom Hardy and Chris Hemsworth can lead to depression, eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
Experts have warned of the pitfalls of extreme versions of the new trend among young males in Ireland on highly controlled protein diets designed to build muscle.
'Shredded' and 'ripped' are a normal part of young male conversation today, with many using social media apps and the internet to get advice on how to get a body like Chris Pratt's or Gerard Butler's famous Spartan physique in the film 300.
In a new RTE documentary What Are You Eating? presenter Philip Boucher-Hayes follows an online course involving gruelling exercise and copious amounts of whey protein that promises him a ripped physique in just 28 days.
Exercise physiologist Stepphen Barrett said the type of sculpted physiques on many stars who appear on magazine covers or on Instagram posts are not natural.
He said: "We're sometimes trying to chase this goal that is out of our grasp and our reach.
"It is something that causes a huge amount of psychological issues, particularly among young guys, depression, eating disorders and body dysmorphia."
Consultant dietitian Aveen Bannon also spoke in the documentary about the fad diets attracting people who already have issues around eating.
She said: "A lot of patients I have, who would have embarked on these programmes would have pre-existing medical conditions in relation to food and their relationship with food.
"They have an issue around control. When they embark on a programme that is giving them a very prescriptive nature of a diet and a very prescriptive nature of exercise. It really feeds into the behaviour and can cause the behaviour to escalate.
"This fact is not taken into consideration. These online courses are not taking on board their physical health or mental health."
Mr Barrett, who works with the senior Waterford hurling team, said young men were swapping traditional sports for gym workouts to build up muscle.
"Ten years ago, when you asked kids what sports they were involved in, it was always GAA and soccer, now it's another generation, and it's weightlifting and powerlifting," said the lecturer in sports science at Waterford Institute of Technology.
"We get first-year students who come in and there is a massive emphasis on building their upper body. It's this perception that this is the physique that the opposite sex like."
He said social media has a huge impact on how people eat.
He said: "Online fitness advice and online fitness coaches have really escalated in the last number of years.''
The Irish poster boy for online fitness culture, 23-year-old Rob Lipsett, has amassed 130,000 YouTube and Instagram subscribers allowing him to leave his day job to dedicate all his time to daily social media posts on fitness and diet.
His stream of selfies and tips of how to get the ultimate male body have turned into a hugely successful business.
"It's [selfies], seminars and public appearances. I have my own signature line of gym wear.
''There are brands who want to do brand deals with you," said the social media entrepreneur, although he says he is not extreme about his diet, even allowing a potato more fitness-friendly sweet potato.
Former Olympic runner Derval O'Rourke says she believes the new trend for looking good on selfies was worrying.
"People get caught up so much in visually how they look. That doesn't necessarily make you healthy.''
'What are You Eating?', RTE One, Wednesday, at 8.30pm