IDAHO FALLS — When Madhu Krishna Murthy walks into a room, he turns heads. He’s fit, looks good and oozes confidence.
But if you ask Murthy if he considers himself attractive, the answer might surprise you.
“No. When I get in front of the mirror, I hate myself. There is a flaw here and a flaw there and so many problems,” Murthy tells EastIdahoNews.com.
The 29-year-old, 150-pound engineer wasn’t always a chiseled Adonis.
When Murthy moved to America from India in 2016, he was overweight and unhappy while trying to adjust to a new country and culture. He was also coming to terms with his sexuality and announced he was gay, something he could have been punished for in India. He wanted friends and began looking on dating apps for men to meet.
“That’s when I started feeling very conscious about my body because most people here, at least in the gay community, have a certain body standard or things that are perceived as attractive,” Murthy explains. “That was the first time I started hating myself for how fat I had become because before that, I knew I was a little fat but it was ok.”
Murthy felt social pressure to get in shape and physically, a walk down the street was exhausting.
Three years ago, in January 2018, he wanted to make a change so he joined a gym.
“For the first two weeks, I made sure I was going to the gym regularly at least 3-4 times a week. Then I started moving into eating at least one healthy meal a day,” Murthy recalls.
Within weeks, he was only eating healthy food and he was working our 2-3 hours a day. Six months later, his weight had dropped from 190 to 137 lbs.
“I was weighing everything (I ate) and adding up the calories and making sure I was at a calorie deficit,” he says. “If I had two chips I felt incredibly guilty about it and I realized that shouldn’t be a thing but at that point, I was seeing results and losing a lot of weight so I wanted to keep doing it.”
All Murthy thought about was food and exercise. He missed hanging out with friends so he could go to the gym and if meals or snacks were served at social events, he’s stick with bottled water.
“I was eating around 1,200 calories a day and was burning some 2,000 a day so I almost had a 1,000 calorie deficit. I had zero energy and zero motivation to do anything else,” Murthy says. “I was nitpicking apart my own body and it became an obsession. It’s still an obsession for me. Every time I saw myself in the mirror, I was like, ‘You still have that last bit of fat, so let’s get rid of that.'”
Murthy admits he has body dysmorphia – a mental disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about perceived or real flaws in your appearance. Men are uncomfortable talking about the issue. EastIdahoNews.com spoke with several over the past month, but Murthy was the only person willing to share his story publicly.
Body dysmorphia is sometimes called “bigorexia” because guys want to focus on building their muscles. It often starts in the teenage years and can become an addiction. Some men go so far as having pectoral implants, liposuction or calf implants.
“I think it’s affected men for a long time, but it’s been considered a ‘women’s disease,'” says Liz Stephenson, a certified eating disorder counseling specialist in Rexburg. “I see quite a bit of it in the LGBTQ community where there is a desire for their bodies to look good to their male counterparts, but I also see it in high school students where sports can be a contributing factor.”
Comparing bodies to others has only been amplified with instant access to social media, dating apps, photo editing and filters.
“We want to feel good about ourselves but we compare ourselves in these extreme ways and then that makes us feel inadequate,” Stephenson says. “Then we try to feel better inside by doing something on the outside and what we really need to be doing is working on feeling good on the inside and then we’re happy on the outside.”
WATCH THE SURPRISING RESPONSE MADHU GIVES NATE EATON WHEN ASKED ABOUT A SHIRTLESS SELFIE
Murthy knows he’s obsessed with his body and says the feedback he gets posting photos of himself on social media is like a drug.
“I’m gonna be honest. The attention I got when I first posted my shirtless pic was huge and I think that’s pretty much what kept me hooked to this entire thing,” he says. “The attention you get – it just gets to you. Suddenly you’re in the spotlight, you’re very important and all these people find you so attractive and you get to the point where you’re like, ‘Oh yeah. I’m attractive.'”
But eventually, those highs turn into lows and that leads Murthy back to the gym. He knows he has a problem and is taking steps to deal with it.
Murthy used to post a selfie every day at the gym but he recently took them all off his Instagram account and now hardly posts at all. He no longer measures his fat percentage every week, spends less time in front of the mirror, is trying to get out and meet more people and he wants to be able to eat a cookie without feeling guilty.
“Food is meant to fuel our bodies and be enjoyed,” Stephenson says. “It’s ok to eat a variety of foods with lots of colors, lots of fruits and vegetables, meats, breads – all of that – plus treats. Those are involved too.”
When asked if he’s happy, Murthy says in some ways, he is. He loves that he can now hike, walk, exercise and be active without feeling tired. But he is still unhappy with how he looks in the mirror.
His goal is to one day fully accept himself however he looks and be able to say that he is happy both mentally and physically.
WATCH OUT ENTIRE UNEDITED INTERVIEW WITH MADHU HERE