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Training may help weight-preoccupied women: women's self-esteem, self-concept improve after engaging in extensive strength-building program.

NASHVILLE, TENN. -- Weight training appears to change the way women with characteristics of disordered eating perceive their body size, Annie C. Wetter, Ph.D., wrote in a poster at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Dr. Wetter's study found that although weight-preoccupied women who engaged in strength training actually gained weight, they perceived themselves as looking smaller than before the program. Their scores on several surveys assessing attitudes about self also improved, suggesting that "they valued their physical selves and overall self-worth significantly more."

Dr. Wetter of the department of health promotion and human development at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, enrolled 12 college women who screened positive for weight preoccupation. The participants were dissatisfied with their body size and reported that their weight and eating habits affected feelings of self-worth and interfered with academic performance or social relationships.

Upon enrollment, the women had moderately high scores on the Eating Disorder Inventory, especially in drive for thinness and body dissatisfaction. The mean score for drive for thinness was 11.2 (clinical diagnosis scores: 12-17); the mean score for body dissatisfaction was 15.4 (clinical diagnosis scores: 11-19). Their mean baseline weight was 147 pounds.

On a body Contour Drawing Rating Scale, with body types ranging from anorexic (1) to obese (9), the women on average identified themselves as being a 7, and chose 4 as the figure they would like to be.

All of the women entered an 8-week weight-training program of two sessions per week. Exercises included two-legged and bench presses, lateral pull downs and shoulder raises, triceps extensions, biceps curls, abdominal crunches, and back extensions.

The focus of the program was solely on "getting strong," Dr. Wetter told this newspaper. "I talked to them about the physiologic and health benefits of weight training but never said anything about weight management or losing body fat. I wanted them to focus purely on strength training--and not in a glamour magazine type of way, but by telling them 'you're going to train hard, and you're going to get strong.'"

Only six women provided post-intervention data, but their results were surprisingly consistent, according to Dr. Wetter. Their upper- and lower-extremity strength increased significantly (bench press weight increased from 73.5 pounds to 96 pounds; leg press, from 267 pounds to 437 pounds; and grip strength, from 31 pounds to 33 pounds). Scores on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale increased a mean of 3 points. Scores on the Self-Concept Clarity Scale increased a mean of 6 points.

On the Eating Disorder Inventory, drive for thinness scores decreased a mean of 5 points, and body dissatisfaction scores decreased a mean of 6 points. The 40% decrease in both subscale scores brought the subjects out of the clinical diagnostic range and below the scores seen in women with symptoms of subclinical disordered eating. There was also a significant change in interpersonal distrust scores, which decreased by about 1 point.

All of the women gained weight (a mean of 3 pounds). They reported that their clothing felt tighter over their legs and that they had developed larger muscles, especially in their arms. Although they knew they had gained weight and muscle mass, all women identified themselves as having a smaller silhouette on the body contour drawing rating scale. The subjects still chose silhouette 4 as the ideal body type but now identified themselves as a 6 rather than as a 7.

"Their perceived appearance more closely resembled their desired appearance, even though they had all gained weight and they all knew that they had gained weight," Dr. Wetter said. "They got bigger, but they felt smaller."

She hypothesized that the physical sensations of power and strength that accompany weight training improve self-esteem and self-concept clarity, both of which are related to eating patterns.

Low self-esteem has been shown to be one of the most important factors in developing ongoing eating problems, Dr. Wetter said. Low self-concept clarity can predispose women to negative perceptions that also increase the risk of disordered eating behaviors and attitudes.

"This approach to helping women with negative body esteem affords them the opportunity to have a positive body experience that can shape their self-evaluation," Dr. Wetter said.

"Given the ease and speed with which weight training increases strength, especially in the uninitiated, weight training appears to be ideally suited to increasing physical self-efficacy, a sense of mastery in a physical endeavor, and physical well-being. All provide positive feedback for shifting perceptions of the body and self in weight-preoccupied women."

Dr. Wetter stressed, however, that any weight-training program for women at risk of eating disorders should focus on gaining strength and ability, and should avoid sending any messages about burning fat or controlling weight.

"This could help them focus on the positive physical and psychological sensations and effects of weight training."


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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Adult Psychiatry
Author:Sullivan, Michele G.
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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