Training May Help Weight-Preoccupied Women: Women's Self-Esteem, Self-Concept Improve after Engaging in Extensive Strength-Building Program

Article excerpt

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. …