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Menstrual function and eating behavior in female recreational weight lifters and competitive body builders

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 1991


A group of 103 female weight lifters (WL) and 92 control (C) women answered a survey concerning eating behavior and attitudes (including the Eating Disorder Inventory) and menstrual function. The incidence of menstrual dysfunction, defined as oligomenorrhea plus amenorrhea, was significantly higher for the WL (30%) than for the C (13%) not on contraceptive pills. Only 2% of the women had amenorrhea. The incidence of dysfunction was highest for the subset of 12 WL who had competed in at least one body building competition (COMP); 86% of the COMP not on birth control pills had menstrual dysfunction (P < 0.05). More WL than C reported missing at least one menstrual period during the last year (P = 0.06). WL scored significantly higher than C on the Drive for Thinness subscale of the Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI). Fifteen percent of the WL and 9% of the C achieved the criteria on this subscale for being weight preoccupied (P > 0.05). Significantly more WL than C responded that they were terrified of becoming fat (WL 56%, C 38%), were obsessed with food (WL 47%, C 30%), used laxatives for weight control (WL 14%, C 1%), and claimed that they had been anorexic in the past (WL 17%, C 5%). Examination of the answers of COMP revealed several items that were significantly different from the remainder of the WL. For example, 42% used to be anorexic, 67% were terrified of becoming fat, and 50% experienced uncontrollable urges to eat. These data suggest that women who claim a history of anorexia nervosa, with excessive concern about their weight and food consumption, and who are experiencing menstrual dysfunction, are disproportionately represented in groups of women who do weight lifting for general conditioning and particularly those who compete in body building.

©1991The American College of Sports Medicine