Telling partner to diet may trigger unhealthy eating habits

  • Article by: Allie Shah
  • Star Tribune
  • September 3, 2013 - 3:40 PM

Want to help your sweetie lose weight? Better keep your mouth shut.

Turns out that urging your significant other to slim down may actually backfire — triggering unhealthy eating habits, according to new research from the University of Minnesota.

The findings were based on an online survey of nearly 1,300 young adults from the Twin Cities.

Dr. Marla Eisenberg, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of adolescent health and medicine at the university, has been studying the eating behaviors of the same group of young people for years — beginning when they were teenagers.

For this study, she asked them about their boyfriends, girlfriends or spouses. “In the twenty-something decade, significant others are really important people in their lives,” Eisenberg said.

Researchers focused on two main questions. Did the young person’s significant other diet? And had the significant other encouraged them to diet? Both behaviors were linked to unhealthy eating habits such as binge eating, skipping meals, induced vomiting, popping diet pills or using a laxative, Eisenberg said.

But one factor in particular — urging your partner to lose weight — appeared to inflict the most damage.

“If people are hearing something like this from someone that they love dearly, it’s hurtful. It’s depressing,” Eisenberg said. “People can often respond to feeling bad about themselves or feeling bad about their bodies with unhealthy weight control behaviors.”

Binge eating nearly doubled for women whose significant others urged them to diet “very much” compared with “not at all,” according to the study, published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. Men also tended to binge eat when their partners encouraged them to diet “very much.” The study found that binge eating went up from 4 percent for men whose partners did not push them to 14 percent for those who were pressed constantly.

Nearly half of the people surveyed reported that their partner encouraged them to diet at least a little bit. More than half said that their significant other is dieting.

So how do you tell someone you love that they should lose some weight? Eisenberg recommends choosing your words carefully.

“There are times when someone you care deeply about is in an unhealthy situation and they would really benefit from a health standpoint by losing some weight,” she said. “Our message is if you’re going to talk to people about their weight, it really needs to be framed as a health issue, not as an appearance issue or an attractiveness issue.”


Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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