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Binge eating among women worsens if partner encourages dieting


As if we need another reason to stop fat-shaming friends or family members, a new study reveals that women who are encouraged by their partners to diet will be more prone to binge eating.

The study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, included 1,294 young adults in Minnesota between the ages of 20 and 31 who were in relationships. The participants were asked about their eating habits and were also surveyed about how their partners communicated with them about dieting or weight control.

Negative and critical advice common

About half of the women in the study said they were encouraged by their significant others to diet, but this encouragement was often described as being negative and critical instead of supportive.

Among women who had partners that encouraged dieting, binge eating nearly doubled - depending on how strong this encouragement was. Extreme dieting tactics were common among 51.2 percent of the women, as opposed to 29.9 percent of men.

The idea of peer pressure, said Jennifer McClure, Ph.D., from the Group Health Research Institute, can be a strong influence on young adults' eating habits - whether this pressure is positive or negative.

"In modeling, people make decisions about how to act based on their observation of others' behaviors. With peer pressure, they change their behavior because they feel it is expected of them," McClure explained. "Both of these can be powerful incentives for behavior change."

Approaching weight issues

Addressing concerns about a partner's weight or eating habits can be done, albeit carefully, researchers said.

"If someone is genuinely concerned about a loved one's weight, the recommendation is to discuss it emphasizing health rather than appearance, and focusing on adopting a healthier lifestyle long-term rather than dieting," noted lead study author Maria Eisenberg, Sc.D., of the department of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.

For families, engaging in healthy behaviors as a unit, like exercise or planning nutritious meals, is a better approach than singling out one person who may be struggling with weight or diet issues, Eisenberg said.

"Encouragement such as, 'will you join me for a walk after dinner? I'd love the company' will probably be received better than 'You should skip the ice cream tonight.'"

Source: The University of Minnesota