Significant others can influence extreme dieting

July 25, 2013 by Glenda Fauntleroy

Women who are frequently encouraged by their significant others to lose weight are more likely to resort to unhealthy measures to do so, according to new research in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The study finds that unhealthy weight , such as fasting, using , and self-induced vomiting, are common among young adults and are often the beginning of more severe eating disorders, depression and other health problems.

The study surveyed 1,294 young adults in Minnesota between the ages of 20 and 31 who were in relationships. They were asked about their eating habits and whether their partner "diets to lose weight or keep from gaining weight" or "encourages me to diet to control my weight."

Almost half of the participants said their significant other encouraged them to diet. Encouragement, however, was often viewed as negative or critical rather than supportive.

Binge eating among women was nearly doubled if their significant other encouraged dieting "very much" (25.5 percent) compared to "not at all" (13.6 percent). Overall, more than 40 percent of the people surveyed had used extreme diet tactics in the past year, which were more common among women (51.2 percent) than men (29.9 percent)

Clinical psychologist Jennifer McClure, Ph.D., associate director of research, facultyand development at Group Health Research Institute, who was not associated with the study, commented that young adults' eating habits are influenced both positively and negatively by significant others as a result of so-called modeling or peer pressure.

"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 ."

There are ways that significant others can best approach weight issues with their partners, said lead author Marla Eisenberg, Sc.D., of the department of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.

"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," she said.

"Families or couples can also address weight issues by engaging in healthier behaviors together to avoid isolating and stigmatizing one member of the family as having the 'problem,'" Eisenberg continued. "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.'"

Explore further: Adolescents' dieting and disordered eating behaviors continue into young adulthood

Related Stories

Unhealthy eating can make a bad mood worse

March 15, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Taking part in unhealthy eating behaviors may cause women who are concerned about their diet and self-image to experience a worsening of their moods, according to Penn State researchers.

Recommended for you

Older people getting smarter, but not fitter

August 31, 2015

Older populations are scoring better on cognitive tests than people of the same age did in the past —a trend that could be linked to higher education rates and increased use of technology in our daily lives, say IIASA population ...

Higher intelligence score means better physical performance

August 14, 2015

New research reveals a distinct association between male intelligence in early adulthood and their subsequent midlife physical performance. The higher intelligence score, the better physical performance, the study reveals. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.