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Significant Partners Can Cause Extreme Dieting

Update Date: Jul 26, 2013 03:00 PM EDT
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The subject of weight tends to be very sensitive and personal for individuals. Losing or gaining weight is directly influenced by one's own lifestyle habits, which include exercising and eating. Despite the fact that people are in control of their own bodies, studies have found that stereotypes surrounding weight and body shapes could greatly affect how one goes about dieting. In a new study, researchers found that significant others play a huge part in how someone diets.

For this study, the researchers interviewed 1,294 young adults between the ages of 20 and 31. The participants were from Minnesota and were in a relationship. The survey asked them questions about their eating habits as well as their partner's eating habits. The survey also evaluated the relationships and whether or not one's significant partner encouraged the other to diet. The researchers found that around 50 percent of the participants stated that they were encouraged by their partners to diet in order to maintain or lose weight. Even though the partners were supposed to be encouraging, the majority of the participants found the encouragement to be negative or critical as opposed to supportive.  

The researchers found that these words of so-called encouragement influenced extreme dieting behaviors that were detrimental to one's health. The researchers found that 25.5 percent of women who were encouraged to diet were binge eating in comparison to the 13.6 percent of women who were not encouraged to diet but were binge eating. The overall statistic reported that over 40 percent of people had used extreme dieting methods. Women were more likely to turn to these unhealthy dieting techniques than men. The percentages were 51.2 percent versus 29.9 percent respectively.

"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," commented clinical psychologist, Jennifer McClure, Ph.D. who was not a part of the study. "Both of these can be powerful incentives for behavior change."

The lead author of the study, Marla Eisenberg, Sc.D. from the department of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota suggested that significant others take a different approach when it comes to discussing weight. The researchers recommend families, partners and friends take an empathetic approach that will not stigmatize or isolate the individual. Creating a supportive group atmosphere is key in helping people with their weight goals.

"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 stated. "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.'"   

The study was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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