UA Study: Could Your Relationship Be Contributing to Your Weight Gain?

A UA study is looking at whether couples develop unhealthy eating and activity habits as a way of coping with relationship stress or bonding with their partner.
A UA study is looking at whether couples develop unhealthy eating and activity habits as a way of coping with relationship stress or bonding with their partner.

The obesity epidemic in the United States has been linked to a number of factors – environmental, political, economic. One University of Arizona researcher now is looking at how a person’s relationship with his or her romantic partner might also play a role.

Emily Butler, associate professor of family studies and human development, is leading a study that looks at how certain relationship dynamics in romantic couples might lead to unhealthy habits and ultimately unwanted weight gain.

“We’re looking at the kinds of emotional and interpersonal behavioral patterns going on in couples and to what extent those predict unhealthy versus healthy eating and activity habits and eventually weight gain or weight maintenance,” said Butler, who directs the UA’s Health & Interpersonal Systems Research Group.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is focused on romantic couples who recently moved in together and are just starting to establish shared lifestyle habits.

Researchers will look for two common relationship patterns and how those patterns might be linked to health behaviors.

The first is the “demand-withdrawal” pattern, in which one partner, often with the best intentions, pressures the other to change a habit; the other partner, feeling nagged, pulls away and engages even more in the criticized habit, perhaps as a means of self-medication or emotion regulation, Butler said.

Clinical observations in the context of alcohol addiction suggest that one partner’s urging of another to stop drinking can actually lead them to drink more to deal with the tension, however, this hasn’t been examined relative to food, Butler said.

“We predict that one way couples can get themselves into a bad pattern is if one person is maybe struggling a little more with weight and the other person, trying to be helpful, starts nagging them and getting on their case,” she said. “The person struggling with the bad habits feels even worse, and there’s at least some evidence that people will eat as sort of a self medication or emotional regulation.”

Read more from this October 31 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Nov 16 2012
Contact: 
Emily Butler