Urging Your Partner to Diet May Backfire
Response could be unhealthy, such as fasting, taking diet pills or binge eating, study finds
"Hurtful comments, even if well-intentioned, may contribute to poorer body image and unhealthy eating behaviors," Eisenberg explained.
The findings held for both men and women, she said, but were slightly more pronounced and consistent for women. That men were also affected didn't surprise Eisenberg. "Men have body image issues, too, of course," she added.
Edward Abramson, a clinical psychologist in Chico, Calif., who has written about emotional eating, is not surprised that urging people to diet doesn't lead to healthy behaviors. "Almost 100 percent of the population who is overweight knows it," he said. "They know bacon and donuts have more calories than celery."
When he leads weight-control groups, Abramson finds those constantly urged to diet and lose weight sometimes go out of their way to overeat, a kind of rebellion against their partner, he believes.
Abramson said he is ''not a big fan of dieting." Instead, he encourages partners to work together on weight issues. If they're going out to eat, for instance, one could suggest sharing a main course. If they are putting a meal together at home, they could focus on keeping it healthy.
Study author Eisenberg suggested, "If someone is genuinely concerned about their partner'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 (which is usually characterized by restrictions that are difficult to maintain and not effective for weight loss in the long run)."
Partners should be careful how they verbalize encouragement to lose weight, she said. "Encouragement like '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.'"