Non-Dieting Spouses: Is Yours a Supporter or Saboteur?

April 19th, 2008

A new Ontario study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, has looked into the behavior of significant others when their partners were on diets and made some disturbing findings.

The study involved interviews with 21 pairs. Most were spousal couples, but one was a father-daughter combo. The research was an attempt to shed light on how a partner’s dieting affected the non-dieting partner’s emotions and diet.

While the researchers found that most non-dieting partners responded positively to their dieting partner’s efforts to lose weight, some non-dieting partners acted as saboteurs. Their negative actions included refusing to stop eating junk food in front of their spouses and passing snide comments.

One dieter reported that his wife would

“sit down and eat a bag of cookies right in front of me.”

Another dieter’s husband referred to his wife’s vegetarian cuisine as “tasteless” and refused to eat it.
In yet another example of undermining behavior, a partner would offer his wife glasses of wine, which she found difficult to resists, and then follow up with diet-destroying cheese-and-cracker plates.

Judy Paisley, an associate professor of nutrition at Toronto’s Ryerson University, led the study, which also involved researchers at the University of Guelph, and the University of Toronto.

She said the research participants would sometimes react negatively to their partners’ weight loss efforts because they felt rejected. For example, a woman who normally makes the decisions about the food her husband eats might feel slighted by his request for different meal options.

Then there’s the fear of future rejection.

The partner who watches his or her spouse lose weigh might begin to worry about changes to their relationship.

For many dieters, the support of a partner can be critical to weight loss success. This study highlights some of the challenges of dieting when in a spousal relationships.

Future research should continue to examine the social factors associated with dieting, said Dr. Paisley.

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