The Fierce Link Between Unhealthy Relationships and Emotional Eating

The Fierce Link Between Unhealthy Relationships and Emotional Eating

Fighting with your beau could cause an uptick in your emotional eating habits.

If you and your guy aren’t fans of the whole choosing your battles thing, your relationship woes could be doing a number on your waistline, according to a recent study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Delaware found that getting into a spat effs with your bod’s ability to regulate your appetite: Fighting causes a surge in the hormone ghrelin, which is basically your hunger alarm. What’s worse, you’re also more likely to make poor food choices post-argument—and the results were consistent, regardless of gender.

Forty-three couples who’d been married for at least three years were recruited to participate in the study. They attended two nine-hour sessions, where they were asked to hang with their partner, eat a meal together, and try to resolve one or more conflicts in their relationship. They were also asked to answer questions and agree to blood tests and other pertinent data collection.

The sessions were videotaped, and researchers later analyzed footage for signs of conflicted communication, hostility, and an overall disconnect between spouses. Meanwhile, their hormone levels were tested at four different times: Once before the meal, and three times after it—at two, four, and seven hours after-the-fact.

The blood tests revealed hostile couples had significantly higher amounts of the appetite-triggering hormone after fighting—which doesn’t mean fighting is a direct cause of hunger pangs and poor eating habits, just that there’s a strong link, Lisa Jaremka, study author and assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware, said in a statement.

The study broke new ground by exploring how an unhappy relationship can trigger emotional eating and make our comfort food cravings—which typically involve unhealthy eats—that much stronger. I mean, seriously: When was the last time you got into a blowout with your guy and turned to a bowl of steamed veggies for support?

While the study was small, hopefully it will encourage clinicians to ditch the one-size-fits-all diet and exercise mentality when helping patients reach their weight loss goals. “I hope this will help us start to tailor interventions,” Jeremka said. “These studies suggest people have difficulty controlling appetite and with specific types of foods… A personalized approach would be beneficial in the long run.”

How does your relationship impact your emotional eating habits?

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Emotional eating image via Shutterstock

Krissy Brady

Krissy Brady is a women’s health + lifestyle writer who’s so out of shape, it’s like she has the innards of an 80-year-old. Instead of learning how to crochet, she decided to turn her emotional baggage into a writing career (genius, no?). You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (you know, if you want).