KRON 4 | Is Your Marriage Making You Fat?

In a study of 43 couples, researchers showed a connection between marital stress and poor food choices. Here’s why your marriage can affect your appetite and your eating patterns.

The Marital Study

Forty-three couples having various BMI’s (healthy weight, overweight, and very overweight) were selected to participate in this study.  These couples frequently had hostile exchanges which generally involved certain topics.

The couples agreed to participate for two days (each 9 1/2 hours long). They ate a meal together and tried to resolve one or more conflicts in their marriage. Hormones were tested at four different times of the day — once before the meal and three times after it — at 2, 4, and 7 hours after.

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What the Marital Arguments Produced

Researchers at the University of Delaware and Ohio State University College of Medicine observed a strong correlation in healthy weight and overweight subjects, but it was not seen in couples who were heavier (having a BMI of 30 or higher).

They found that hostile marital arguments caused a surge in ghrelin — the “I’m hungry” hormone only in the healthy weight and overweight couples. Known as the appetite increaser, ghrelin is primarily released in the stomach and signals your brain when it’s time to eat.

The appetite hormone, leptin, was also monitored, but levels did not rise. Leptin inhibits hunger, that is, it tells your brain you’ve had enough to eat.

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Couples crave ‘comfort food’ when they argue.

Food to Ease Discomfort  

As ghrelin levels rose, distressed partners (both husband and wife) sought food that was typically higher in fat, sugar and/or salt — typically poorer quality food, but what many might consider “comfort food”.

NOTE: Arguments or underlying hostility do not cause hunger or poor food choices, but there is a pretty significant link between the two. 

Typical Comfort Foods for Women   

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How to Curb Emotional Eating

Is your work and/or personal life a daily grind of surviving turbulent emotional stress? Tight deadlines, illness, family, relationship and financial problems are enough to succumb to an emotional eating binge. You need food to fuel your muscles, but food also feeds your feelings.

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Emotional vs. Physiological Hunger

When eating is triggered by an emotion rather than physiological hunger, it’s known as ’emotional eating’ and comes at a cost to your health. Emotional hunger is distinctly different from being physically hungry. It strikes suddenly, whereas the rumblings of physiological hunger occur gradually.

Emotional hunger is a psychological need to fill a void and generally involves a craving for a specific food, i.e., a ‘comfort food’. On the other hand, physiological hunger can be satisfied by any variety of foods and isn’t focused on one particular item.

Comfort Foods

Comfort foods are foods that you crave to obtain a good feeling when you’re in a negative mood, such as when you’re angry or depressed. But you may also reach for comfort foods to sustain good, positive emotions, such as when you’re happy, relieved or elated. Comfort foods become dangerous when they’re unhealthy choices.

The most popular comfort foods for women are sweet, such as:

  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies

Men, however, tend to gravitate towards food with more substance, such as: