When a woman is criticized by a loved one for her weight, she is likely to gain even more, according to a new study by the University of Waterloo in Canada.
On the other hand, those who feel unconditionally accepted are more likely to maintain or lose weight.
“When we feel bad about our bodies, we often turn to loved ones — families, friends, and romantic partners — for support and advice. How they respond can have a bigger effect than we might think,” said Dr. Christine Logel, who teaches social development studies.
The study focused on university-age women, a demographic often dissatisfied with personal weight. The team of social psychologists asked the women their height and weight, and to describe how they felt about looking at the scale.
About five months later, the women were asked if they had talked to their loved ones about their concerns, and if so, how they had responded. About three months after that, they tracked whether their weight and their concerns about it changed in that time.
“On average, the women in the study were at the high end of Health Canada’s BMI recommendations, so the healthiest thing is for them to maintain the weight they have and not be so hard on themselves,” said Logel.
“But many of the women were still very concerned about how much they weigh, and most talked to their loved ones about it.”
Participants who received few weight acceptance messages from their loved ones gained almost 4.5 pounds on average, whereas women who received comparatively more weight acceptance messages lost a pound.
The findings show that when women who were concerned about their own weight heard that their loved ones accepted them as they are, they felt better about their bodies, and subsequently did not gain weight like the less-encouraged women did.
In fact, feeling better about themselves caused the women to be more active or eat more sensibly. Furthermore, receiving unconditional acceptance may have lowered their stress levels, a known cause of weight gain.
“Lots of research finds that social support improves our health,” said Logel. “An important part of social support is feeling that our loved ones accept us just the way we are.”
Criticism from loved ones about weight was not helpful for women at all. And it actually led women who were not originally concerned about their weight to gain some more.
“We all know someone who points out our weight gain or offers to help us lose weight. These results suggest that these comments are misguided,” said Logel.
The findings are published in the journal Personal Relationships.
Source: University of Waterloo