Local Study: Having a Thin Boyfriend May Lead to Eating Disorders

You’re out with your boyfriend and he orders a mini-salad with no dressing and refuses to eat the croutons. You ordered a pizza with extra cheese. Do you chow down on that pizza or just pick at it while your significant other eats like a bird on the other side of the table? According to a new study by Rutgers University—Camden and Villanova researchers, that pizza is going to sit there barely touched.

There’s been little research focused on same-sex couples and the influence of romantic relationships on eating and diet habits, but the study, which appears in the June issue of Journal of Health Psychology, suggests that “a thinner partner may be a problem in a same-sex relationship.” Of particular note, the study suggests that having a thinner partner may lead to restrained eating:

“Restrained eating is defined as the deliberate, long-term restriction of food intake in order to lose, maintain, or avoid gaining weight. It is characterized by alternating episodes of cognitive dietary restraint, uncontrolled eating, and emotional eating. Although exercising some restraint is critical in the current food environment, where supersized portions can be found around every corner…dietary restraint—as the researchers studied it—is considered dysfunctional.”

The study examined 288 same-sex couples who had been in a relationship on average 5.5 years, and the researchers “found significant evidence that men and women who were relatively heavier than their partners were at particular risk of engaging in all facets of restrained eating.” They suggest that “the findings may be explained in part by the need for individuals in both same-sex and heterosexual relationships to conform to body ideals of close reference groups—in this case, their romantic partners. This tendency can be increased, they add, when the partner is of the same gender.”

According to Rutgers University—Camden Professor of Psychology Charlotte Markey, one of the researchers on the study, there’s been discussion amongst researchers that “lesbian women are not as concerned about their bodies and weight as heterosexual women and that gay men are more concerned about these issues than heterosexual men.”