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Want your husband to lose a few pounds The solution is to nag him about it
22:07 GMT, 14 December 2012
When it comes to the challenge of losing weight, there’s nothing like having the backing and support of a loving partner.
But it turns out the best way for a wife to persuade her husband to shed a few pounds may be to nag him about it as well.
Research shows some men are much more likely to lose weight if their other halves criticise, confront and reject them, rather than offer sugar-coated encouragement.
Nagging works: Men who have a partner who pushes him to lose weight and exercise tend to see better results
American researchers who studied how couples support each other in the battle of the bulge found men who lacked motivation to diet and exercise got much better results if their wives gave them a hard time over it. But the same approach does not work for women, it appears.
They found women regularly criticised by their partner for gaining extra pounds were unlikely to take action.
The psychologists behind the study, from the University of California in Los Angeles, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Florida State University, said they think the reason may be that women already face such intense pressure from society to remain slim that if they have not already been prompted to do something about their weight, a few harsh words from their husbands is unlikely to make much difference.
The findings, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, show giving negative feedback can sometimes have positive benefits in a relationship.
Comfortable life: Both men and women tend to gain weight in the first years of marriage
The researchers came up with the results after studying weight gain in newlywed couples.
Numerous studies have found that both sexes tend to pile on the pounds in the first few years of a marriage as they slip into a comfortable lifestyle.
A study carried out last year at Ohio State University found marriage triggers small weight gains, varying between seven and 20 pounds, in both sexes in the first two years of wedlock, compared to those who never married.
In the latest investigation, psychologists wanted to explore how married couples supported each other in losing weight gained during the first few years of being together.
The aim was to determine the most effective way for husbands and wives to help each other succeed in slimming down.
They recruited 165 couples, mostly in their early twenties, who had been married only a few years and who had gained weight after tying the knot.
Pick your battles: Women who were nagged by their partners about their eating habits did not see the same results
Each one was weighed and quizzed on whether they had succeeded in losing some or all of the extra pounds.
They were then asked to classify their partners’ support in terms of whether it had been positive and encouraging, or negative and critical.
The results showed husbands who whinged and moaned about being overweight were more likely to start dieting and exercising if they faced what psychologists call ‘oppositional behaviour’ from their wives – or constant criticism rather than sympathy.
In a report on their findings the researchers said: ‘Husbands who tended to whine, complain and avoid responsibility (for their weight) gained less weight over time if their wives engaged in oppositional behaviours.
‘But wives already face ubiquitous pressure to be thin and that leaves little room for husbands to additionally motivate them.’
Dr Ann Thomas, a psychologist based in Mill Hill, north London, who specialises in relationship counselling, said men may respond more to criticism because they have more of a need to be sexually desirable to their partners.
‘When it comes to looks, women tend to be more responsive to what their friends think than their partners,’ she said.
‘They say women dress for other women because they are in competition over how slim they can look.
‘If their husbands say they are looking a bit porky, the chances are they already know that and have already worked through their feelings about it.’