As 2019 ramps up, many of us are inevitably thinking about how to be the very best versions of ourselves this year. For some, that may include health and fitness goals—especially if your wedding date is around the corner and you feel like you had one too many extra helpings of Aunt Irene’s famous banana pudding over the holidays.
According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of Americans say they’re trying to lose weight. Not surprisingly, women were more likely than men to say they were trying to drop some pounds—that is, 56 percent of women versus 42 percent of men. (Considering the unfair expectations society places on women to look and dress a certain way, what do you expect? But we digress.)
Recognizing how important a support system is in one’s journey to lose weight, researchers recently looked into the complexities of support style and how they can impact weight loss outcomes. According to their results, which were published last year in the journal Families, Systems & Health, it’s really not helpful when a romantic partner tells you that you need to lose weight.
(It’s also quite rude, but let’s stick to the science.)
The study’s authors used a concept called “self-determination theory”—that is, when a person is motivated to do something based on their own inclinations, not because someone told them to—in order to inform their work. What they wanted to find out was if there is any connection between a woman’s weight-loss progress and having a partner who acknowledges her feelings, refrains from criticism, and remains encouraging. (This kind of response is also called being a decent human being, but researchers refer to this as “autonomy support.”)
According to the study’s findings in two different experiments, there is, in fact, a positive association between autonomy support and a variety of motivational and psychological outcomes, especially for women with high body mass index. For example, in one experiment, women whose partners scored well on a survey for autonomy support (“I make sure that my partner is able to be open with me about her goals” is one question on that survey) were found to be better motivated to eat healthy foods.
“Our results,” the study’s authors write, “suggest that women with higher BMI may benefit most from autonomy support that emphasizes personal choice (e.g., partners asking what would be most helpful, practicing active listening skills, avoiding criticism and control) in regulating their weight.”
In a blog for Psychology Today, writer Arash Emamzadeh summarized the importance of this study’s findings as such: “When we support our partners’ autonomy, we are helping promote their well-being. We make them feel more in control of their lives, thus encouraging them to take care of themselves—whether it be to lose weight, eat healthy, exercise, or even stand up to weight-related stigmas.”
Now that’s a guy who gets it. As your pre-wedding workout season commences, here’s to hoping your partner also realizes the importance of supporting—not criticizing—your efforts.