In a study of 43 couples, researchers at the University of Delaware and Ohio State University College of Medicine showed a connection between marital stress, hunger and food choices. The correlation was observed in healthy weight and overweight subjects, but was not seen in couples who were obese (having a BMI of 30 or higher).

They found that hostile marital arguments caused a surge in ghrelin, one of your hunger hormones. Known as the “appetite increaser”, ghrelin is primarily released in the stomach and signals your brain when it’s time to eat.

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 a meal and three times after it (at two, four and seven hours after).

Food to Ease Discomfort   

So what does this study mean to you? To be clear, arguments or underlying hostility do not cause hunger or poor food choices, but there is a pretty significant link between the two.

As a result, 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”.

Published in Clinical Psychological Science, the results of this study are helpful in understanding how marital difficulties can lead to unhealthy weight and the resultant health problems. So, how’s YOUR marriage? Is your weight on the rise?

Know the Triggers

Could you be reaching out to food to relieve the discomfort and social stressors you feel from your marriage, such as hostility, tension, rejection, and/or social isolation? Are you having difficulty controlling your appetite with specific types of food?
Dieter_sad_Dollarphotoclub_49504662If so, a “diet” that focuses on restriction, restraint and relentless self-control is not the answer. It’s a temporary fix to quickly lose weight and inevitably regain because it’s not addressing what’s driving you to eat the way you do.

Karen Owoc logoKaren’s Fit Tip: This study exemplifies that there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” weight loss program. To lose weight, you need a personalized intervention and treatment plan that underscores a lifetime of good nutrition, exercise and stress management. Find a clinician who is empathetic to your physiological triggers.

It is not enough to delve into your psyche and psychosocial status and amp up your need to lose weight and live disease-free. It’s critical to understand the relationship between you and your spouse — what could be the fundamental key to your successful weight loss.


L. M. Jaremka, M. A. Belury, R. R. Andridge, M. E. Lindgren, D. Habash, W. B. Malarkey, J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser. Novel Links Between Troubled Marriages and Appetite Regulation: Marital Distress, Ghrelin, and Diet Quality. Clinical Psychological Science, 2015; DOI: 10.1177/2167702615593714

University of Delaware. “Link between marital distress, poor food choices found by study.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 August 2015.

Karen Owoc

Karen Owoc is a certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist specializing in cardiology. Her back-to-basics, science-based approach to longevity, nutrition, and muscle health has made her the go-to source for health seekers and medical professionals alike. Karen's best-selling book on functional longevity, Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100 and her transformative perspective have reshaped and mended many minds, hearts, and spirits.

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