Emotional Eating After Bad Breakup May Not Lead to Weight Gain

Going for that pint of ice cream after a bad breakup may not do as much damage as you think. A new study shows that despite the emotional turmoil, people on average do not report gaining weight after a breakup.

The study, which included researchers from Penn State, investigated the German concept of “kummerspeck” — excess weight gain due to emotional eating — which literally translates to “grief bacon.”

According to the researchers, although hoarding food after a breakup may have made sense for humans thousands of years ago, modern humans may have grown out of the habit.

“Food was much scarcer in the ancestral environment, so if your partner abandoned you, it could have made gathering food much harder,” said Dr. Marissa Harrison, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg.

“It may have made sense if our ancestors hoarded food after a breakup. But our research showed that while it’s possible people may drown their sorrows in ice cream for a day or two, modern humans do not tend to gain weight after a breakup.”

The findings are published in the Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium.

The researchers say it is well documented that people sometimes use food as a way to cope with negative feelings and that emotional eating can lead to unhealthy food choices. Because breakups can be stressful and emotional, it could potentially trigger emotional eating.

In addition, ancient relationship dynamics may have made packing on the pounds after a breakup evolutionarily advantageous.

“Modern women of course have jobs and access to resources now, but back then, it was likely that women were smaller and needed more protection and help with resources,” Harrison said.

“If their partner left or abandoned them, they would be in trouble. And the same could have gone for men. With food not as plentiful in the ancestral world, it may have made sense for people to gorge to pack on the pounds.”

Harrison also noted that the existence of the word “kummerspeck” itself suggested that the phenomenon existed.

The research team conducted two studies to test the theory that people may be more likely to gain weight after a relationship breakup. In the first experiment, they recruited 581 people to complete an online survey about whether they had recently gone through a breakup and whether they gained or lost weight within a year of that breakup.

Most of the participants — 62.7 percent — reported no weight change. The researchers were surprised by this result and decided to perform an additional study.

For the second experiment, the researchers recruited 261 new participants to take a different, more extensive survey than the one used in the first study. The new survey asked whether participants had ever experienced the dissolution of a long-term relationship, and whether they gained or lost weight as a result.

The survey also asked about participants’ attitudes toward their ex-partner, how committed the relationship was, who initiated the breakup, whether the participants tended to eat emotionally, and how much participants enjoy food in general.

While all participants reported experiencing a break up at some point in their lives, the majority of participants — 65.13 percent — reported no change in weight after relationship dissolution.

“We were surprised that in both studies, which included large community samples, we found no evidence of kummerspeck,” Harrison said. “The only thing we found was in the second study, women who already had a proclivity for emotional eating did gain weight after a relationship breakup. But it wasn’t common.”

Harrison added that the results may have clinical implications.

“It could be helpful information for clinicians or counselors with patients who tend to eat emotionally,” Harrison said. “If your client is going through a breakup and already engages in emotional eating, this may be a time where they need some extra support.”

Victoria Warner, a Penn State Harrisburg graduate student, was the lead author of this study. Samantha Horn from Penn State Harrisburg and Susan Hughes from Albright College also participated in this work.

Source: Penn State

Self-Silencing Women May See Increased Risk of Stroke

A new study shows that women who do not speak up for themselves — called self-silencing — have increased carotid plaque buildup, which could lead to a stroke or other cardiovascular problems.

People engage in a range of behaviors to maintain close relationships, some of which may be costly to their own health, researchers note. One of those damaging behaviors is self-silencing, which is sometimes used to avoid conflict or relationship loss. Although self-silencing has been linked to worse mental and self-reported physical health in women, it has not been previously examined in relation to women’s cardiovascular health, researchers note.

In this new study of 304 nonsmoking women, researchers tested whether self-silencing was associated with carotid atherosclerosis. They found that greater self-silencing was related to increased odds of plaque, independent of socio-demographics, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and depression.

The results were based on women’s self-reporting on a range of factors, such as how often they expressed anger or put someone else’s needs before their own, the researchers reported. Ultrasound imaging was used to quantify carotid plaque.

“Given increased public health interest in women’s experiences in intimate relationships, our results suggest that women’s socio-emotional expression may be relevant to their cardiovascular health,” said lead author Karen Jakubowski from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

The study was presented at the 2019 North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting.

Source: The North American Menopause Society

Around The World, Kindness Tops Qualities Sought In A Mate

A new UK study finds one of the top qualities we look for in a long-term partner is kindness. Researchers from Swansea University queried over 2,700 college students from across the globe to select the characteristics they would want in an ideal lifelong partner.

Investigators used a novel study method that entailed providing students with a “fixed” budget by which they could “buy” characteristics of an ideal mate. While traits like physical attractiveness and financial prospects were important, the one that was given the highest priority was kindness.

Study findings appears in the Journal of Personality.

The study compared the dating preferences of students from Eastern countries, for example Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and Western countries such as the UK, Norway and Australia.

Students were given eight attributes they could spend “mate dollars” on: physical attractiveness, good financial prospects, kindness, humor, chastity, religiosity, the desire for children, and creativity.

While there were some differences in behavior between Eastern and Western students, there were also some remarkable similarities.

People typically spent 22-26 percent of their total budget on kindness, and large parts of their budget on physical attractiveness and good financial prospects, while traits like creativity and chastity received less than 10 percent.

The research team also found some interesting sex differences; both Eastern and Western men allocated more of their budget to physical attractiveness than women (22% vs 16%) while women allocated more to good financial prospects than men (18% vs 12%).

The principal investigator, Dr. Andrew G. Thomas, believes studying mate preferences across cultures is important for understanding human behavior.

“Looking at very different culture groups allows us to test the idea that some behaviors are human universals.

“If men and women act in a similar way across the globe, then this adds weight to the idea that some behaviors develop in spite of culture rather than because of it.”

The results also showed a difference in a partner’s desire for children, which was a priority only for Western women.

“We think this may have something to do with family planning,” said Thomas. “In cultures where contraception is widespread, a partner’s desire for children may predict the likelihood of starting a family.

“In contrast, in cultures where contraception use is less widespread, having children may be a natural consequence of sex within a relationship, making actual desire for children less relevant.”

Source: Swansea University/EurekAlert

Married People May Be Less Likely to Get Dementia

A new study has found that married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.

The study, by researchers at Michigan State University, also found that divorcees are about twice as likely as married people to develop dementia, with divorced men showing a greater disadvantage than divorced women.

For the study, a research team led by Dr. Hui Liu, a professor of sociology, analyzed four groups of unmarried individuals: divorced or separated; widowed; never married; and cohabiters.

The researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the Health and Retirement Study, from 2000 to 2014. The sample included more than 15,000 people ages 52 and older in 2000, measuring their cognitive function every two years, in person or via telephone.

The analysis revealed that the divorced had the highest risk of dementia.

“This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults in the United States continues to grow, as people live longer and their marital histories become more complex,” Liu said. “Marital status is an important, but overlooked, social risk/protective factor for dementia.”

The researchers also found differing economic resources only partly accounted for higher dementia risk among divorced, widowed, and never-married people, but couldn’t account for higher risk in cohabiters.

In addition, health-related factors, such as behaviors and chronic conditions, slightly influenced risk among the divorced and married, but didn’t seem to affect other marital statuses, the researchers said.

“These findings will be helpful for health policy makers and practitioners who seek to better identify vulnerable populations and to design effective intervention strategies to reduce dementia risk,” Liu said.

The study was published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

Source: Michigan State University

New Partner May Mean Same Old Relationship Issues

An eight-year study suggests starting over with a new partner may  lead to the same relationship dynamics, good or bad, as those in past broken relationships.

Researchers from the University of Alberta and the University of Jena in Germany carried out the longitudinal study on 554 Germans. They discovered that after the glow of the honeymoon phase had faded, prior relationship patterns often surfaced.

“Although some relationship dynamics may change, you are still the same person, so you likely recreate many of the same patterns with the next partner,” said Dr. Matthew Johnson, a U of A relationship researcher and lead author on the study.

“New love is great, but relationships continue past that point.”

The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, is among the first of its kind to explore new versus old relationship issues over the long term. Investigators surveyed people at four points: a year before their first intimate relationship ended and again in the final year, then within the first year of the new relationship and again a year after that.

Seven relationship aspects were reviewed, including satisfaction, frequency of sex, ability to open up to a partner, how often they expressed appreciation for the other person and confidence in whether the relationship would last.

All but two aspects were stable across the past and present relationships.

The exceptions were frequency of sex and expressing admiration for your partner; both increased in the second relationship, which would be expected, according to Johnson.

“These aspects are directly dependent on a partner’s behavior, so we are more likely to see changes in these areas,” he said.

However, Johnson noted the level of sexual satisfaction tended to stay the same as in the prior relationship even though sexual frequency increased.

People may feel that a new relationship is different but that’s because of how past partnerships end, the study showed.

“Things get worse as a relationship ends, and when we start a new one, everything is wonderful at first, because we’re not involving our partner in everyday life like housework and child care. The relationship exists outside of those things,” Johnson said.

But most relationship dynamics during the middle phase of the prior relationship, when things were going well, were similar to those of the second relationship, after the initial honeymoon phase had passed.

“There’s a lot of change in between, but more broadly, we do have stability in how we are in relationships,” Johnson noted.

That could be both good and bad.

“It’s good in a sense that we as individuals can bring ourselves and our experiences into relationships; we aren’t totally trying to change who we are, and that continuity shows we stay true to ourselves,” Johnson explained.

In fact, relationships end for a lot of reasons and breaking up shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a failure, he added.

“It could be the best possible outcome for the people involved.”

The downside of bringing the same dynamic to new relationships is that people may not be learning from their mistakes.

“Just starting a new partnership doesn’t mean things are going to be different. This research shows that chances are, you are going to fall into the same patterns in many aspects of the relationship. Even if things are different, they’re not guaranteed to be better,” Johnson said.

The study also showed that people who tended to experience a lot of negative emotions fared worse in their second relationships–they tended to have lower relationship and sexual satisfaction, less frequent sex, fewer expressions of admiration and more conflict.

“Who you are matters, and addressing personal issues is going to be very impactful on whether you’ll be successful in your relationship or not,” Johnson said.

It’s important to have an honest view of our past romances as we move into new ones, said Johnson, who conducted the study with Prof. Franz J. Neyer.

“Because of how badly a relationship ends, that colors our view of the whole thing. But having a more balanced view of the negatives and positives gives us realistic expectations for the new relationship.”

Source: University of Alberta

Study: Trans College Students Far More Likely to Have Mental Health Issues

A new study has found that gender minority students, whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned them at birth, are between two and four times more likely to experience mental health problems than their peers.

“There has never been a more important time for colleges and universities to take action to protect and support trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary students on campus,” said study lead author Dr. Sarah Ketchen Lipson, a Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor of health law, policy & management.

For the study, the researchers looked at rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, and suicidality in a sample of more than 1,200 gender minority students from 71 colleges and universities.

About 78 percent of the gender minority students included in the study met the criteria for one or more mental health problems, with nearly 60 percent screening positive for clinically significant depression, compared to 28 percent of cisgender students, whose sex assigned at birth aligns with their current gender identity.

The findings stem from an analysis of two waves of data collected between fall 2015 and spring 2017 through the Healthy Minds Study, a national, annual survey about campus mental health that Lipson co-leads with University of Michigan colleague Daniel Eisenberg.

The Healthy Minds Study, which more than 300,000 US college students have voluntarily taken since its launch in 2007, uses clinically validated methods of screening for symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health concerns.

The survey includes space for participants to fill in their assigned gender at birth as well as their current gender identity, which allowed the researchers to filter their analysis and focus on the collective mental health of gender minority students.

“Reports that more than 40 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide in their lifetimes suggested, to me, that there is a large and disproportionate burden of disease among [people in the gender minority] that public health research can contribute to addressing,” said Dr. Julia Raifman, BU School of Public Health assistant professor of health law, policy & management.

According to the researchers, the findings from the Healthy Minds Study reinforce the disparities facing gender minority students revealed by other research, which has shown that college dropout rates are higher among transgender students, and that they experience near-constant discrimination and harassment.

Bathrooms and housing are some of the most stressful areas on college campuses for transgender students, with research showing that transgender college students are at significantly higher risk for suicide and attempted suicide when denied access to gender-appropriate bathrooms and housing on college campuses.

“Mental health outcomes, as well as negative educational outcomes like dropping out, are preventable,” says Lipson. “The most effective way to prevent them would be, from my perspective, through policy changes. Inclusive policies are necessary to advance equity. And that’s what I really want these data to speak to.”

The researchers add they hope that officials in higher education will use the study’s results as a springboard for more urgent action, such as addressing gender minority needs in housing policies, creating or revising policies that allow students to change their name in campus records, improving mental health resources on campuses, and raising awareness of gender minority issues.

The researchers plan to continue using data from the Healthy Minds Study with the eventual goal of recording longitudinal data that follows gender minority students throughout their college experience, examining mental health alongside individual, institutional, and societal factors. They say additional research is also needed to explore the intersectionality of gender identities with other identities, such as race or religious beliefs.

“We are in a time when transgender people are being denied equal rights to jobs, to housing, to healthcare, and to participation in the military. These data suggest that new policies eliminating equal rights for transgender people are affecting a population that already experiences a disproportionate burden of disease,” said Raifman, referring to recent actions initiated by the Trump administration, such as banning transgender individuals from serving in the military and rolling back Obama-era rules intended to protect transgender individuals from discrimination.

“As next steps, it will be important to evaluate whether equal rights or the elimination of equal rights for transgender people affects mental health disparities,” she concluded.

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Source: Boston University