(KRON) — After marriage, it is often seen that men, and especially women, start gaining weight. On average, married women gain 24 pounds in the first five years of marriage.

In a study of 43 couples, researchers found a connection between marital stress and making poor food choices.

Here’s the science behind why your marriage may be the cause behind packing on those extra pounds.

The Marital Study

Forty-three couples participated in this study, which was performed by researchers at the University of Delaware and Ohio State University College of Medicine.

To qualify for the study, the couples had to be married for at least three years and have frequent hostile exchanges.

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, which they judged to be their most conflict-inducing topics, e.g., money, communication, or in-laws. 

One couple did not show up for the second session.

Appetite-relevant hormones were tested at four different times of the day — once before a meal and three times after it — at 2, 4, and 7 hours after eating.  

What the Marital Arguments Produced

The study revealed a strong correlation in healthy weight and overweight subjects with appetite and eating patterns.

They found that hostile marital arguments caused a surge in ghrelin (the “I’m hungry” hormone) in the healthy weight and overweight couples.

Known as the appetite increaser, ghrelin is primarily released in the stomach and signals your brain when it’s time to eat.

Couples who were obese (having a BMI of 30 or higher) were relatively unaffected, which raised questions and needs further research.

The study did not find any correlations with leptin, the appetite suppressing hormone.

The Foods Distressed Partners Chose to Eat

In the study, distressed partners (both husband and wife) sought food that was typically higher in fat, sugar and/or salt, that is, poorer quality food and what many might consider “comfort food”.

Per the study, arguments or underlying hostility do not cause hunger or poor food choices, but there is a pretty significant link between the two.

In general, women and men tend to crave different types of food — sweet vs. salty and/or high in fat.

Typical Comfort Foods for Women

  • Chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • Cookies, cakes, candy

Typical Comfort Foods for Men:

  • Chips
  • Steak
  • Pizza
  • Casseroles (e.g., mac ’n cheese, lasagna)

What Do the Results Mean?

The results of this study are helpful in understanding how marital difficulties can lead to unhealthy weight and resultant health problems.

Marital distress is strongly linked to appetite and eating behavior, which has longer-term health implications, such as cardiovascular disease, premature mortality, and diabetes.

Social Stressors and Triggers for Marital Distress

The following feelings you may be experiencing from your marriage could be triggers to choose food as a way to relieve the emotional discomfort:

  • Hostility
  • Tension
  • Rejection, and/or
  • Social isolation*

*Marital distress threatens the basic human need for close and caring relationships.

If you are having difficulty controlling your appetite with specific types of food, a “diet” that focuses on restriction, restraint and relentless self-control is not the answer and just perpetuates the emotional eating cycle.

A diet promotes “The 3 D’s” (Deprivation, Defeat, and Depression) and is the catalyst for chronic emotional eating.

A diet is 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. 

One Size Does Not Fit All

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, stress management, and behavior modification. Find a clinician who is empathetic to your emotional triggers.

The Takeaway:  It is not enough to delve into your own psyche and psychosocial status, it is essential that you understand the relationship between you and your spouse — what could be the fundamental key to your successful weight loss.

Karen Owoc, ACSM-CEP, ACSM/ACS-CET, is a clinical exercise physiologist in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center, health educator, and longevity author of “Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100”. karenowoc.com