Weight Conversations in Romantic Relationships: What Do They Sound Like and How Do Partners Respond?

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Abstract

Introduction: The limited research examining weight conversations (i.e., conversations about weight, body shape, or size) in adult romantic relationships has shown associations between engaging in these conversations and disordered eating behaviors, overweight/obesity, and psychosocial problems in adults. Given the potential harmful consequences of these conversations, it is important to gather more rich qualitative data to understand how weight talk is experienced in romantic relationships and how romantic partners respond to these conversations. Methods: Adults (n = 118; mean age 35 years) from a cross-sectional study were interviewed in their homes. The majority of adults (90% female; mean age = 35 years) were from minority (64% African American) and low-income (<$25,000/year) households. Qualitative data were analyzed using inductive content analysis. Results: Sixty-five percent of participants reported that weight conversations were occurring in their romantic relationships. Qualitative themes included the following: (a) Weight conversations were direct and focused on physical characteristics; (b) weight conversations included joking or sarcastic remarks; (c) weight conversations focused on “we” and being healthy; (d) weight conversations occurred after watching TV or movies, as a result of insecurities in oneself, as length of the relationship increased, or as partners aged; and (e) partners responded to weight conversations by feeling insecure or by engaging in reciprocal weight conversations with their romantic partner. Discussion: Weight conversations were prevalent in romantic relationships, with some conversations experienced as negative and some positive. Qualitative themes from the current study should be confirmed in quantitative studies to inform future intervention research targeting weight conversations in romantic relationships.

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