Messages of acceptance and BMI: why we should all be more like Mark Darcy this Christmas

As the Christmas season begins to consume us, what we ourselves consume can often lead to unwanted spare tyres and hasty New Year’s resolutions. But before you let slip a light-hearted comment about a family member’s festive rotundity, bear in mind the potential impact this may have: remarks relating to weight can directly cause an increase in BMI, according to a new study published in the journal Personal Relationships.

“I like you….just the way you are” – it turns out that, as ever, Mark Darcy had the right idea. We all like to be liked exactly as we are, and a new study lead by Professor Christine Logel at the University of Waterloo suggests that this may be all the more important in women with existing concerns about their weight.

 

Mark Darcy

 

Social acceptance has an obvious impact on our psychological well-being; however, research has shown that acceptance and consequential self-concept also support our physical health. Logel and co-authors investigated this by asking women to report the weight-related comments they received from family, friends and partners over a nine-month period, while the participants’ BMI, body satisfaction, self-esteem and general stress were analysed at three points to observe changes over time. Receiving messages of acceptance was found to influence the BMI of body-conscious women, causing a decrease in weight-related stress, along with weight maintenance and even loss. On the other hand, receiving fewer acceptance messages caused the reverse, with an increase in stressful weight concerns and BMI.

The study additionally pointed to the negative effect of pressurizing weight-loss comments; “we all know someone who points out our weight gain or offers to help us lose weight. These results suggest that these comments are misguided,” said Professor Logel.

Stress itself can cause weight gain through physiological fat storage and behavioural coping mechanisms such as over-eating, while perceived social stigma in weight-conscious individuals can reduce self-control and cause increased calorie consumption. Logel’s findings suggest that messages of acceptance may be an important way to promote emotional and physical well-being, reducing stress and helping people to manage and even reduce their weight. Perhaps everyone should just be more like Mark Darcy this Christmas…

 

 

Logel, C., Stinson, D.A., Gunn, G.R., Wood, J.V., Holmes, J.G. and Cameron, J.J. (2014) A little acceptance is good for your health: Interpersonal messages and weight change over time. Personal Relationships 21 (4)

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Veronica Wignall

Veronica is a Biology graduate from the University of Bristol, she is currently an editorial assistant but hopes to move into science media comms! Follow Veronica on Twitter @vronwig

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