A Canadian study has revealed that people generally show a positive and supportive behaviour towards their partners' decision to change their diet, but sometimes they may respond in negative ways.
Dr. Judy Paisley, who led the study at Toronto-based Ryerson University, says that her team looked at how significant others would respond when their partners attempted to make a dietary change for health reasons.
"For most pairs, the significant others' emotional and behavioural responses to the dietary change appeared to reflect the general dynamics of the relationship," says Dr. Paisley.
Twenty-one persons making dietary changes, most in response to a medical diagnosis, were interviewed during the study. The researchers also interviewed the subjects' partners or significant others.
"By examining the perspectives of significant others, we hoped to deepen understanding of the social nature of dietary change," Dr. Paisley explains.
The researchers found that the emotional responses of the subjects' partners varied widely - from co-operation and encouragement to scepticism and anger.
In most cases, the significant others described themselves as playing a positive, supportive role. Some said that they facilitated the change by joining in the new diet, or by changing their shopping or cooking habits, while some said that they helped by monitoring the dietary change, finding and sharing information or providing motivation.
"Significant others who demonstrated strong support for their partner's dietary change typically described their relationship as very supportive and often saw their direct participation in the change as a natural extension of their relationship," Dr. Paisley says.
However, there were people who said that their partners had a negative impact on their efforts to change their food habits for health reasons. A partner's eating "forbidden" foods in front of the person trying to make a change is one example of such a hindrance.
Dr. Paisley said that in such cases, the significant others did not view their response as negative. There was only one case wherein both partners agreed that the significant other played a neutral role, she said.
The researcher said that her study differed from most others because previous studies of the role of social support on dietary behaviour focused on the perspective of the person attempting to make a change. She hopes that her study will aid in developing ways of promoting dietary modifications as a shared activity.
"Although most significant others described their response as co-operative and supportive, the responses varied widely in terms of the impact that their support may have had on changers' experiences," says Dr. Paisley.
"For example, indirect indications of support like not complaining about dietary changes may have been less meaningful to changers than direct support offered through positive reinforcement and encouragement," she adds.
The study has been published in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.