Nav: Home

Bad break-ups may not trigger weight gain from emotional eating

October 17, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- That pint of ice cream after a nasty breakup may not do as much damage as you think. Despite the emotional turmoil, people on average do not report gaining weight after a relationship dissolution, according to new research.

The study, which included researchers from Penn State, were investigating the German concept of "kummerspeck" -- excess weight gain due to emotional eating -- which literally translates to "grief bacon."

Marissa Harrison, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg, said that while 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," Harrison said. "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."

According to the researchers, it has been 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.

Additionally, ancient relationship dynamics may have made packing on the pounds after a breakup evolutionary 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 researchers completed two studies to test the theory that people may be more likely to gain weight after a relationship breakup. In the first one, the researchers 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. According to Harrison, she and the other researchers were surprised by this result and decided to perform an additional study.

For the second study, 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 -- recently published in the Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium -- 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."
-end-
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.

Penn State

Related Modern Humans Articles:

Modern humans, Neanderthals share a tangled genetic history, study affirms
A new study reinforces the concept that Neanderthal DNA has been woven into the modern human genome on multiple occasions as our ancestors met Neanderthals time and again in different parts of the world.
Europe's Neanderthals relied on the sea as much as early modern humans
The first significant evidence of marine resource use among Europe's Neanderthals is detailed in a new report, demonstrating a level of marine adaptation previously only seen in their contemporary modern humans living in southern Africa.
Infectious disease defenses among ancient hominid contributions to adaptation of modern humans
In a new study published in the advanced online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution, scientists Alexandre Gouy and Laurent Excoffier have developed new computational tools to better analyze human genome datasets, and found more evidence of a legacy of ancient hominid adaptation, particularly to help fight off infectious diseases like malaria.
Early modern humans cooked starchy food in South Africa, 170,000 years ago
The inhabitants of the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the Kwazulu-Natal/eSwatini border were cooking starchy plants 170,000 years ago.
Researchers determine age for last known settlement by a direct ancestor to modern humans
An international team of researchers has determined the age of the last known settlement of the species Homo erectus, one of modern humans' direct ancestors.
The homeland of modern humans
A landmark study pinpoints the birthplace of modern humans in southern Africa and suggests how past climate shifts drove their first migration.
Insight into competitive advantage of modern humans over Neanderthals
A team of Japanese and Italian researchers, including from Tohoku University, have evidenced mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe dating to 45,000-40,000 years -- more than 20,000 years than previously thought.
Extinct human species gave modern humans an immunity boost
Garvan researchers have discovered a gene variant that sheds new light on how human immunity was fine-tuned through history.
What the noggin of modern humans' ancestor would have looked like
Despite having lived about 300,000 years ago, the oldest ancestor of all members of our species had a surprisingly modern skull -- as suggested by a model created by CNRS researcher Aurélien Mounier and Cambridge University professor Marta Mirazón Lahr.
Exposing modern forgers
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a process that can provide conclusive evidence with regard to modern fakes of paintings, even in cases where the forger used old materials.
More Modern Humans News and Modern Humans Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.