It’s common wisdom that a bad fight with your significant other can make you want to eat your feelings—usually in the form of something fried or fatty. And now there’s some science to prove it. Researchers have discovered that major arguments between married partners often preceded an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that causes hunger, meaning that fighting with your spouse isn’t necessarily just bad for your emotional health, but your physical health as well.
The revelation comes in a new paper, “Novel Links Between Troubled Marriages and Appetite Regulation,” published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. Lead author Lisa Jaremka of the University of Delaware looked at 43 couples and found that regardless of gender, arguments regularly correlated with spikes in ghrelin, though only in those people who were at a healthy weight or were overweight (as opposed to obese). Obese participants showed little difference. “So it didn’t matter for obese people if they were in a happy or not so happy marriage. They were having poor diet choices regardless of what was happening in their marriage,” Jaremka told Delaware Public Media.
For the rest of the group, though, the study suggests these hormonal changes might be the trigger that leads people in distressed marriages to take on poorer diets and, in turn, poorer health.
Though such findings might seem a bit obvious, Jaremka believes it’s important to show the science behind these results. “Up until now there hasn’t been much empirical evidence to suggest if that belief is true one way or another,” she said. “So I think it’s important to run a study like this where we’re trying to see if there’s a kernel of truth to that idea that being stressed in your marriage might influence the types of foods that you’re eating.”