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Food bullying is an abusive behavior you should know about

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

If your partner controls your eating habits, you might be in an abusive relationship

A three-course hot breakfast every morning, a gourmet meal every night and all the decadent treats you could ever want, cooked just for you: It sounds like a foodie's dream but according to one woman, it was her personal hell.

Maria Louise Warne says her husband (now ex) used food to bully and abuse her, forcing her to gain over 60 pounds and destroying her self-confidence in the process. But can feeding someone really be considered abuse?

"It was like I was a prize bull being fattened up for market," Maria explained to the Daily Mail. "It's easy to say, 'Well, you didn't have to eat it, he didn't shove the food down your throat' but it was as good as. I just couldn't refuse him. It was guilt coupled with the fact he would descend into a huge sulk if I refused."

Alisa Ruby Bash, LMFT, a relationship expert in Beverly Hills, California, says food bullying is not as uncommon as you might think. "Pushing someone to eat when they're not hungry, shaming them for eating something you don't approve of or making fun of someone's eating habits can all be a type of emotional abuse," she explains, adding that you often see this with other types of abusive behaviors like extreme jealousy, paranoia, constant questioning, isolating the person from family and friends and even physical violence.

Often, she says, it's a sign the person is jealous of their partner and is insecure about the relationship, worrying that if their partner loses weight she will suddenly become attractive to other men and will want to leave. This insecurity can lead to food bullying by shaming food choices or trying to force weight gain to make someone more unattractive, which is what Maria says happened to her.

"He's 20 years older than I am and I continued to work. So he cooked and decided what and when we ate. God forbid I ever suggested I would go on a diet," Maria says, adding that for her husband, food was all about controlling her.

Even if the person enjoys eating all the food, it can still be abusive Alisa says. "If someone is struggling with their weight, then giving them food makes that person an enabler of the addiction. It gives them power over the [food] addict and can be another way of manipulating them."

Some men encourage their women to gain weight as a sexual fetish or simply because they find larger women more attractive. And while having a sexual preference is totally fine, Alisa says that if your partner's expectations make you uncomfortable, then that's where you have to draw the line. "Of course you want him to find you attractive but in the end you have to be true to yourself and he should support that," she explains.

So where do you draw the line between the awesome boyfriend who cooks you a pancake breakfast every Saturday morning, the clueless guy who brings you ice cream when he knows you're on a diet and the controlling man who uses food as a weapon? If it makes you uncomfortable, then it's time to have a conversation about it, Alisa says.

"If it comes up once and you address the insecurities and he agrees not to do it anymore, then great, but if it happens repeatedly, even after you tell him how it makes you feel, that's abuse. It's a deal-breaker," she explains. "You have to ask yourself, if they're so willing to ignore your feelings in this area, then how else will they sabotage you?"

In the end Maria says she dropped her husband and dropped the excess weight almost as quickly. Her body returned to her "happy weight" as soon as she returned to eating when she was hungry and took up jogging. Now she shares her story to help other women recognize the role that food can play in emotional abuse.

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