Partners Gaining Weight Together
By Mary Hartley, RD and Carolyn Richardson
Ahem... should we tell Will and Kate now or later that marriage makes you fat? A considerable body of research shows that the weights of spouses are correlated. Bills, babies and body mass index, committed partners share them all. There is a lot of speculation about why it happens, but nobody knows the reasons for sure.
Original research published in the journal Obesity showed that the first two years of marriage are associated with a significant weight gain. The study’s authors tracked the weight and relationship status of 6,949 individuals over several years, and they found that married people – and even couples who move in together – were more likely to become obese. Cohabitating couples ate more high-calorie foods and were less active. And, to top it off, couples that got divorced lost a significant amount of weight over the first two years!
In another study published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, women who lived with a mate put on more pounds than women who live without one. Researchers followed 6000 Australian women over 10 years and they told The New York Times that, after adjusting for other variables, the 10-year weight gain for an average 140-pound woman was 20 pounds if she had a baby and a partner, 15 if she had a partner but no baby, and only 11 pounds if she was childless with no partner. Those authors concluded that having a baby had a marked effect on weight gain, but so did other lifestyle factors that came with having a partner.
No body knows for sure why women who live with men gain weight. Gaining excess weight during pregnancy is certainly a problem, but many more factors are involved. Some say that people who are not “on the market” might not be trying to look their best. Others say that women with husbands and partners have a more active social life, eating out more often. Danielle Omar, a registered dietitian, told The New York Times, “Couples tend to drink alcohol with meals and eat dessert after a big meal more often.” And then women are served the same size meal as their husbands, who need more food. Married people may sit down to bigger dinners at home more often. (And then there’s the weirdness of feeding the spouse to promote excess weight gain to make them less attractive.) And do not forget about the impact of couple- and family-related stress, incompatible food habits, metabolism that slows down with age, more medications, and all sorts of little things that add up to quite a few pounds.
So what happens when a spouse tries to lose excess weight? The partner follows suit. A study by Amy Gorin, working with Rena Wing, found that weight loss treatment affects the untreated spouse. Specifically, her results, published in the Internal Journal of Obesity, saw an overall reduction in the intake calories and high-fat foods by the untreated spouse. Another study by Gorin, while smaller in scope, found that in some cases, the support person does better than the weight loss program participant!
For a real life case study of gaining and losing together, read Couples Syndrome about how Calorie Count co-founder Erik Fantasia and his partner, Heather Curtis, faced their problem of creeping weight.
Have you seen married couples gain weight? How can they prevent it?