Happily Fatter After

by Charles Platkin, PhD

In fact, according to a study by Cornell University’s Jeffery Sobal, Ph.D., published in Social Science and Medicine, newlyweds gain more weight than singles or people who are widowed or divorced. Another study in Obesity Research reported an average weight gain of six to eight pounds over a two-year period after getting married.

“There is a definite relationship between marriage and weight gain,” says Dr. Sobal. Why? Well, marriage leads to more “regular” meals, especially more restaurant meals, which means more fatty foods and larger portions. Married people also tend to prepare larger amounts of food, so portion sizes increase, and they pay less attention to what they’re eating because they’re dining with another person.

Additionally, people tend to take on the habits and patterns of their spouses. According to Sobal, one of the selection criteria used to pick your spouse is how he/she eats. “If you’re a vegetarian, or a gourmet diner, you are more likely to feel comfortable with someone who shares your individual eating traits. Think about it — you’re going to be eating with this person the rest of your life — it’s important,” says Sobal.

According to David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., professor of public health at Yale University School of Medicine, one reason for weight gain after marriage is the “I’ve got him/her now, so I don’t have to work so hard” mentality. He also suggests that “increased responsibilities, decreased leisure time, increased stress/financial pressure, and reduced time spent in athletic pursuits” are all factors. And finally, eating with another person “makes it okay” and more “fun” to consume “sin” foods like cookies, cakes, ice cream, and chips.

In Obesity Research, Robert Jeffery, Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, reported that individuals tend to lose weight after divorce or losing a spouse. Experts are hesitant to speculate exactly why, but “research has shown that dining alone leads to smaller portions and overall decreased consumption,” explains Sobal.

According to a new study from Duke University Medical Center appearing in the Journal of Women’s Health, researchers found women faced an average of seven percent increased risk of obesity per child born, and men, an average of four percent.

“On top of the sleepless nights and irregular feeding schedules, there are real changes that couples undergo when starting a family that relate to their food and activity behavior. Couples spend more time at home and become less active, and this is the pattern that they tend to stick with,” explains Lori Bastian, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center. Additionally, fast food, nibbling here and there, and eating anything that’s fast and tastes good become the norm. As for exercise, who has the time?

So, what can you do to avoid “The Wedding Waistline?”

Beware of Marital Sabotage: “One of the most common challenges to weight control in marriage is sabotage. This is when one of the pair is threatened by the weight loss efforts of the other. The resultant behavior is an effort, subtle or not, to undermine the spouse, often by bringing ‘seductive’ foods into the home,” says Katz. Also, many of our major activities involve food — romantic dinners, popcorn at the movies, socializing at restaurants — and “a partner can feel threatened that family fun will be thwarted. This builds a lot of resentment, making it a very emotional issue,” says Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., M.A., R.D., author of Your Diet Is Driving Me Crazy (Marlowe & Company, 2004).

Keep the Family Peace: Sit down with your family and have a reasonable, rational discussion about why it’s critical for you to lose weight. Explain that they don’t have to modify their way of life, but they should at least support your objective. Let your partner know how important losing weight is to you. “A partner should make it clear that not supporting his or her weight loss efforts makes it much more difficult to lose,” says Sass. Just make sure it’s clear you don’t want them watching all your food choices like a hawk. I don’t know about your family, but that could start an all-out war in mine.

Do it Together: Have your partner (and your entire family) eat healthier along with you. Studies have shown that partners who diet together lose more weight than those who don’t. You can make it fun, taking low-fat cooking classes together, shopping for tasty low-calorie foods, and taking long romantic walks.

Make it Separate: You don’t always have to eat the same foods as your partner, meal after meal. Try to cook separately if your partner doesn’t want to participate in healthier eating. For instance, you could both have chicken, one grilled and the other fried. When getting takeout, there is no rule that you have to order from the same place. And finally, when it comes to dining out, you could compromise, taking turns choosing the restaurant. This way, you have a chance to pick the healthier ones.

Avoid Parental Gain: Keep yourself conscious of not letting these “family additions” add to your waistline. Instead of fast food, use quick and easy low-calorie frozen dinners (e.g. Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones). Babies need fresh air too — take long walks using your stroller. You might even want to invest in a jogging stroller. Keep in mind, if you’re overweight, your kids will likely be overweight — they inherit more than just your genes. So be a positive role model of healthy eating for them.

Prepare in Advance: If your spouse is a “poor eater” and won’t exercise, be prepared. Think about your meals in advance; prepare for social occasions such as eating out or parties. Come up with strategies to help you stay in control — like keeping low-calorie fudge pops in the freezer for when your spouse is enjoying bowl after bowl of ice cream.

But it’s not all bad! Most studies say that being married actually helps you live a longer, healthier life. Plus, with some thoughtful communication, there’s nothing better than the support and encouragement of your significant other to help you achieve your goals.

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