Life Stages that Bust Diets

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Getting Married
When it comes to diet-busting life stages, marriage is in a category all its own. There is a direct relationship between marriage and weight gain. In fact, a study done at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis that was reported in Obesity Research documented an average gain of 6 to 8 pounds over a two-year period after getting married.

Marriage means more frequent and regular meals — and lots of dining out — which means high calories, carbs and fat as well as larger portions. But even when cooking at home, married people tend to prepare larger amounts of food than singles, so portion sizes increase. And they pay less attention to what they’re eating because they’re dining with another person. Then, between and after meals, there’s a lot of sitting around watching TV and eating more sweet and salty, high-calorie foods.

Additionally, people tend to take on the habits and patterns of their spouses. And lastly, we tend to be a little more lax and let our guards down after getting married, so we’re more likely to miss a morning at the gym now and then.

The Fix: Mentally prepare for eating out. It’s not always easy to eat healthy while dining in a restaurant and having a good time, so, make sure to pick places where you can order healthful dishes. And just because you’re newly in love doesn’t mean you have to have dessert with every meal. D. Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, encourages his patients to order appetizers as their entrees or to start the meal with a tomato-based soup or field green salad and then share an entree.

If your partner has unhealthy eating habits, maintain your eating and exercise independence and try to set a positive example (no nagging, though). Keep in mind, your partner may have a faster metabolism or a more active lifestyle than you. He or she might be able eat a pint of ice cream and not gain weight. Have alternative low-cal foods in the house so you can eat something when he or she indulges. Also, have a talk with your new spouse and try to set limits on bringing tempting food into the house.

Set up a regular workout routine that will fit into your schedule, and tie it to something you have to do every day anyway (e.g., dropping the mail off at the post office). Remember that being physically fit helps keep your marriage healthy because you’ll feel better about yourself and your partnership.

Having Children
If you have kids, you already know the situation. For the first few months, if not years, the challenges of parenting can seem overwhelming, and eating healthfully may feel impossible. Not to mention that new moms frequently struggle with losing the extra pounds they gained during pregnancy, and many fathers eat right along with their spouses. Even parents who exercised regularly before having a baby typically don’t anticipate the difficulty of weaving activity into their new, hectic schedules.

The Fix: Don’t let your waistline grow every time the family grows. Instead of various combinations of takeout and fast food, try preparing healthful foods over the weekend and freezing them to reheat later in the week. Big pots of soup or casseroles often make enough for more than one meal — and they’re great for packing in school or work lunches. You can also keep a supply of quick and easy low-calorie frozen dinners (e.g., Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones) on hand for when there’s just no time to cook. Look for the ones with lower sodium content.

Take the baby out for long walks in a stroller or try a parent-and-child activity class at a fitness center. Also, you might want to invest in a membership to Netflix ( and check out various exercise DVDs, or start your own collection by purchasing them online at

Divorce creates stress not only between former spouses but between parents and children as well. Researchers reporting in the journal Obesity Research found that individuals tend to lose weight after a divorce or the loss of a spouse. Experts are hesitant to speculate exactly why, but research has shown that dining alone leads to smaller portions and decreased consumption overall. Plus, the “back on the market” syndrome may be at work — that is, eating healthier foods, working out and dressing differently to create a better overall appearance.

The Fix: “If you’re eating less and maintaining your weight, there’s probably no real concern,” says Stokes. If the stress is making you turn to comfort foods, set limits and come up with healthful alternatives. Also, try increasing your physical activity. Getting more exercise has been shown to help make you feel better.

Many retirees spend lots of time on golf courses and tennis courts; however, most of their time is spent eating out and relaxing. There are cruise ships with big buffets, clubhouses, card games, and did I mention buffets? All of a sudden, life centers on food. Eating all those early-bird specials means larger portions and higher calories. And, as we get older it becomes more difficult to do everyday things, which is why physical activity, including strength training, is critical. Also, we lose lean muscle tissue, which means our metabolism slows down — which means we burn fewer calories.

The Fix: Metabolism slows with aging, so pick healthful meals ahead of time because it’s easy to lose focus when dining out socially.

Make sure you don’t fall into the “I’m getting old — it doesn’t matter anymore” syndrome, because it matters more than ever. In fact, the older you are the more reason you have to pay attention to diet and exercise; this is when it can make a big difference in your quality of life. Disease is not just about mortality, it can create significant discomfort while you’re here. Think about your grandchildren and the importance of their knowing you as healthy and fit — it sets a good example.

Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s aging process. Traditionally, the transition into menopause starts around age 47 and ends at about 51. It can create sleep difficulties and changes in mood, including depression, anxiety and/or irritability. Many women gain some weight, and their body fat is often redistributed. For instance, fat in the hips and thighs may move to the waist and stomach. And to top it all off, metabolism slows down so they’re burning fewer calories.

The Fix: Start moving. One of the best ways to combat these changes is through physical activity and strength training. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but if you start slowly, perhaps with a simple walking program, you can ease into it.

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