It’s a predictable pattern: Boy meets girl, boy gets serious with girl, boy and girl mutually gain weight. Similar to college and the “freshman fifteen,” it’s societally evident that weight gain is a common side-effect of a relationship. What’s not as obvious is that relationship satisfaction plays a pivotal role in how likely weight gain is to occur. Research found that couples in fulfilling relationships tend to gain more weight than those who are unsatisfied with their partners, presumably because they are confident enough in the relationship to reach for that second (or third, fourth) helping of pasta.
A survey commissioned by Diet Chef revealed two-thirds of couples gain relationship weight, a truth the sample largely attributed to developing a lazier lifestyle and dining out too often. Studies on the subject also found women tend to gain more “relationship weight” than men. Researchers cite the female metabolism and the gender’s collective tendency to prioritize the relationship's needs over their own as two of the stronger reasons the fairer sex is more susceptible. Weight gain typically occurs when the female partner shacks up with her man, where she then adopts his less-than-stellar eating habits. But this can go both ways. If one partner becomes obese, regardless of gender, the other has a 37 percent higher chance of also becoming obese.
According to Dr. Catherine Hankey, a nutritionist at the University of Glasgow who has spoken extensively on the matter, couples typically gain three or four pounds in the first three months of living together. Then, when married, newlyweds can gain an additional four to five pounds during their first year of marriage. “This is a huge cultural issue," Hankey told The New York Times. "People moving in together really need to watch their weight. Becoming obese is bad for self-esteem and can damage relationships too."
New research from Central Queensland University in Australia underscores this sentiment. Researchers examined a decade’s worth of data from more than 15,000 volunteers who were asked questions about their lifestyle choices. On average, people in happy relationships weighed 13 pounds more than their single counterparts, which involved an average weight gain of four pounds per year. However, the research discovered that couples actually eat more fruit and vegetables, better avoid fast food and steer clear from cigarettes at a higher rate than singles.
“While they may include more healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and less fast food, people often consume larger portion sizes and more calories in the company of others than they do alone, resulting in increased energy intake,” researchers wrote. They also found that when living together, couples often feel encouraged to stay in, watch television and drink alcohol together, all of which are behaviors that can lead to weight gain.
Couples that are more secure tend to be more susceptible to letting their health go simply because they feel their spouse will love them no matter what.
Playboy also spoke to Paul Salter, nutrition editor at Bodybuilding.com and founder of Fit In Your Dress, about the reasons happy couples tend to gain weight. “I've worked with dozens of couples the past few years and found the biggest deterrents to healthy eating are different schedules and different eating styles, i.e. relying on fast food versus wanting to cook/prep in bulk together,” he begins, explaining that couples that are more secure tend to be more susceptible to letting their health go simply because they feel their spouse will love them no matter what. This factor is further compounded if the two share unhealthy habits.
Felicia Romero, celebrity fitness and nutrition expert agrees that comfort plays a monumental role in weight gain, as this will lead couples to drop whatever healthy regimes they once followed and instead dine out more and develop lazier habits. She cautions that if one partner decides to let themselves go, it can easily influence the other to do the same.
To rectify mutual weight gain, Salters believes couples should speak openly about their health, nutrition, exercise and wellness needs and attempt to meet in the middle as often as possible. If not for themselves, then for their significant other.
To kick bad habits, cook and exercise together. Pick a healthy recipe online or out of a cookbook and prepare it together. Food services like Chef’s Plate and Blue Apron are great options as grocery shopping is already done for you. As for exercise, go for a post-dinner walk a few nights per week. (This can be excellent for bonding as well). Salter recommends couples make meal time together a priority, no matter how badly schedules conflict.
Above all else, it’s important you support and encourage each other to pursue your exercise and nutrition goals and help each other when attempting to do so. If you’re serious about your goals, Salter believes it’s beneficial to work with a registered dietitian to help one another build a foundation of healthy eating habits, which–bonus!–can later be taught to your children.