March 28, 2013 By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
One of my clients recently told me that she felt like she had to choose between her relationship or her weight.
After settling into coupledom, she gained 15 pounds, and every attempt to lose it was crushed by couple-time routines, which nearly always involved eating, drinking, and skipping the gym.
Romantic relationships are extremely influential on your waistline (you can either be partners in crime or partners in health), and several studies indicate that for women, being coupled tends to lead to weight gain. One Ohio State study found that the risk of gaining a large amount of weight gain is higher for men after a divorce and higher for women after marriage.
Another found that after moving in with a man, women tend to eat more high fat, high sugar foods, and a third study revealed that on average, newly married young women gain 24 postnuptial pounds over a five year period.
So how can you remain happily attached without giving up your weight loss and health goals? Try out these five fixes. Each requires some comprise, but results in a worthwhile outcome.
Eat different foods, together
Chances are, your body’s needs are quite different from your partner’s. First, the average American woman is 5’4” while the average man is 5’9 1/2”, and taller people burn more calories. But even at the same height, men carry more muscle mass and less body fat, and muscle requires more fuel, even at rest. The minimal amount of body fat that’s considered “necessary for normal physiological function” is four times higher for women than men (yup, four). So in a nutshell, if a man and a woman are both average height and moderately active, he’ll need over 30% more calories to maintain a healthy weight. You can probably see where I’m going with this – splitting a pizza, or any meal, just isn’t practical. If you’re getting takeout, order two separate dishes. For example, sticking with an order of Shanghai shrimp in garlic sauce rather than splitting chicken pad thai saves over 300 calories (45 minutes on the elliptical).
Personalize your portions
When making meals together, customize portions to suit your body’s needs. For example, on pasta night, keep the components separate so you have better control over the proportions in your meal. If he wants to pile his plate with pasta, meat sauce, and cheese, let him have at it. There’s no rule that says you must eat the exact same thing. For yourself, sauté a few large handfuls of fresh tomatoes and other veggies in small dollop of extra virgin olive oil with garlic and herbs, tossed with a smart-phone sized portion of lean protein (cubed chicken breast, shrimp, tofu, or beans) and a small scoop of whole-grain pasta, about the size of half a tennis ball (if he’ll only eat white pasta, make two batches). If your significant other gives you a hard time, explain that you’re not “on a diet,” you’ve just stopped overeating. Make it matter of fact–you were fueling a Mini Cooper like an SUV, which just didn’t make sense, and now you’re getting back into balance.
Be together, but don’t always eat together
There’s also no rule that says that you have to eat when your partner is eating. If he gets home late, or wants a snack when you’re not hungry, it’s OK to enjoy a cup of tea or glass of water while he eats, and talk about your day. We’re taught to bond over food, and eating together is an intimate experience, but it’s not the only way to connect. And because your bodies and metabolisms are different, it wouldn’t be normal to always eat at the same time. If he pushes back with “just have a little” or “I don’t want to eat alone” emphasize that spending time together is what really matters most, and gently remind him that eating when you’re not hungry is like trying to sleep when you’re not tired, it just doesn’t feel right.
Break out of your rut
Many of my clients tell me that after getting married or moving in together, eating becomes the main theme of date night–popcorn at the movies, dinners out, going for ice cream…. Start tossing out ideas about new ways to spend time together. From hitting a driving range to going indoor rock climbing, mixing things up can breathe some new life into your relationship, and disrupt a pattern of over indulging.
Focus on your love life
Have you ever been so full or tipsy that you fell asleep before you had the chance to get some nooky? I’m not a marriage therapist, but this topic does come up with my clients, and in my experience, focusing on a healthy sex life often leads to naturally gravitating towards less alcohol and lighter, healthier meals. Talk about a win-win situation.
What’s your take on this topic? Has your relationship affected your weight, either in a healthy or unhealthy way? Please tweet your thoughts to @CynthiaSass and @goodhealth
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.