Recently, a fellow SofR contributor wrote about a new study showing that living with a partner is associated with weight gain. There are many possible reasons why weight gain may accompany changes in relationship status. You may feel more comfortable with yourself and your appearance when you are in a secure relationship; now that you’ve found true love, you may simply “let yourself go” and trade in your skinny jeans for a comfy pair of sweats. Research shows that people usually eat more when with others, so all of those extra meals with your partner may not help the waistline either. Also, having someone to hang out with all the time may mean less time spent at the gym.
Work we’ve done in the past couple of years is also relevant.1 Our research has found that understanding romantic partners’ weight status may require understanding how partners feel about their weight. Your weight may actually be affected by whether or not your partner is trying to lose weight. But it gets even more complicated; there is reason to believe that people’s weight, and their worry about weight, may be associated in a cyclical manner. For example, when one member of a couple is heavier than the other, the heavier individual is likely to be concerned about his or her weight. So, if you are overweight and your partner is thin, this is a recipe for angst and anxiety. But research suggests that being upset about your weight is not likely to lead you to shed pounds; in fact, it may actually lead you to gain weight. Individuals who worry about their weight often try dieting, but most diets fail.2,3 For the average person, any weight loss that occurs during a diet is usually gained back after two years and additional weight gain is likely. In other words, there is really no long-term benefit to starting a “diet.”
So, what do you do if you are the overweight partner in your relationship? The key is to approach weight loss sensibly. By definition, a “diet” is a short-term effort to lose weight. Instead, a long-term approach to healthy weight management is more effective. You need a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Romantic partners often promise to love each other “‘til death do us part.” Why not extend this agreement to include caring for each other’s health and providing support for mutually healthy lifestyles? Exercise with your partner. Shop for, prepare, and enjoy healthy meals together. Make simple nutritional changes that you can live with so that you don’t fall victim to the terrible odds of sustained weight loss. Switch from regular to diet soda; try a piece of fruit for a snack rather than a candy bar. A better lifestyle can begin by just telling your partner you are worried about your weight and discussing ways not only to work on your weight but also improve your overall health. Starting with these small changes, you can live happily ever after for a whole lot longer!
1Markey, C. N. & Markey, P. M. (2011). Romantic partners, weight status, and weight concerns: An examination of the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. Journal of Health Psychology. doi: 10.1177/1359105310375636.
2Mann, T., Tomiyama, J. A., Westling, E., Lew, A., Samuels, B., & Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62, 220-233.
3Polivy, J. & Herman, P. C. (2002). If at first you don’t succeed: False hopes of self-change. American Psychologist, 57, 677-689.
Dr. Charlotte Markey - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey's research addresses issues central to both developmental and health psychology. A primary focus of her research is social influences on eating-related behaviors (i.e., eating, dieting, body image) in both parent-child and romantic relationships.
Dr. Patrick Markey - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey's research focuses on how behavioral tendencies develop and are expressed within social relationships, including unhealthy dieting, civic behavior, personality judgment, and interpersonal aggression after playing violent video games.
image source: www.dietandhealthplans.com