Researchers say your partner can cause you to pack on pounds — before and after marriage. Here’s how to stick to healthy eating habits and continue weight-loss efforts while dating. By Beth W. Orenstein Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH You were doing fine with your weight-loss goals, until your relationship began to heat up or you and your partner moved in together. Now you find that you’re overeating, skipping the gym, and having a hard time sticking to your weight-loss plan. Sound familiar?
It’s easy to gain weight during a new relationship, especially in the beginning stages, says Stella Metsovas, CCN, a nutritionist in private practice in Laguna Beach, Calif. This is because eating is a social activity. When you’re dating, you are likely to eat out, which inevitably means consuming larger portions of food and opting for the dessert menu. Also, when you’re on a date or at a party, you’re more likely to consume alcohol, and those calories can add up. Even after marriage, you’re still at risk for packing on extra relationship pounds. A recent study at Ohio State University found that married women become more sedentary and are more likely to gain weight during their first two years as newlyweds than their unmarried peers. Another new study in the American Journal of Public Health found that spouses have the greatest impact on an individual’s dietary patterns — for better or for worse.
“With spouses, it has a lot to do with the stronger shared environment,” said Paul F. Jacques, D.Sc., director of the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at Tufts University and one of the study’s authors. “One person is probably preparing food for the other frequently.” It’s not just splitting meals that causes the weight gain, it’s the type of food that’s jointly consumed. Researchers found that “alcohol and snacks” were the foods most likely to be split between partners, which are the same high-calorie culprits that can pack on pounds. Eating is such a big part of socializing that having friends can sometimes make you fat, says Daniel C. Stettner, PhD, director of psychology at UnaSource Health Center in Troy, Mich. “Relationships can sometimes be challenging because of all the food that is available when you’re together.” Also, Stettner adds, partners can be jealous and afraid that if one of them loses weight and looks more attractive, that partner may leave, and so they consciously or unconsciously sabotage their efforts to lose weight. “I know one husband who bought a dozen donuts, ate a half, and left the rest on the counter for his wife, whom he knew had been trying to diet,” Stettner recounts. 6 Ways to Control Calories While Dating Here are tips to avoid weight gain during the early stages of a relationship:
- Be honest. Don’t be afraid to say that you are trying to lose weight and ask for help rather than hindrance, Stettner says. If you don’t speak up, your partner may not know you’d prefer to meet at Saladworks rather than the pizza parlor or at an ice cream shop that also has low-fat yogurt for you instead of pastries. You will get to know a lot about your new partner when you see how they respond to your request. “I always advise discussing eating habits if they’re an issue,” Metsovas says. “Don’t wait until the habits become so unbearable that they inevitably affect your relationship. Explain to your partner how you feel after you eat X, and how overeating, especially unhealthy foods, could hinder your relationship by its effect on your mood and well-being.”
- Check out menus in advance. When you make a date and pick a restaurant, go online and look at the menu to see if there are foods that you can eat. You may need to ask that a dish be prepared broiled rather than fried, or for the chef to substitute marinara for a cream sauce. If the only option is fried, suggest going somewhere else.
- Be the last to order. When you’re dining in a group, this tip has two advantages, Stettner says. One is that everyone else, having put in their order, will be talking and won’t notice what you do. Second, you won’t feel as self-conscious if you hold up the waiter and request changes to a menu item to fit your diet plan. “When you’re the last one to order, you can fine-tune what you’re ordering and do so more discreetly,” says Stettner.
- Snack first. Don’t be starving when you meet a new friend for dinner. When you’re famished, you can’t help overeating. Metsovas’ favorite snack is a handful of almonds at least 30 minutes before a meal. “Almonds contain beneficial fats and fiber to optimize blood sugar and prevent overeating,” she says. Also, make sure you’re well hydrated before the meal and continue to drink water afterward. Drinking wine if you’re hungry is a big no-no, she says. “Wine is also a sugar that could spike your blood sugar.”
- Try sharing. Rather than order your own sundae, suggest sharing. A lot of weight loss is about portion control. It can be fun dipping into your ice cream — or better yet low-fat yogurt — together, and subtly you can let your partner eat more of it than you do if they can afford the calories.
- Find activities you have in common. Suggest activities you can do together that will help you both burn calories. Say you’d rather walk to the movies than take a bus. Or suggest spending Sunday morning riding bikes rather than lazing around.
When you’re in a relationship and socializing, it can be harder to stick to your weight-loss plan. If you want to avoid weight gain during your time together, try to keep the focus on finding out more about your new love interest besides their favorite foods. Last Updated: 09/23/2011