Have you gained weight since you hooked up with your partner? Do you feel that your eating habits together are hindering your progress? Jill Eckersley turns to the experts for advice on losing weight together.
Are you struggling to reach your weight-loss goals and lose a few pounds? Well, have you recently got married, moved in with a lovely new partner, or slipped into a cosy, relaxed rut with your ‘significant other’? It might come as a surprise to know that there is evidence that our relationships have quite a noticeable effect on our health and fitness – and even on how much we weigh. If you want to lose weight, you need to take a reality check.
Dr Aria Campbell-Danesh, who is a Behaviour Change Psychologist and creator of the F I T Method dr-aria.com has this to say: ‘Our relationships have a powerful influence on our lifestyle choices, and our weight. Research has shown that the heavier the people around you are, and the closer the relationship, the more likely it is that you will be heavier.
‘Food is a symbol of love for many people. We can easily fall into patterns of snuggling up on the sofa, sharing takeaways and eating sweet treats as the main ways to show affection and spend time with our partners. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. However, if our daily habits are leading to weight gain, which can have knock-on effects on our self-confidence, self-esteem and relationships, then we may want to find healthier ways to spend quality time with our partner, enjoy the food that we eat, and still lose weight.’
Sharing meals and treats
A study by the University of Glasgow in 2017 just underlined the fact that you need to take special care to watch your weight when you’re moving in together. Researchers discovered that newly-weds gained an average of four to five pounds each in their first year of marriage. Co-habitees, by contrast, managed to put on three to four pounds in their first three months of living together! Food seems to become more central to the relationship as couples share meals and treats, whereas having their own home to relax in tends to mean they go out less. Finances could also play a part in this.
Have those pounds been creeping on – or just not been dropping off, the way you hoped they would, since you have been part of a couple? And just how much has your lifestyle changed? It’s easy to make excuses when you start to notice that your skirts or jeans suddenly feel a little tight. ‘Spoiling’ your new partner with fabulous (and high-calorie) meals – or letting them spoil you sounds wonderful, but not if you feel over-full and bloated afterwards instead of comfortably well-fed. Nor do you need to be kept awake half the night with indigestion. These are all signs that something has gone wrong.
Why you’re gaining weight
You really need to ask yourself if any of these apply:
- Are you serving and eating the same portion sizes as your partner, even though he or she is bigger than you are, or has a more active job that requires more calories?
- Have you started to eat things you wouldn’t have eaten in the past because your partner likes them? Or are you snacking when you don’t really feel hungry, just to ‘keep your partner company’?
- Are you – as suggested above – having more calorie-loaded takeaways and treats because sharing feels like a nice thing to do together?
- Are you doing less exercise generally because it’s easier to cuddle up on the sofa with your partner than it is to go to the gym or out for a walk?
- Are you staying in more and being less active because you have each other for company, and don’t feel the need to go out and socialise as much as you did when you were single?
Large portions, bad digestion
Kent-based nutritionist Jody Middleton jodymiddleton.com has some tips for those who suspect that they might have developed one or two bad habits linked to their relationship.
‘If you’re serving too-large portions too often, your digestion will suffer,’ she says. ‘Whatever your partner is eating, try to fill half your own plate with vegetables or salad. Your protein portion should be the same size as the palm of your hand, so that’s a good way to measure the amount you are serving and reduce it if necessary.
Try to encourage healthier eating together. Make the unhealthy takeaways a monthly treat. You will both feel better, and that will lead to a fitter and more enjoyable life for both of you.
Dr Meg Arroll, psychologist and co-author of The Shrinkology Solution (Quadrille Books), also points out that there are lots of practical tricks we can use to help with portion size and food selection, such as using smaller plates, making sure we stay hydrated, and stabilising our blood-sugar levels to curb cravings.
Social support for weight loss
‘However, research shows consistently that social support is one of the key factors in maintaining a healthy weight,’ she adds. ‘Even if your partner doesn’t want to lose weight, could he or she be fitter and healthier? We all need health goals, not only to get healthy but also to keep in shape. It’s much better to get your partner on board than to try and work around them.’
Your partner may simply not be aware how important it is to you to lose weight or increase fitness. Find a time to discuss this without distractions. Your partner might be resistant to joining you at the gym or using a particular technique and your partner may be a little rigid around change. Express your goals and ambitions, ask for emotional support, and mention that it would be great if your partner chose to join you.
Lack of motivation to lose weight
Make sure you are not using your partner’s lack of motivation as an excuse. If you want to get fit, you have to do it for yourself!’
Both weight loss and a healthier lifestyle can be achieved by couples working – and working out – together. Couples can, and do, both encourage and inspire one another. There is something called ‘the ripple effect’ which has been noted in a couple of academic studies from the University of Connecticut in the USA, the latest of which was carried out in partnership with Weight Watchers. 130 couples were studied for six months and it was found that when one partner committed to losing weight, the chances were that the other partner would also drop a few pounds, even when they were not actively participating!
About one-third of the ‘non-participants’ lost three percent or more of their body weight after six months. Behavioural psychologist and lead researcher Amy Gorin explained that when someone changes their behaviour in some way, the people around them change. New, healthy behaviours can benefit others in their lives.
The study also found that the rate in which couples lose weight is interlinked as well. If one partner lost weight at a steady pace the other did too. Likewise, if one struggled to lose weight, so did the other.
Is your partner sabotaging your weight loss effort?
Sometimes, partners can sabotage your best efforts to get fit or lose weight, without really meaning to. Of course, we all want to be loved for ourselves, not for our fabulous figures or impressive personal-best in the latest park run, and it’s right that this should be so. It’s also true that losing weight can sometimes trigger insecurities in your ‘other half’ according to behavioural change psychologist Dr Aria Campbell-Danesh. ‘At the heart of this is usually fear’ she says. ’Fear that if you lose weight you will then become dissatisfied with their appearance, fear that you and the relationship will change, or fear that others will find you more attractive and you might leave them for someone else.’
Let them know what your goals are. Share with them how important it is to you that you lead a healthier lifestyle and that you would love it if they would support you in any way that they’d like.
Getting your partner on your side for losing weight
Successful partners share the same values – is a couch potato/gym bunny partnership really going to work? It will help if both of you are willing to try something new. Here’s how to get and stay fit…
- Be realistic about your weight loss and fitness goals, and don’t become a fanatic.
- Don’t preach, even if you think your partner would benefit from joining you. Instead, become a role model – fit, healthy and happy. Convince your partner to join you by example, not by nagging.
- Don’t eat for emotional reasons. Instead, suggest something active you can do together.
- Explore the possible fitness activities and facilities in your area. If you’re both beginners neither of you will feel left behind.
- Don’t go on and on about your diet – it’s very easy to become a diet bore.
- Congratulate your other half on their achievements, no matter how big or small.