A new Ohio State study making headlines this week finds that the risk of incurring a large weight gain is higher among men after a divorce and among women after marriage, and unfortunately it’s not the first study of its kind. British researchers found that after moving in with a man, women tend to eat more high-fat, high-sugar foods and are more apt to gain weight. That same study also confirmed that women are more likely than men to turn to food to deal with relationship stress. Another study, published in Obesity Research, reported an average weight gain of six to eight pounds over a two-year period after getting married.
So what does all of this mean?
In my experience, settling into a relationship can change the dynamics around food. After you get married or move in together, eating can become central to how you spend time with your partner. You guys may spend time together by eating pizza and watching Netflix, having popcorn at the movies, or going out to dinner or for ice cream. Couples tend to become eating partners-in-crime, indulging (or overindulging) together as recreation. It makes sense, because most of are raised to bond over food, and eating is tied to intimacy, but gaining weight after marriage doesn’t have to be a right of passage. Here are three post-nuptial (or post-cohabitating) policies that can help you stay healthy once you’re in for the long haul:
Don’t eat mirror image meals
Even at the same height, a man will burn more calories than a woman because men naturally have more muscle mass, and muscle requires more fuel, even at rest. But couples typically aren’t the same height. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the average American woman is 5’4” and the average man 5’9.5” - if you both have medium frames and are moderately active, your beau will need about 40 percent more food than you each day to maintain a healthy weight. In other words – splitting an appetizer or dessert or eating the exact same thing for dinner just isn’t practical.
Customize your plate
Find ways to eat differently together. Get take-out from two different places, take it home and eat together, or make different meals with similar ingredients. When my hubby and I have Mexican food night he’ll have a loaded burrito (since he can afford the extra carbs) while I make a taco salad, but we share the veggies, roasted corn, black beans, pico de gallo and guacamole.
Agree to go solo sometimes
It may feel odd not to eat when your partner is eating, but if you’re not hungry it’s OK to say ‘no thanks’ and enjoy a cup of tea or just sit and talk about your day while he noshes. If you think about it, we don’t typically adopt many of our partner’s habits, hobbies, or preferences - if one of you decides to take up photography or play the guitar, the other probably wouldn’t feel the least bit obligated to do the same. Food is no different – you don’t have to like the same foods, eat at the same time or eat the same amounts.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.