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When you start a new relationship, some of your habits probably change. You might start keeping your partner's favorite ice cream in the fridge, upping your weekly alcohol intake thanks to date night, and skipping your usual morning workout to snuggle. So, it's not exactly a huge mystery why "relationship weight" is a thing. But according to the results of a new survey, your relationship status might be derailing your health goals more than you think.
Seventy-nine percent of people in relationships reported gaining weight since they'd been off the market, according to survey findings from 2,000 people in relationships conducted on behalf of Jenny Craig. But the crazy thing is just how much relationship weight gain they reported. The survey found that respondents in long-term relationships had gained an average of 36 pounds each since the beginning of the relationship—and 17 of those pounds happened during the first year of marriage. Yikes.
Why Relationship Weight Gain Happens
The idea that your coupled-up self might be a few pounds heavier than your single self isn't a new one. Tons of research has examined why relationships can make you gain weight, and it's a common concern brought to weight-loss experts. "A very significant portion of my clients are people who gain weight after they get in a relationship or get married," says Nancy Rahnama. M.D., a bariatric surgeon in Los Angeles. Most of it is due to unhealthy lifestyle changes, which tend to be more dangerous for women as they shift away from their healthier habits, says Dr. Rahnama—men are more likely to have junk food in the house or to be ordering the side of fries that you know you'll end up splitting. (Related: Is Your Relationship the Reason You Can't Lose Weight?)
Then there's the drinking, which 34 percent of respondents indicated was part of the reason their health goals had gotten derailed. "Alcohol is definitely a factor. Not only are there the calories from the alcohol itself to consider, but people tend to eat more that night and the next day to cure some of the symptoms of drinking the night before," says Dr. Rahnama. (In addition to lifestyle changes, research shows stress can be a big factor in relationship weight gain.)
But can allowing yourself a few indulgences with your partner really add up to such significant weight gain? (A previous study published in the journal Obesity Research pegged the gain at closer to 6 to 8 pounds on average in the first two years of marriage.) "Sometimes these surveys can be skewed because of the fact that people typically weigh about 10 percent less than their normal weight when they get married," says Dr. Rahnama. In other words, if you lost 10 pounds for your wedding, it wouldn't be that unusual to gain it back plus a few after the honeymoon, she says.
How to Keep Your Relationship from Derailing Your Goals
So, does this mean if you're in a relationship your health goals are doomed? Absolutely not. The survey results are more of a worst-case scenario. In fact, if you and your partner support each other's healthy habits (instead of tempting each other with pints of Ben and Jerry's) relationships can actually help you maintain, or even improve, your health goals.
"You might start dating someone healthier whose qualities rub off on you, or come to a place where you're not using food to cope with negative emotions," says Dr. Rahnama. In other words, having someone to support you while you're training for your half marathon or trying out new plant-based recipes can actually make you more likely to hit your goals. (Related: Why You and Your S.O. Should Work Out Together JLo and ARod Style)
To make sure you and your S.O. fall into the latter category, Dr. Rahnama says it's important to stay vigilant. "When you start something new and you're in a new environment, you're outside of your own routine and your own control—indulging here and there is okay, but don't give up the healthy things that are important to you," she says. "Know that you're going to be presented with new temptations and it's common to gain weight in a relationship, so just be aware." For example, rather than do date night in a bar every week where you'll be connecting over calorie-dense alcohol and bar food, try a yoga class or long walk where you can bond over conversation instead.