It is universally accepted that falling in love is a wonderful, joyous time. It is also widely acknowledged that getting into a relationship can mean “getting comfortable” and “letting yourself go.”
But is it true that love causes weight gain? Studies have attempted to test this assertion. Research published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, for instance, showed that while thousands of married couples in nine European countries eat significantly healthier, they also have higher BMIs and married men exercise less than their single counterparts.
A 2013 study conducted at Southern Methodist University echoed those findings, concluding that marital satisfaction was correlated with weight gain. After following 169 newlyweds four years into their marriage, the researchers discovered that happier couples tended to be heavier, as well.
The Psychological Traps of Coupledom
There might be several psychological reasons for relationship weight gain, says Marisa T. Cohen, an assistant professor of psychology at St. Francis College and co-founder of the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab. “If you are comfortable in your relationship, you may be less concerned with your outward appearance,” she explains. “There is this idea that if you are single and looking to attract a mate, eating well and exercising allows you to stay healthy and keep the pounds off, thus enabling you to put your best foot forward as you enter the dating world.
Unsatisfied pairs might be subconsciously preparing for that dating world, too. “Research shows that those in happy relationships gain more weight than people in unhappy relationships. Presumably, those in unhappy relationships may be thinking about re-entering the dating world,” says Cohen.
A Partner’s Influence on Your Health
One person’s habits can affect the other partner in any pairing, says Cohen. A husband who loves to hike or enjoys cooking healthy meals each night may just rope his partner into the same behaviors. Ah, the power of love… for better or worse. An unhealthy wife could convince her partner to order dessert and skip the gym, too.
There’s also the need to accommodate two schedules instead of one. “You’re not just accounting for your own individual needs,” says Cohen. “You have to factor in the other person, so going to a gym before or after work may not be ideal if you want to spend quality time with your spouse or family.”
Other Weight Changes for Couples
When you go from a “me” to a “we,” you also adopt other obligations and life changes that singles don’t have you deal with. “For example, those with more active social lives—couples with a lot of friends—probably eat out more,” says Cohen. “Eating out, especially in groups, often results in eating more caloric and unhealthier foods, more sauces, salt, and so forth. We also tend to eat more in social situations, like ordering appetizers or a few rounds of drinks.”
Settling into family life after coupling up may also play a role in a duo’s health habits. “If a couple has children, they may have less time to devote to exercising,” Cohen explains. “In the event, they are running from one activity to the next, they may also opt for fast food rather than sitting down for a home-cooked meal.”
How Do You Counter Relationship Weight Gain?
“In order to focus on health and overall fitness, it is important that both people are on the same page regarding the importance they place on exercise and eating,” says Cohen. “Set clear goals, both that you can work together on now and in the future! If you have something to work toward, this will help you stay on track.”
If you want to lose weight or maintain, you might need to be more conscious of your health habits—and talk about your goals with your partner. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds or run a marathon; put those big goals on the map, but also add little goals to get there, says Cohen. Maybe you will train four times a week, or dine out just once a week. As a “we,” your partner needs to be aware of all your benchmarks.
Also, work together! “You should motivate one another,” says Cohen. “You may want to engage in health-related behaviors as a couple, like taking a gym class together, going on a hike, or even signing up for a meal service where the two of you can cook together and step out of your comfort zone in the kitchen.”
If you both agree to have the same goals, you’ll have an extra level of accountability—and both partners will win, not to mention bond.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.