Most college kids have either heard of (or experienced) the “Freshman 15.” I sure did. Despite my young, high-metabolismed self, even I couldn’t party hard and order all forms of fried cheese at 2 a.m. several nights a week without it impacting my weight. But looking back, it was all part of the experience and I don’t regret a thing (not even that toga party in the fall of 1999).
But did you know that another common time in life for weight gain is when you’re in a long-term committed relationship? Yep, it’s true. Just ask science. (Or maybe Siri. Or Alexa. I’ll bet they know.)
In the bluntly stated article “Being in a Happy Relationship is Making You Fat, Scientist Confirms,” the findings of two different studies say that yes, if you’re happy in a stable relationship, your weight may be affected by it.
And as someone who has been married for nearly 14 years and with my husband pretty much since puberty, I’ll attest to this being true. (They probably could have used our time-lapse photos from the past 10 years in their studies).
A video embedded within the article shows an interview with Dr. Andrea Meltzer, psychologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who explains the purpose of one study and its findings. She says that, to start, a large group of newlywed couples—169 to be exact—were recruited for this study on how “relationship satisfaction affects changes in weight over time in married couples.”
The couples were studied for the first four years of their marriage and reported their height and weight every six months, which were used to calculate their body mass indexes. These figures were then compared with how happy the participants were in the relationship, their stress level, and any steps taken toward divorce.
Dr. Meltzer says that couples who were less satisfied in their marriage tended to gain less weight over time. She personally attributes this result to these participants maybe wanting to leave their partners, so they were more concerned with their appearances.
Another study that included over 15,000 participants in Australia came to similar conclusions—the single individuals they followed had an average weight gain of 1.8 kg per year, whereas couples had an average of 5.8 kg weight gain.
This study says that people in stable relationships smoke less, eat less fast food, and watch less television than single people, too.
Stephanie Schoeppe, lead researcher on the Australian study, says it comes down to mindset. “When couples don’t need to look attractive and slim to attract a partner, they may feel more comfortable in eating more, or eating more foods high in fat and sugar,” she reports.
And, she adds, “When couples have children in the household, they tend to eat the children’s leftovers or snacks.”
Um, I feel personally attacked by that last statement. (*inhales the last of the chicken nuggets my kids left on their plates*)
And finally, a study conducted at the University of New York found no significant differences between men and women when it came to weight gain in the relationship.
So what’s the deal? It must be that singletons are out in the world, being fun, looking all showered and pretty and giving a shit. They are hitting the gym, then happy hour, maybe standing at a bar (which burns more calories!) and eating small plates and sipping cocktails again and maybe working and going to CrossFit somewhere in between. (I know that’s probably not what single people do, but it sure sounds glamorous when I think of it that way.)
An article on Psychology Spot says it’s more about how we feel than what we do that leads to weight gain. “After courtship, when the relationship is more solid, we feel more secure, confident, supported and relaxed, so that stress and tension are reduced and the appetite increases,” psychologist Jennifer Delgado explains.
The overall point of both these studies is to encourage healthier lifestyles, which I can personally appreciate. My husband and I go the gym, eat grilled chicken and vegetables, and try to avoid alcohol most days during the week. This way, when we put away a few beers plus some cheesy stuffed breadsticks while we watch Spiderman or Zootopia on Friday night, we don’t worry about it.
So yeah, if you look at a picture of us from 10-15 years ago, we may look a bit (a lot?) different. But, we are happy and thriving, and that’s what matters most. Not pants size or scale numbers.
So, if you and your SO have bigger bellies and bigger booties than you did when you first fell in love, welcome to the club. Scientists say it means you’re happy. (I know I am.) So crack a cold one, order a pizza, and snuggle up for some Netflix. Sounds like neither of you is going anywhere.