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Love Without the Chub: How Your Relationship Affects Your Weight

 

When You're Dating

When you're single, dinner can be a bowl of cereal. Then you meet someone, and eating out practically becomes a hobby. The problem, University of Toronto researchers say, is that the average meal at a sit-down restaurant contains 1,128 calories, not counting apps or dessert. Factor in lazy mornings in bed followed by boozy brunches and you may need to buy those boyfriend jeans in a larger size.

Prevent love chub: Eat out no more than once a day and budget your calories at other meals so you have more to play with at the restaurant, says Lisa Young, PhD, the author of The Portion Teller Plan and a FITNESS advisory board member. An ideal predate day of eating would look something like this: oatmeal and berries for breakfast; a salad with grilled chicken for lunch; and a protein-packed snack, like Greek yogurt or a hard-boiled egg, within two hours of dinner so you don't ravage the bread basket when you sit down.

Once it's time to order, hold yourself to two courses -- suggest splitting one of them with him -- and one to two cocktails. According to Young, fish is typically the safest entree, as it's low in calories and less likely than chicken or beef to be prepared with butter or cream. Ask to sub a side of veggies for risotto, mashed potatoes, or other refined carbs. Or order a salad, but choose carefully: Leafy greens topped with nuts or seeds, cheese, bacon, and dressing can pack as many calories as the burger he's having, says Young. Stick to salads that contain mainly veggies and lean protein, and ask for your dressing on the side.

Another option: Invite him over for dinner. "Cooking at home will save you at least 250 calories per meal," says David Levitsky, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University.

When You're Shacking Up

Moving in together means making room for his high-school sports trophies, 60-inch television -- and jumbo tub of party mix, not to mention ordering in steak nachos instead of sushi. A review of studies by Newcastle University found that a woman tends to gain weight when she lives with a guy in part because his bad food habits start to rub off on her. "It's a combination of two factors," says lead author Amelia A. Lake, PhD. "We mirror the eating habits of those around us, so if he eats a lot, we eat a lot. And it's hard not to be tempted by junk food he keeps in the house."

Prevent love chub: "A recent study suggests that men may need roughly 350 more calories a day than women do to maintain weight," says Kathryn Sweeney, RD, a senior clinical dietitian at Brigham and Women's Hospital. So you'll want to consume about 100 fewer calories per meal than your guy does. Also, "designate one shelf in the pantry and another in the refrigerator for your healthy snacks, so you won't be tempted by his junk food," says Nicole Avena, PhD, a coauthor of Why Diets Fail. If there's a particular treat of his that you simply can't resist, Avena suggests asking him to keep it at his office. The good news: Men can be positively influenced by their live-in girlfriend's eating habits, the Newcastle review found. Stock the kitchen with your healthy faves -- roasted almonds and air-popped popcorn, for example -- and he could grow to love them too.

When You're Newly Married

Now that dating drama and the wedding are behind you, you're probably feeling as if you can let your hair down -- and your pants out, especially if you're like one of the 70 percent of engaged women in one study who tried to drop pounds before their big day. "One reason newlyweds may gain weight is because they no longer have to worry about attracting a mate," says Andrea Meltzer, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University.

Prevent love chub: Ironically, happily married couples are more likely to pack on pounds, Meltzer's research has found. The reason: Unhappily hitched people stay in shape because they know they might be back on the market soon. So, while you want to feel comfortable in your relationship, you don't want to get so comfy that you pig out on ice cream while wearing stretch pants every night. The key to preventing pounds from creeping on is to make smart eating habits more about health and less about physical appearance, Meltzer says. It may sound counterintuitive, but committing to being healthy for you makes you likelier to keep eating right and exercising even after you've settled down.

When You're Raising a Family

Marriage isn't always easy as pie, and stress can make some women turn to sweets and other fatty foods to cope, Sweeney says. Also, bringing up kids while trying to keep your house from looking like an episode of Hoarders means less time and energy for whipping up well-balanced meals. You may end up sneaking bites of macaroni and cheese off your kids' plates in the evening, then eating a second dinner later with your husband.

Prevent love chub: Teaching your children to eat healthy early on can keep you from having to prepare tempting kid food every night. Research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that babies born to moms who eat nutritious foods while pregnant and nursing are more receptive to healthy foods, and those whose moms ate a varied diet became more adventurous eaters and maintained those preferences into childhood. "But if your kids are picky eaters despite your best efforts, have a small salad while they eat so you aren't starving and tempted to pick at their leftovers," Avena suggests.

Busy moms also tend to graze instead of sitting down for proper meals, making hourly stops at the pantry to grab a handful of nuts or at the refrigerator for a few forkfuls of leftover lasagna. "People think of bites as free calories, especially if they're nibbling on healthy foods," Young says. "But they can really add up." Try to sit down every time you eat, schedule lunch dates with friends to ensure you have a real midday meal, and freeze leftovers when you can so you're less likely to pick at them throughout the day.

Better Together

Falling head over heels doesn't always have to bite you in the ass. Here are three hot-body benefits to being in a relationship.

You have a built-in workout buddy. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that women who worked out with a motivated partner dropped more weight than those who exercised alone. "Couples who exercise together are more likely to stick with a workout program," explains Michael R. Mantell, PhD, the senior fitness consultant for behavioral sciences for the American Council on Exercise.

Your brain signals you to eat less. Oxytocin levels, which can skyrocket when we hug or kiss our partner, can activate satiety neurons in the brain, found a study in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism.

You care about your health. Researchers from Brigham Young University followed 1,681 spouses for two decades and found that happily married pairs had better self-reported health. Previous research shows that contented couples tend to sleep better, smoke less, participate in more healthy activities, and maintain a healthy body weight.