Here is this week’s Love Essentially, my dating and relationships column, published weekly in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press:
Are Happy Couples Fatter? by Jackie Pilossoph for Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press
There are multiple studies out there showing that falling in love and being in a happy, healthy romantic relationship makes people gain weight. This includes a recent one, published just days ago by The National Center For Biotechnology Information. It revealed that after four years of marriage, couples who reported being happy were also the ones who gained weight. Those whose weight had remained the same or declined reported less relationship satisfaction.
If you think about it, the studies really aren’t surprising. When men and women become comfortable, secure and fulfilled in a relationship, they tend to relax and pack on a few pounds.
To talk more specifically on the subject, I reached out to JoEllen Kaufman, a Northbrook-based licensed dietitian nutritionist who has been in practice for 30 years, and who has seen many such couples.
“In that happy honeymoon phase, there can be a lot of merging,” said Kaufman, who holds a master’s degree in adult fitness with specialties in nutrition and exercise physiology. “What that means is if one person is a healthy eater and the other is not, the healthy eater can start taking on the habits of the other person. People connect over food and how they enjoy that food together, and magical thinking is part of the connecting. A person might think of her new boyfriend, ‘He eats carbs and he looks great so I can too.'”
Other examples of taking on bad eating habits from a new love include ordering dessert frequently, snacking excessively or drinking more alcohol than you would otherwise, which reduces inhibition and willpower.
So, how can couples stay physically healthy and still be happy? Kaufman offered these tips:
• Communicate. Couples should have a discussion and be open and honest about how they want to eat, both as individuals and as a couple. Maybe one person wants to be a vegetarian and the other enjoys eating meat. There has to be an understanding and an acceptance of each person’s eating choices.
• Don’t judge or try to change your spouse. No one should sabotage or be critical of the other person’s eating habits – both if they think the other eats too healthily or not healthily enough. The idea is not to change the other person but to support their wishes to change or stay the same. No matter what we see the other doing to themselves that we may feel strongly is bad for them, we are going to ruin the relationship if we make that the topic of conversation. If the person wants help, it has to come from within. If they end up going to the other person for support, it could create an even stronger relationship bond.
• Exercise together or apart. When it comes to working out, come up with a plan that meets both people’s needs. Some people enjoy working out by themselves. If that is your spouse, respect that and give him or her that space. Or, work out together and make it your time as a couple to connect or reconnect.
• Respect each other’s eating habits when cooking. If you are cooking a wonderful meal for your spouse but you know he or she is trying to eat healthy, make those concessions. Put his or her sauce on the side, make whole grain pasta instead of white pasta, add a fresh vegetable to the meal and consider other health-mindful options. How about fresh fruit for dessert? Your spouse will appreciate you more than you can imagine, and the meal will be equally enjoyable!
• Plan active dates. Couples at the beginning of a relationship tend to go on a lot of dinner dates. Try mixing it up by doing things that take you out of your comfort zone. Versus sitting in a restaurant every weekend, consider cycling, tennis, canoeing, paddle boating, hiking or snow shoeing. Not only will it keep you healthier, it will create lasting memories.
I think what Kaufman is saying is that you can be happy and have a healthy physique if you are willing to implement relatively small, subtle lifestyle changes. But just for argument’s sake, if you had to choose, would you rather be happy and a little plump or less than blissful and thin as a rail? I think most people would take a few pounds for true love.
I’m not condoning that those in love should let themselves go, eat burgers and fries every night…(click here to read the rest of the article, published yesterday in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press.)