If you’re in a happy, long-term relationship and have noticed a few extra pounds creeping on, you’re probably not alone; results of a recent study show there may actually be some truth in the term ‘love-weight’.
Scientists from the University of Basel in Switzerland analysed data from over 10,000 people across Europe and found that on average, married men and women had slightly higher body mass indexes (BMIs) than singles. A smaller 2013 study also found that the happier a couple were, the more weight they gained.
Some think that ‘love weight’ is to do with the ‘marriage market hypothesis’ – the rationale that once you’ve found a partner for life, there’s less incentive to keep a check on your weight; partly backed by research that found weight gain among married people to be less likely in cultures with high divorce rates. Others hypothesize that it’s more to do with happy couples making an event of enjoying meals together, out or at home, and generally consuming more calories overall. This latest research also showed that married men tend to exercise less than singles, another reason perhaps for the extra few pounds.
This doesn’t mean however, that married people are unhealthy. Some research has shown that happily married people may be more likely to live longer, have stronger bones, better health overall and reduced rate of heart attacks. The research also showed that happily married people tend to eat better quality food – more organic, fair trade and local, and less processed food - perhaps supporting better health overall.
Marriage isn’t always good for you however; research shows that unmarried people with active lifestyles enjoy their own benefits. And what’s also loud and clear, is the damaging effects of an unhappy relationship on your health.
Whatever your marital status, it’s important not to get too caught up in the world of research, facts and figures. Whilst averages can tell us something, every individual and relationship is uniquely different and will bring its own set of challenges and benefits. What research like this is particularly useful for however, is bringing your awareness to other factors that might be affecting your health. You can then use this new sharpened focus to make changes if you need to. Perhaps you’ve noticed that the nutrient quality of your food isn’t great because you’re cooking for one? Enlist the help of a close friend and commit to upping your game together, motivating each other and swapping ideas and tips as you go along. Or, if you think you’ve settled into a pattern of overeating as a couple, make a commitment to follow a new healthier eating plan – you will be more likely to succeed if you work together towards a common goal. And if you need some inspiration for doing so, read our in-house nutritionist, Sarah Sharpe’s story on what it’s actually like to enlist the help of your partner to make some changes,
“My husband and I recently carried out the 14-day NutriClean programme and as a nutritionist I thought that I would be the driving force; and that I would find it easy. I arranged our food plan and our shopping lists and I made sure we were well prepped but it turns out that my husband has a self-discipline that was invaluable! He's usually the first to sniff out any treats and polish off the remains of any cakes but he was completely dedicated to the programme. This didn't mean that he found it easy, he just was of the opinion that if you are going to do something like this then our efforts would be wasted if we didn't do it well. This really helped me to stick to the programme when I was trying to find excuses to eat eggs or when I really wanted to eat some cheese a day or two early! For his part he wouldn't have been able to do a programme like this without my planning as he can be a bit haphazard when it comes to thinking about food, which is a common reason for people not sticking to a food plan. This meant that we complemented each other well through the programme and both came out of it feeling great and refreshed with our inner food compass reset for the year ahead.”
And finally, regardless of whether you’re happily single or married, remember that strong friendships, a happy work environment, a sense of purpose and a healthy diet and lifestyle are all markers of a long and healthy life too, and that these are available to anyone.
It’s always possible to take a small step towards a healthier life at any time; you just need to decide what that step is going to be, and actually do it. And whether you enlist the help of a partner, a good friend or choose to go it alone, it’s always incredibly helpful to get clear about what resources are available to you at the outset (i.e. Sarah’s planning skills and David’s self-discipline), and consciously make use of them to help you on your way.