Thursday, November 5, 2009

Is Your Partner Making You Fat?

health.msn.com

A new study says newly married couples gain an average of 16 pounds between them in the first two years of marriage. So, who’s to blame? The editors of Men’s Health and Women’s Health hold a grudge match on the pudge facts.

The Male Perspective


Weight loss experts are fond of saying that being fat is a choice—that our daily actions, from what we select for breakfast to whether we make time to exercise—ultimately determine our belt size. If only it were that simple. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, for example, found that both men and women gain up to 8 pounds in their first two years of marriage. And the white coats at Regis University, in Colorado, concluded in a recent issue of the journal Obesity that people are less likely to exercise and eat healthy—and more likely to pack on extra pounds—if their friend network (read: wives and girlfriends) tend toward the portlier side. What’s going on here? Well, there’s the excuse that you can publicly acknowledge: As a single guy, you could go to the gym whenever you wanted—before work, after work, in the middle of the night if the mood struck you. No one was waiting at home quietly fuming because the lasagne/babysitter/chimney flashing is burnt/late again/leaking into the playroom. And there’s the excuse that you can never, ever speak aloud: You’re no longer competing in the cage match of death that is the dating world, and as such, it’s simply not as imperative that you stay in fighting trim. (And there’s the third excuse, which is that two beers and an extra helping of guac and chips is the only thing that gets you through a night of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.”)

Weight loss experts are fond of saying that being fat is a choice—that our daily actions, from what we select for breakfast to whether we make time to exercise—ultimately determine our belt size. If only it were that simple. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, for example, found that both men and women gain up to 8 pounds in their first two years of marriage. And the white coats at Regis University, in Colorado, concluded in a recent issue of the journal Obesity that people are less likely to exercise and eat healthy—and more likely to pack on extra pounds—if their friend network (read: wives and girlfriends) tend toward the portlier side.

What’s going on here? Well, there’s the excuse that you can publicly acknowledge: As a single guy, you could go to the gym whenever you wanted—before work, after work, in the middle of the night if the mood struck you. No one was waiting at home quietly fuming because the lasagne/babysitter/chimney flashing is burnt/late again/leaking into the playroom. And there’s the excuse that you can never, ever speak aloud: You’re no longer competing in the cage match of death that is the dating world, and as such, it’s simply not as imperative that you stay in fighting trim. (And there’s the third excuse, which is that two beers and an extra helping of guac and chips is the only thing that gets you through a night of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.”)

But therein also lies your solution: Regain the romance and you’ll regain the abs. A recent study at the State University of New York at Buffalo observed that men downed 35 percent fewer calories when eating with their significant others than when they ate with their buddies. The reason: People tend to match their food intake to that of their dining partners, and women are more cognizant about how gluttonous they appear in public. And a study at Indiana University found that couples who go to the gym together—another quality-time routine that can help boost your romance factor—do a better job of sticking to their workouts. Ninety-two percent of couples that went to the gym together continued to do so after one year. Couples who worked out separately, meanwhile, had a 50 percent dropout rate—findings reflected by University of Pittsburgh researchers who found that the more active a man’s spouse, the fitter he tends to be.

Bottom line: the more you lean on one another, the leaner you’ll both be.


The Female Perspective

For better or for worse, in good times and bad, and especially through thick and thin, couples share everything—and not always for their mutual benefit. Researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Centre at England’s Newcastle University, for example, found that women tend to eat more fatty foods, and exercise less often, after moving in with a male partner—findings reflected in recent research that shows that fat can indeed be contagious. Add to this the fact that women burn about 26 percent fewer calories per day than guys do, and you’ve got a potent recipe for piling on pounds. What’s worse, your partner might be more than partly to blame for your newly acquired bad habits.

Studies show that when you shape up, your better half suddenly has a choice: undertake a transformation of his own, or inadvertently sabotage yours by spiking your diet with high calorie foods. Many times he’ll choose the latter, often subconsciously. After all, the better you look, the more other men will check you out, and the more he’ll be reminded of his own corporeal excesses. Such sabotage can also be a sign that he misses your old life—the one where you ate deliciously unhealthy foods together and had fun doing so.

For better or for worse, in good times and bad, and especially through thick and thin, couples share everything—and not always for their mutual benefit. Researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Centre at England’s Newcastle University, for example, found that women tend to eat more fatty foods, and exercise less often, after moving in with a male partner—findings reflected in recent research that shows that fat can indeed be contagious. Add to this the fact that women burn about 26 percent fewer calories per day than guys do, and you’ve got a potent recipe for piling on pounds. What’s worse, your partner might be more than partly to blame for your newly acquired bad habits.

Studies show that when you shape up, your better half suddenly has a choice: undertake a transformation of his own or inadvertently sabotage yours by spiking your diet with high calorie foods. Many times he’ll choose the latter, often subconsciously. After all, the better you look, the more other men will check you out, and the more he’ll be reminded of his own corporeal excesses. Such sabotage can also be a sign that he misses your old life—the one where you ate deliciously unhealthy foods together and had fun doing so.

But that’s just his wing-addled brain thinking—and with a little gentle eating guidance from you, he’ll be inspired to unearth his abs once again. Start by getting him to go green more often. According to a survey by the National Cancer Institute, only 5 percent of the men surveyed said they don't like the taste of fruits and vegetables. So while your guy wouldn’t recognize a bundle of bok choy unless it jumped off the produce shelf and bit him in the butt, there’s a good chance he’ll enjoy eating it once it’s sautéed lightly in some olive oil with garlic and placed in front of him at the dinner table. There are other stealth ways to swap the calorie-dense, fat-laden foods that normally dominate his plate with nutrient-rich eats. Heat up a cup or two of spinach and mix it into some whole wheat pasta. You'll be replacing processed carbs with filling fiber. Another idea: Combine a cup and a half of frozen mixed veggies with a half cup of cooked rice —doing so will save you 130 calories, versus eating 2 cups of rice alone—enough to prevent a 14-pound weight gain every year.

And since a study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that the more engaged a person is in a TV program, the less aware they are of how much they eat while watching it, you need a smart strategy to keep game night from intercepting your get-lean plans. It may be as simple as switching out the chips and dip for a giant bowl of light microwave popcorn sprinkled with a tiny bit of Parmesan cheese or chili powder. Most brands contain just 20 to 25 calories per cup popped, so even if you scarf 6 cups, you've consumed only 150 calories. If his team wins, why not suggest a celebratory roll in the hay? A 30-minute sex session burns from 80-200 calories. Kicking off that ritual will benefit your waistlines and your bond.