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When you start a new relationship, it’s only natural for *some* of your habits to change. And while some of those changes can be healthy (a new running partner!), some challenge your well-intentioned behaviors: You might start keeping your partner's favorite ice cream in the fridge, upping your weekly alcohol intake thanks to date night, or skipping your usual morning workout to snuggle. So, it's not exactly a huge mystery why "relationship weight gain" is a thing. But according to the results of a new survey, your relationship status might be derailing your health goals more than you think.
Seventy-nine percent of people reported relationship weight gain, according to survey findings from 2,000 people conducted on behalf of Jenny Craig (take it with a grain of salt). The survey found that respondents in long-term relationships had gained an average of 36 pounds each since the beginning of the relationship—and 17 of those pounds happened during the first year of marriage. Yikes.
Even more: One older study in Obesity, found daters put on 15 pounds over five years, cohabitants packed on 18 pounds, and married women gained 24 pounds. Other more recent research even finds that people exercise more and have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) after a breakup. “A very significant portion of my clients are people who gain weight after they get in a relationship or get married," says Nancy Rahnama. M.D., a bariatric surgeon in Los Angeles, CA. Most of it is due to unhealthy lifestyle changes but there's the drinking, too. "Not only are there the calories from the alcohol itself to consider, but people tend to eat more that night and the next day to cure some of the symptoms of drinking the night before," says Dr. Rahnama.
The good news: Relationship weight gain isn't a given—and you don’t need to lose love to keep your weight in check. Follow these six guidelines for staying healthy and in love.
Switch Up Your Date Nights
"When you start something new and you're in a new environment, you're outside of your own routine and your own control—indulging here and there is okay, but don't give up the healthy things that are important to you," says Dr. Rahnama. For example, rather than do date night in a bar every week where you'll be connecting over calorie-dense alcohol and bar food (pretty much a recipe for relationhip weight gain), bring your partner along to your go-to yoga class or show him that long walk along the river you love. Just because you're in love doesn't mean your favorite health routines need to go out the window!
Pick Your Meals Out Wisely
When you meet someone, it’s easy for eating out to practically become a hobby. The problem is that some research find 92 percent of restaurant meals have too many calories. If you're not checking out the latest veggie-friendly spot in your neighborhood and don't want a salad? 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, says Lisa Young, Ph.D., author of The Portion Teller Plan. Better yet, make dinner yourself. "Cooking at home will save you at least 250 calories per meal," says David Levitsky, Ph.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University.
Be Careful What You Pick On
If your partner loves Pringles there might not be much you can do about them lying around the house. What you can control? How much and what you snack on. "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. If you are snacking, look for wholesome bites like nuts, seeds, and healthy sources of protein such as Greek yogurt, and try (as best you can) to eat intuitively.
Sweat His Way Every Now and Then
"Couples who exercise together are more likely to stick with a workout program," explains Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and behavioral coach. Better yet: When your partner’s pushing you to work harder, that can serve as an added ‘boost’ in motivation, which could mean you’ll get more out of a session than you would sweating solo. So give him the reigns from time to time and try new methods of movement depending on what he likes (variety can pay off big time when it comes to your muscles, too!).
Make It a Family Thing
Have a baby on the way? While food cravings, aversions, or an unpredictable appetite are super common during pregnancy, there's a case to be made for *trying* to keep up with what's good for you. After all, The American Pregnancy Association notes that eating healthy during pregnancy isn’t just good for you—it also helps to determine the nutritional health that your child is born with and can be a model for how they eat their whole life. Related: We Need to Change the Way We Think About Weight Gain During Pregnancy.
Reconnect with Your Partner
In order to stay healthy, you don’t always have to be focusing on eating clean and working out. When researchers from Brigham Young University followed 1,681 spouses for two decades they 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, too. So make time every week to sit down just the two of you because that’s what relationships are all about, right?