Why Saying "I do" Can Mean Gaining Weight

Research from the University of Minnesota confirms what many married people know from experience - marriage can make you fat.

So how do slim and trim single people turn into pudge balls five to ten years after they get married? Head researcher Robert Jeffrey concluded that the weight gain is partly due to a shared environment of too much calorie-rich food and not enough exercise. "Marital synchrony" is what Cornel University sociologist Jeffrey Sobal calls this marital weight gain pattern. Psychologists say that there are also underlying sexual issues.

No Longer "On the Market"
The basic reason is that people don't have as much motivation and incentive to keep their weight under control because they are no longer "On the market" looking for a partner.

The reality is that many single people are not really committed to a lifestyle of health and fitness and the only reason they work out and maintain their weight is to be able to attract the opposite sex. Once the ink on the marriage contract dries up, this motivation vanishes and they relax the control that they had on their weight and appearance.

So be careful, your slim and sexy girlfriend or boyfriend will most likely not remain that way after you get married.
In their book Weight, Sex, & Marriage, authors Barbara Stuart Jacobson and Richard Stuart write, "Courtship is the time of maximum human deception. Never do we work as hard to present ourselves in a positive light."

Talk about deceptive advertising. Once the marriage vows are exchanged, anything can happen. Actually, a ballooning spouse may be the least of your problems. Some serious character defects are only obvious after you live with a person for some length of time.

Back in the Dating Game
Watch what happens though when people have to become "marketable" again. I have seen many men and women slim down and regain their youthful looks after they get separated. The change is sometimes so dramatic that they look like the younger brother or sister of their former selves. It makes you wonder why they couldn't look that good when they were still with their ex-husband or wife.

Jacobson and Stuart write about a man who quickly became overweight after he got married. He eventually separated from his wife for other reasons. When the wife saw her ex-husband a few months after, he was slim again. She asked him why he had lost weight and he answered it was because he was back in the market again. The woman felt cheated because he was obviously capable of keeping his weight under control but he had no desire to do so while he was married to her.

There is no doubt that pregnancy can takes it toll on a woman's figure. However, many women take pregnancy as a license to eat not just for two but for a whole army. After all, they have the ring on their finger and a bun in the oven, so why should they hold back? Thus, they end up gaining far more than the 25-30 pounds that is the healthy weight allotted for a normal pregnancy. Their husbands can grow "pregnant" bellies of their own if they keep their wives company and eat just as much as they do.

The Way to a Man's Heart is Through his Stomach.
In an effort to please her husband and prove to her mother-in-law that she is capable of taking care of her beloved son, many a young wife has slaved away in the kitchen cooking up elaborate meals. The more the husband wolfs down the food and the more he praises her for her cooking, the more she accommodates him by cooking even more delicious food. The result? Both of them gain weight.

Wives can intentionally or unintentionally lay a guilt trip on husbands who don't really want to eat that much. The unspoken threat is "I worked all day to prepare this for you. You better darn well have second and third servings to show your appreciation".

Jacobson and Stuart say that due to the close proximity of food and the boredom of being stuck at home, being a housewife is the most fattening job in the world.

Eating Like a Man
Women who previously "controlled" their appetites in front of their boyfriends let loose after marriage and match their husbands bite for bite. Big mistake. Men can eat more without gaining as much weight because of their bigger size and muscle mass. Unless you are as big as your husband or you have a super-fast metabolism, there is no way you can eat as much as he does and expect to stay slim.

Desire to Please
Women are born people-pleasers. Edward Abramson, author of "To Have and To Hold", writes that women relinquish the dietary independence they had as a single person to please first their husband's food preferences and later their children's. If the husband has healthy eating habits, well and good. But if he likes unhealthy high-calorie food, which is more often the case, she will end up eating the same way.

Family's Unofficial Garbage Disposal
Many mothers cannot stand seeing unfinished food on the plates of their kids because they have been taught as children that wasting food is bad. However, by becoming the family's unofficial "garbage disposal" they do not realize how many extra calories they are consuming in the process.

Unconscious sabotage to turn a "hunk" into a "chunk".
A wife may "lovingly" stuff food down her husband's throat because she subconsciously want to turn him from a "hunk" into a "chunk" so he isn't as attractive anymore to the opposite sex. Unfortunately, ladies, in our society, a man's worth and attractiveness is not based so much on his looks as on his achievements and how much money he has in the bank. So an overweight out-of-shape man can still attract more than his share of attention from the opposite sex as long as he is loaded. If this is your intention, it's more effective to spend all his money on shopping so you look fabulous and he becomes broke.

Weight Gain Prevents Extramarital Affairs.
Men and women can consciously or unconsciously make themselves gain weight because this reduces the insecurities of their mates. In a 1993 study, 35% of the participants said that being overweight made their spouses less jealous and they felt that their weight gain also prevented them from thinking about having an affair. Years ago, a client confessed to me that she did not want to lose weight because being overweight was her chastity belt.

Jacobson and Stuart write about a married woman who said, "I know it sounds dumb, but I think one of the reasons I overeat is to be sure I'm not attractive to other men. When I am near my low weight, I get a lot of male attention, and I love it! ... Then I feel guilty about my flirtations, and I start eating again."

Defense Against Unwanted Sex
Some men and women lose interest in sex when home and work responsibilities start piling up. Others never really enjoyed sex and only used it as "bait" to attract a partner. While others may have repressed feelings of hurt and anger towards their spouse making sex the last activity they want to do with them.
According to marriage therapists Melissa and Louis McBurney, "It is not rare for weight gain to provide 'protection' from sexual involvement when that is threatening to a person. The 'threat' can be the fear of possible conception, discomfort during intercourse, or physical closeness in an unhappy relationship."

Other Psychological Issues.
The marriage counselors of Marriage and Romance.com say that that another reason why people gain weight after they get married is because "they need to feel loved despite their overweight - to have their mate prove that love is more than skin deep".

Still another reason is that "some people feel that they don't really deserve to be happy; that they must counterbalance their joy with a problem or loss. The weight gain may cause the relationship to end or bring other kinds of problems to their lives, which relieves their feelings of guilt over their 'undeserved' happiness."

Unhappily Married Women Gain the Most Weight.
In a 1987 study, Stuart found that the average woman gains 24.7 pounds in 13 years while the average man puts on 19.2 pounds. He discovered that happily married women only gain 13.4 pounds while unhappily married women gain the most -- 42.6 pounds in the same period. This is not surprising since several studies have found that people turn to food as a substitute for unfulfilled sexual or emotional needs in a marriage. I remember one woman who was in an unhappy relationship who told me that food was her only pleasure left in life.

When One Partner Stays Slim While the Other Does Not
What happens when a man or woman stays slim but their partner doesn't? Jacobson told Jim Kershner of The Spokesman Review, "I've talked to men and women who have maintained their weight while they watch their partners get heavier and heavier. What I hear most often is not anger or resentment, but they're sad. They're sad because they feel less sexually attracted to their partners. They certainly don't want that feeling, but it's hard to force it."

In other words, when your partner says, "I love you no matter what weight you are", they mean it but it doesn't always mean they still find you as physically attractive as when you were dating.

Jacobson further told Kershner that whether people like it or not, physical attractiveness plays a huge role in courtship and weight is one of the most important issues in physical attractiveness. "In studies where men and women rank what is most important in a mate, physical appearance is always in the top three."

Next week: What to do about marital weight gain.

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