Maybe there’s a new reason that bulge of fat escaping from the sides of your jeans is called “love handles.” Many newly married couples—more focused on marital bliss than hitting the gym or watching portion sizes—find that they’ve not only gained a spouse but also a few extra pounds.
A new study backs this up, showing that marriage, as well as divorce, can lead to unhealthy weight gain. But men and women don’t put on pounds equally (shocker). Women are more likely to gain weight in a marriage, while men are more likely to tip the scale after a divorce, especially if they’re both over age 30, according to new research presented at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
In the study, the researchers looked at data, including BMI (body mass index), on more than 10,000 people surveyed from 1986 to 2008, and followed the study participants up until two years after a martial transition—namely, marriage or divorce. They found that both men and women who married or divorced were more likely than never-married people to have a small weight gain—about seven to 20 pounds, based on a 5’ 10” adult—in the two years following their marital transition. Men were more likely to have large weight gains—more than about 21 pounds, based on a 5’ 10” adult—after divorce.
“Clearly, the effect of marital transitions on weight changes differs by gender,” Dmitry Tumin, lead author of the study and doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University said in a statement. “Divorces for men and, to some extent, marriages for women promote weight gains that may be large enough to pose a health risk.”
So why do the pounds pile on differently for men and women? “Married women often have a larger role around the house than men do, and they may have less time to exercise and stay fit than similar unmarried women,” study co-author Zhenchao Qian, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University, said in a statement. “On the other hand, studies show that married men get a health benefit from marriage, and they lose that benefit once they get divorced, which may lead to their weight gain.”
In other words, women gain weight in marriage because they are taking care of everyone but themselves, and men gain weight after divorce once their wife isn't around to keep the beer and pizza away from them anymore.
The good news? Whether you’re happily married or newly divorced, there are plenty of things you can do to help lower the number on the scale:
Don’t rely on low-fat foods. You would think that sticking with low-fat foods would help you trim down, but as it turns out, just seeing that low-fat label makes people more likely to supersize their portions and gobble up more calories than if they were eating regular fat foods. Next time your sweet tooth acts up, rather than reaching for a bag of fat-free cookies, go for one or two real cookies instead—and stop there.
Cut back on plastic. We’re not talking swapping out plastic bags at the grocery store for reusable ones (though that’s a good move, too). We’re talking about paying with plastic: Using your credit card may actually lead to weight gain, according to recent research. That’s because swiping your credit card instead of paying with cash lowers your impulse control, which leaves you vulnerable to buying junk food—a notorious impulse purchase.
Nab plenty of sleep. Research shows that not getting enough shut-eye causes people to consume significantly more calories through high-carb snacks, while skimping on filling protein and fats. Getting a good night’s sleep helps you stay clear-headed so you can make better decisions about what you put in your mouth.
Bounce back from a breakup. Ending a marriage is devastating, life-altering transition. But you can adopt some smart coping skills to help get you through this tough time, from getting out your frustrations—and slimming down—through exercise (boxing, anyone?) and volunteering to help people less fortunate than yourself to keep things in perspective and boost your happiness.
Find out what’s driving your eating habits. Do you dive into a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down? Understanding how your moods influence what and when you eat is the key to getting your eating habits under control. Take our Eating Style Quiz and find out.
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