26 July 2016Do you have to get divorced to lose weight? 

Forty-some years ago, Paul Simon sang 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. If he re-wrote the lyrics today, he could add “Lose 50 Pounds” to the list. It’s the theme of BBC’s "Lose Weight for Love", a series about couples struggling with weight loss. Well, they don’t actually lose their lovers; they lose weight.

The strategy: separate the couples for a period of time so they can re-group, develop better eating habits and a healthier lifestyle. As one participant, Celena, described it, she and her partner enabled each other’s bad eating habits, from large portions to a constant parade of food treats and over-indulgence. In the 3 years they were together Celena gained 70 lbs. And she had started the relationship already overweight!

As part of the show, the couple separated for 10 weeks, to eliminate the possibility of diet sabotage. During the separation, each person worked on issues related to self-esteem, lifestyle and diet. When they reunited, Celena had lost 42 lbs; her partner Pete had lost 35 lbs of fat while gaining 14 of muscle. Now that they’re back together, the really hard part begins: maintaining that healthy lifestyle without slipping back into the old habits.

Plenty of women can relate to Celena’s predicament. As she tells it, if she asked Pete to bring home a chocolate bar, he’d bring home 5. When that kind of indulgence-enabling behavior spirals out of control, weight is going to spiral right along with it.

Why does this happen? Food can signify love and caring. Sharing meals and food is enjoyable, and couples get comfortable and fall into unhealthy routines. Eating big dinners and desserts, eating in front of TV, going out for treats or drinks and mindless snacking are just a few examples. Search the term “marriage made me fat” and you’ll find plenty of stories about weight gain after the wedding. The problem is particularly acute for women (especially after pregnancy), but men are not exempt.

What to do?

Do you need to separate to lose weight? The BBC approach is interesting but not realistic for most people. Plus the BBC show provided professional help to the dieting couples, also not an option for most people. So you’re going to have to get tough on your own. Not a bad thing, since you’re going to have to manage your food choices and weight for your entire life. Even the BBC couples had to go back home and start learning how to cope while back together, without professional counselors.

The first step is to recognize what’s happening. If you and your partner just slide into bad habits and no one puts the brakes on, it’s going to be harder and harder to reverse course. Once you’ve recognized the problem, both of you need to work on a solution together. The BBC show worked because both partners were willing participants. The Internet is rife with stories about spouses who weren’t so cooperative. People are leaving each other because someone gained weight, or lost weight, or refused to diet, or went on a diet or went on a fanatically rigid diet. You name it, it’s happened.

You don’t need to live separately to implement these simple strategies:

  • Don’t stock your home with tempting treats. When it comes to certain foods – ice cream, potato chips – portion control and mindful eating may not work. So don’t buy them. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it. Don’t ask your partner to bring home any chocolate bars. How about flowers instead?
  • Don’t make food the focus of family activities. Instead of going out for ice cream or sugary coffee drinks, go for a walk or a bike ride.
  • Identify sources of unnecessary calories at meals and eliminate them. Garlic bread with pasta? Extra meat or cheese on pizza? Croutons and bacon bits on salad? In many cases, these are optional, so if one person in the couple wants to indulge, the other person doesn’t have to.
  • Don’t sabotage your partner! Think of it this way: if your partner is struggling with weight and asks you to bring home a chocolate bar, bring home flowers instead. Be supportive of each other, but don’t nag.

I liked this lesson that Celena took away from her sessions with a psychologist: you can’t wait to be happy only after losing X pounds. That’s a set-up for failure. I also like some of the thoughts I found in an article about weight gain after marriage which I’m paraphrasing here:

  • Being in a couple is being part of a team. Making healthy lifestyle choices supports the team.
  • I cooked healthy food, encouraged going for walks and cut back on eating out. I didn’t make a big deal about those changes, and it worked. Weight was lost.
  • When I gained weight due to life circumstances, my spouse still told me I was beautiful and we were just going through a touch time. We were and we did get through it.
  • Working out together was the solution. We support each other and are happier.

There are no easy answers. Sorry to have to say that. Every solution will be unique to each couple. But if you are a couple (a team), and can work together, you can figure out a solution, whether one person needs some support, or both need to support each other.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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