Diet therapy

10 tips to prevent weight gain in marriage


IMG_8663If health is one of our greatest assets then shouldn’t it be discussed when drawing up a pre-nupt for marriage or when considering cohabitation?

Research shows that when couples decide to move in together they set in motion changes to their long-term health.

While there are many health benefits of being together managing weight isn’t one of them. In fact any resolve to lose weight to look good on their “big day”, can be seriously challenged by the stag and hen’s parties, the wedding breakfast and honeymoon that follows.

What are the health benefits of living together, and how can couples manage their weight so they have more energy to put into their life together?

The health benefits of living together

Married and cohabitation couples

Happily married people (particularly men) are healthier, live longer and experience less cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension than their singles peers 1
cohabitating couples also share most of these health benefits although they consume more alcohol and experience higher rates of depression than married couples. 2

Same sex unions

Living together is also healthier for same-sex couples than single gay and lesbians. While research studies have been limited the recent recognition of same-sex marriage is tipped to reduce anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide experienced by single gays and lesbians. It may also offer more stability to relationships, better health care and improved mental wellbeing. 3


Unhappily married, separated, divorced and recently widowed people (particularly men) fare worse than “never married singles” . They suffer more stress, have a greater risk of high blood pressure, depression, acute myocardial infarction and unintentional weight loss.
While people in unhappy relationships have more time to prepare for life on their own and mutually agree to it, the death of a spouse is often a sudden, unwelcome event beyond anyone’s control and the impact on the surviving spouses health can be severe. 4

Why are married people healthier?

Greater sense of unity

One theory is the “Marriage Protection Hypothesis” which proposes that living together promotes a sense of family and unity thereby reducing a partners engagement in risky behaviours that might endanger health (smoking, binge drinking, fast driving). 5

Better health care

Married men also have lower rates of suicide and are more likely to follow reminders by their wives to get regular medical checkups than their single peers. Following treatment for illnesses such as cancer those who are happily married at the time of diagnosis are more likely to recover more quickly with improved survival rates than those who are living alone. 1

Stronger social networks

Married women have a stronger social network than men with one New England study reporting that 66% of men rely on their wives for social support. This not only assists the couple when they are married but also helps to explain why women fare better socially, suffering less depression and loneliness when they are widowed, than men. 6


Living with another person also reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as couples are forced to interact, discuss, share knowledge and challenge one another’s version of daily events. 7

Why then do people living together gain weight?

Married and cohabitating couples are three times more likely to be obese than singles. Understanding the dynamics that promote weight gain when people live together is important if the known health benefits listed above are to be sustainable into old age. 8

Shared meals

Studies of people eating in communal settings have found that when people eat together they tend to talk more, take longer over their meals, eat and drink more than when eating alone. This could be partly because they aim to please those who they are with or don’t want to seem impolite by refusing food that has been cooked by others.

This is something couples should be mindful of when sharing a meal in other people’s homes, when dining out or meeting socially. It’s can be very easy to eat more than you need if “eating out” on a regular basis  9

Left over calories

Having second helpings, eating plate waste left by children, eating young children’s food in order to encourage them to eat more, can add  an extra day of calories to a mothers weekly intake. 10

Men eat more than women

New Zealand research in 2008 found that men ate more foods that contain fat, salt and sugar than women and also drank more of their calories in the form of alcohol and carbonated drinks. 11
As many men have this higher preference for foods rich in fat and sugar there is the risk that if they are preparing snacks or cooking family meals these meals may be larger and contain higher kilocalories than meals produced by their wives or needed by their family.

Being aware of these issues is halfway towards finding a healthier life together.

10 tips to prevent weight gain in marriage

Family rituals

When couples move in together they also share their personal dietary needs, beliefs, traditions, fads, nutritional knowledge and concepts of “treating”. This chemistry subtly changes not only “the mix” in the health of each other but also “sets the scene”for the nutritional well-being of any children that may join them. While it is important to respect what each other values some habits may need assessment particularly if they are leading to ill-health.

Cook with care

If couples can plan menus together, buy or grow fresh foods and prepare them with less fat and sugar they not only control their weight and health but also food waste. This aids the environment and saves food $$’s

Be mindful of fluid intakes

New Zealand studies have pin pointed alcohol and carbonated drinks as a key contributor to weight gain. Drinking more milk and water however has been found to speed up weight loss.

Exercise regularly

This assists mental and physical health, weight management, reduces stress and strengthens muscles and bones. Couples need to encourage and support one another to do this particularly when they have young children and may need to share childcare in order to go to the gym or out for a run.

Starting a family requires team work

If planning to start a family couples need to aim for a healthy body weight first as this improves sperm count and fertility and ensures better health of mother and child.
It takes a lot of energy to breast feed a baby but with encouragement and support from a partner it helps a new mother to recover her pre-pregnant weight more quickly, is cheaper and more convenient than bottle feeding and helps the physical and cognitive development of the infant

Build supportive social networks

Having reliable friends to share good times and bad takes work but can help couples by reducing stress in times of need. Providing healthy food which is low in fat, salt and sugar when entertaining also helps to build a healthier support network.

Nurture talent in order to relieve stress

All of us are born with creative talent. Having a hobby, taking up art, building a model, taking up pottery or a course of study all help to build confidence and self-esteem. It can also enables the brain to focus on one activity and become more mindful of the “now”. Recent research has found a link between mind wandering (attention state) and shortened telomere length** which may increase the risk of stress and depression. 12

Communicate and share goals

Having shared goals helps to provide a reason to stay healthy together. Whether that goal is an overseas trip, home ownership, starting your own business or completing a course of study. Tying a weight goal to the completion of a task can also achieve two goals in one.


Sleep deprivation is one of the quickest ways to gain weight as it sets in motion the hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. Adults need at least 7-8 hours sleep each night and this can be quite a challenge when starting a young family.

Find energy for life

Nothing kills passion faster than tiredness! Apart from love, energy comes from the food we eat. Just as an athlete needs to recover properly from a bout of exercise in order to compete the next day, so too our bodies need sufficient nutrition to bounce back from the work we do.
Learning how to do this not only aids weight management but also provides the energy for more fulfilling relationships and better health.

If you are a “single” wanting to gain some of the health benefits of married people then changes in diet and lifestyle can help you too. Contact us today for a nutritional assessment and more information.


** Telomeres are DNA based caps that protect the ends of chromosomes preventing them from deteriorating or fusing with neighbouring chromosomes. Telomeres typically shorten with age, physiological and psychological stressors. Telomere shortness reduces immunity and predicts early disease and mortality.

For more information on this topic read Lea’s articles:

Special congratulations to Andrés Bruno and Luz Sabelli, family friends who recently married in Argentina and agreed to share this beautiful photo of their special day.


  1. Harvard Health Publication July 1, 2010. Marriage and mens health
  2. Brown S, Bulanda R, Lee G. The significance of non marital cohabitation normal status and mental health benefits among middle-aged and older adults. 2004 Journal of Gerontology Series B, 60(1) 521-529.
  3. King M,Bartlett A. What same-sex civil partnerships may mean for health. J Epidemiology community health 2006 Nov, 60 (3) 188-191.
  4. Cornelis M, Chiuve S, Glymour M, Chang S, Tahetgen E, Laing L, Koenen K, Rimm E, Kawachi I, Kubzandsky L. Bachelors,Divorcees and widowers. Does marriage protect men from Type 2 diabetes? Plos one 9 (9) 2014 e106720.
  5. Averett S, Sikora A, Argys L. For better or for worse: relationships status and body mass index. Econ Hum Biol 2008 Dec 6 (3) 330-349.
  6. Umberson D,Montex J. Social relationships and health. A flash point for health policy J Health Soc Beh 2010 51 (suppl) S54-S66
  7. Lifestyle factors contribute to lowering and raising risk of Alzheimer’s disease. July 30, 2008
  8. TheN, Gordon-Larsen P 2009 Entry into romantic partnership in association with obesity. Obesity 17 (7) 1441-1447.
  9. Locker J, Robinson C, Roth D. Ritchie C, Burgio K. The effect of the presence of others on caloric intake in homebound older adults. J Gerontology A. Biol Sci Med Sc 2005 Nov 60(11) 1475-1478.
  10. Beeke L British mothers can gain around 20 pounds in body weight in a year by pinching her kid’s food.
  11. MOH NZ National Nutrition Survey 2011/12
  12. Epel E, Daubesmeir J, Moskowitz J, Folkman S, Blackburn D. Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness and telomeres . Ann NY Acad Sci 2009 Aug 1172:34-53.
  13. Beeke L British mothers can gain around 20 pounds in body weight in a year by pinching her kid’s food.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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