Do weight gain and marriage go together, just like love and marriage?
While there are still questions to be answered about this issue, studies have found that obesity appears to be associated with couples living together (married or not) and that there is a stronger association the longer the pair have lived together.
A 2009 study suggested that this relationship has less to do with having traits in common and more to do with environment. Bottom line: The researchers found that living with a romantic partner for two or more years was correlated with obesity and sedentary behavior.
I don't think this is terribly surprising to most people.
Studies like these don't mean, however, that weight gain is an inevitable consequence of love. They do mean that if you don't want to become one of the statistics, you have to put some serious thought and work into the matter.
Creating a lifestyle of activity, nutritious eating, health and weight management as a couple isn't easy in a culture that manages to be both fast-paced and sedentary at the same time.
But if it's important to you, without a doubt it's possible. That's exactly what my husband and I did. We've lived together 13 years.
We have jobs that require a considerable amount of sitting — much like many other Americans. Add those jobs to other characteristics of the typical American lifestyle (such as the amount of time required to drive to destinations, labor-saving devices like washers and dryers, and sedentary leisure activities such as television and the Internet) and they would definitely get in the way of our health and fitness if we let them.
I often hear people say they don't have the time to take better care of themselves. Few of us have a lot of extra time that goes unfilled.
They key is to make health and fitness a priority — important enough to make us want to make time for them. Sure, it will take some creativity and habit-changing. Other people might not like your decision.
But couples who make the decision together to carve out time for their health can have a wonderful adventure together. Not only will they get leaner and healthier, but they'll likely enjoy a better relationship, too.
Here are some things that my husband and I do to keep ourselves lean and healthy instead of growing fat and, maybe, sick together:
• Eating: We're always learning about cooking and shopping for nutritious foods. We share the responsibility of grocery shopping, maintaining a grocery list and shopping often enough to have good choices in the house.
We look for fast, easy ways to make nutritious meals. Each of us has specialties. For example, my husband makes the hummus and salads. I make pasta sauce, bread and healthy cookies.
• Exercise: We schedule and take daily one-hour walks together. This is when we talk about our day and plan ahead.
It's a great way to have quality relationship time, away from phones, TVs and computers. In addition, we each have individual exercise time that suits our personal needs. He has his muscle strengthening routine and I have mine. We also support and praise each other's efforts.
• Leisure: We like to watch some TV programs, but often we use that time to catch up on other activities. Commercials are good times to get clothes washed, dried and folded, for example, and stretching can be done while watching a program. Sure, we sometimes just relax, but it's not most of the time.
• Hobbies: I've been a gardener for years and now my husband has discovered the joys of gardening. We split responsibilities in the yard and take walks through the garden to view our handiwork. Gardening is both active and relaxing.
• Vacations: We prefer trips to places where we can hike and walk a lot over vacations in which the focus is on eating. Even waiting time can be made more active by taking a walk around the airport together (or separately while one watches the luggage) instead of just sitting for hours.
You and your spouse don't have to do things exactly as we do, but if you start with recognizing that your health as a couple is up to you, and look for creative ways to reach and maintain your goals, you won't be one of the statistics.
And what if your spouse won't join you down the road to health? Don't let that stop you. Do it anyway. Your partner may join you later when he or she sees what it's doing for you.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be contacted through her website, www.FatMatters.com, or at (813) 240-9557.