Love, marriage and weight gain

Many people, particularly women, find that weight gain appears to be an inevitable consequence of falling in love and tying the knot. DietDoc takes a look at the possible causes.

“Love and Marriage, go together like a Horse and Carriage” according to a song made popular by Frank Sinatra long ago. Alas many people, particularly women, find that weight gain also appears to be an inevitable consequence of falling in love and tying the knot. Puzzled readers often ask me what has happened to the slim figures they had when they walked down the aisle and what they can do to stop gaining more and more weight as the anniversaries role on. 

Multiple factors

Weight gain after marriage can be attributed to many different factors, both physical and psychological. Here are some potential causes for this phenomenon:

a) The Post-Courting Rebound Effect

Once marriage partners have achieved their goal of settling down with a mate, the drive to find and tie down a significant other disappears, as does the pressure to look as enticing as possible. The strain of maintaining a perfect weight (which is often unnaturally low), to catch the eye of a prospective mate and get him or her to propose, falls away and many individuals find themselves letting go and overeating to compensate for the lean courting years.

Women erroneously believe that men will only love them if they have a perfect figure and may have subjected themselves to years of starvation diets and excessive workouts to achieve the super-slender look. Ironically research has actually shown that men tend to choose women with rounded hips and larger breasts as marriage partners and as the mothers of their future children.

Any woman who has been starving herself for years and putting in an extra effort to be as thin as possible for the actual wedding, will heave a sigh of relief once the festivities are over and she has "caught" her man. It is only human for her to let go and start eating and there is nothing wrong with this reaction. But if the relieved partner now goes overboard in the opposite direction, then he or she will start gaining weight steadily.

The most sensible approach would be not to set yourself impossible standards when it comes to looks during courtship and then not to reverse the situation so drastically after the wedding. Try to maintain a normal weight throughout life, before and after marriage by eating a well balanced diet and doing a reasonable amount of exercise.

b) Contraception

Nowadays, many young couples decide to postpone having children until they have achieved a variety of other goals. "We only plan to have a family when Max has made it at his firm and we can afford a nice house" or "We’re first going to travel, buy a car, finish studying, get financially stable, etc, etc, before having a baby" are well known refrains. Consequently, most women use contraception of a hormonal nature for varying lengths of time once they have got married. The problem with using any female hormone treatments is that they can either cause weight loss or weight gain depending on the individual reaction of the user, the dosage and the composition of the medication.

If you use hormonal contraception for years before and after marriage, the chances are good that you may steadily gain weight. Women who experience a pronounced increase in weight when they go on the pill or the injection, should discuss this reaction with the prescribing doctor to see if there are alternative treatments that can provide safe contraception without weight gain. A moderately energy-reduced diet and regular exercise are often enough to counter the weight gain associated with the use of hormonal contraceptives in susceptible women.

c) Pregnancy

It is also a well known phenomenon that women who have one or more children gain weight with each pregnancy and then find it practically impossible to shed the extra kgs ( Schack-Nielsen et al, 2010). The ideal is to start your pregnancy with a normal BMI and weight and to gain between 11.5 to 16 kg over the 9 month period ( Mahan & Escott-Stump, 2000). Gaining too little weight can be harmful for the normal development of the foetus, while gaining too much can lead to complications during birth. A healthy balance is required to ensure that you and your baby are optimally nourished and emerge from the birth without long-term problems.

If you are overweight at the start your pregnancy or gain too much or too little weight, it may be a good idea to consult a registered dietician help you with weight loss before you fall pregnant or to guide you through your pregnancy and ensure that you do not gain excess weight every time you have a baby.

d) Pleasing hubby

One of the most common reasons why marriage partners gain weight, is that they radically change their eating habits after the ceremony "to please hubby!" If a salad and yoghurt girl marries a steak and chips man, she will either have to cook separate meals for herself and her partner, or as often happens, take the path of least resistance and start making hubby’s favourite energy-laden foods. Lack of time, the pressures of work and financial considerations all contribute to this type of adaptation.

A wife who is exhausted after a long day at the office, is not going to have the energy to cook divergent menus for herself and her man. It’s much easier to just give in and make his favourite foods. It is ironic that researchers report that although married women are the ones who usually purchase the groceries, the preferences which govern what foods are consumed in a family are made according to the tastes of the husband, the children and the wife in descending order (Nutrition Reviews, 1990).

It’s time that women use their position as main food purchaser and meal maker to guide the entire family towards healthier eating habits that do not result in weight gain. Discuss this kitchen revolution with your partner and children and ask them for suggestions to make your diet less fattening and then stick to your decisions.

e) Anxiety and depression

No starry-eyed bride or idealistic bridegroom could ever dream that a few years down the line everyday living with another person or a whole family of other people, can in some circumstances lead to anxiety and depression. But once the magic of romance makes way for the reality of holding down a job, looking after children, scrimping and saving and never having a moment to yourself anymore, anxiety and depression can take hold. Anxiety can lead to comfort eating and bulging waistlines, depression can cause massive weight gain or loss depending on the individual patient’s reaction.

If you suspect that the weight you have gained since settling down or giving birth to your children may have a psychological cause, then please get expert help from a clinical psychologist before the situation ruins your marriage and your figure. Psychological counselling and/ or family therapy may help a great deal and stop you from gaining weight exponentially.

The above mentioned factors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pinpointing why you can’t seem to stop gaining weight after your marriage, and you may need to sit down and work out what exactly has changed in your life that is driving you to overeat and pile on the kgs. Once you have identified the specific factor or factors that are triggering your weight gain, please be proactive and make a change for the better. Get the necessary expert assistance from a registered dietician, a clinical psychologist or your medical doctor, because more than your waistline may be in danger.

 - (Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, September 2011)                                                            


( “Love & Marriage” Lyrics by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy van Heusen; Mahan KL, Escott-Stump S (2000). Krause’s Food, Nutrition & Diet Therapy. 10th Ed. WB Saunders Co, Philadelphia, USA; Nutrition Reviews (1990). Factors influencing food choices in humans. Nutrition Reviews, 48(12):442-4; Schack-Nielsen L et al (2010). Gestational weight gain in relation to offspring body mass index and obesity from infancy through adulthood. International Journal of Obesity, 34(1):67-74. )

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

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