Losing Weight as a Couple: Double Trouble or Twice the Determination?

From the WebMD Archives

If you and your honey both want to lose weight, why not join forces in the battle of the bulge? Losing weight as a couple offers some advantages, but there are also pitfalls to watch out for. Here's what you should know before you launch a weight-loss regime with your partner.

Losing Weight as a Couple: Recognize Your Differences

Losing weight as a couple, or even with a close friend, may increase your chances for success. Or it may drive a wedge between you..

"The advantages of dieting together include mutual support and inspiring one another," says Lydia Hanich, MA, psychotherapist and author of Honey, Does This Make My Butt Look Big? With better health as a mutual goal, decisions about what foods to buy and prepare and where to dine out are typically easier for couples determined to lose weight.

But even when you're on the same page about good nutrition and physical activity, you and your partner may run into differences that test the bond between you.

For example, there is bound to be a problem if one of you takes on the role of "food police," monitoring every morsel of food the other eats, And if you use your partner's lapses as an excuse to avoid sticking with your own weight loss plan, neither of you will make much progress losing weight.

Losing Weight as a Couple: Blame Mother Nature

Perhaps one of the most common drawbacks to losing weight as a couple is the result of biological differences between men and women. For heterosexual couples, comparing numbers on the bathroom scale can create frustration, for the woman in the couple, Hanich says, because it's typically easier for men to lose weight and keep it off.

"Men can eat more than women without gaining, and lose weight by cutting back less," says Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, co-author of Your Diet is Driving Me Crazy. Generally speaking, men are bigger, so they have a higher calorie budget.

Even when opposite sex diet partners are of similar stature, the male usually can lose weight without cutting as many calories as his partner. Sass says men owe their calorie-burning advantage to more muscle, which speeds metabolism.

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At the same time, a woman's weight loss may not show up on the scale as quickly her male partner's. When you lose weight, some of it is water. Men have a higher concentration of water in their bodies, so they tend to shed weight faster. Pre-menopausal women are more likely to see fluctuations in weight because of monthly water-weight gain and loss, too.

So if you are a woman and your diet partner is a man, try not to get discouraged if he seems to be dropping pounds more quickly than you are. Set your own goals and stick to them, and let your partner do the same. Try to support and encourage each other without making comparisons.

Losing Weight as a Couple: Getting Started

Whatever weight loss regime you and your partner decide to follow, remember these basic guidelines:

• Follow a balanced diet that promotes weight loss and maximizes eating satisfaction. The government's My Pyramid (www.mypyramid.gov) lets you design an eating plan to account for gender, age, and activity level.

• Consume at least 1,600 calories a day. Very low-calorie diets encourage muscle loss, which slows metabolic rate. Plus, they lack nutrients essential to good health.

• Spread out meals and snacks; frequent eating increases calorie-burning.

• Consider weight training to build muscle and boost metabolism.

Losing Weight as a Couple: Get A Move On

Physical activity burns calories, which is one of the reasons why experts recommend it for weight control. But this is another area where women and men are very different. It turns out that vigorous activity may be an exercise in futility for women when it comes to losing weight.

"When men increase exercise, they lose weight because their bodies do not

encourage them to eat more," says Nancy Clark, MS, RD, author of

Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guide. "When women exercise, their body says, "Let's eat!"

Research backs up Clark's claim. In a study lead by University of Toronto researchers, women who worked out intensely consumed enough calories to make up for what they worked off. Lower intensity exercise did not drive women to consume the calories lost in physical activity.

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Clark says that because a female's body is designed for childbearing, women need more fat on their frames. That may be why strenuous exercise stimulates hunger in women, but not in men.

It is important for both men and women to keep moving throughout the day. "When it comes to weight control, it's important to stay active throughout the day, not just run for an hour and then sit around," Clark says.

Tips for staying active:

  • Agree on a moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking or yoga, to do together.
  • If you prefer to work out alone, find the activity that best suits you.
  • Look for more ways to move during the day, such as taking the stairs, raking leaves, gardening, cleaning the house, washing the car and walking instead of taking the car to do errands.

Losing Weight as a Couple: Avoid Emotional Eating

Do you crave chocolate when you're sad, bored, or depressed? Perhaps your significant other settles down in front of the television with a full bag of chips after a hard day at work. Maybe you and your partner consider a trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet a way to relieve stress.

It's common for people to eat in response to hurt feelings, depression, and anxiety. Yet Hanich and Sass both say that women tend to have stronger emotional ties to food.

When you look to food as consolation, it's difficult to stop eating when you are full or to resist comfort foods. If you don't use food to elevate your mood, you may find it difficult to understand why your partner finds relief in eating a few candy bars or a huge bowl of ice cream.

Here are some tips to help you and your partner avoid emotional eating:

  • Alert your partner when you feel a binge coming on. If possible, take a short walk or a bike ride together to take the focus away from food.
  • Make a list of non-food related activities to do together or alone when you have the urge to drown your sorrows in food.
  • Be attentive to food and mood links throughout your day. Keep a journal, recording everything you eat, when you eat it, and your emotions at the time.

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Losing Weight as a Couple: To Weigh or Not to Weigh?

Is it a good idea to weigh yourself every day when you are on a diet? It turns out that daily weighing may benefit your waistline, -- but it may not be so good for your relationship.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota monitored the weigh-in habits of about 1,800 dieting adults and found that those who stepped on the scale every day lost an average of 12 pounds over two years, while weekly scale watchers lost only six. Daily weigh-ins also meant dieters were less likely to regain lost weight.

But, as discussed above, losing weight is often a slower process for men then for women, making daily weigh-ins frustrating for women who have male diet partners. To avoid tension with your partner:

  • Find the weigh-in style that suits each of them.
  • Concentrate on how their clothes fit and how they feel rather than what the scale says.
  • Avoid comparing weight loss with their partners.

Going Solo

Getting support from a diet buddy, especially one you live with, helps you soldier on when you'd rather skip your daily walk and eat a double cheeseburger and fries instead. But what happens when you're ready to change for the better, and your partner is not on board, or he or she breaks your mutual agreement to eat better and exercise more?

Couples tend to eat in comfortable patterns that they may have developed over years of living together. If one member of the couple suddenly disrupts this familiar pattern, it is bound to be unsettling for the other. "Any change in eating routines may create fear, anxiety and hurt feelings," Sass says. "You partner may feel left out of the process, or threatened by your success."

The trick is to stay true to yourself without resenting your significant other for not being on board. "You can invite your friend or loved one to join you in making changes, but don't expect them to do it," Hanich recommends.

If you are determined to lose weight and get in shape and your partner doesn't want to join you, be sure to:

  • Talk openly with your partner about your plan, and ask for support
  • Take responsibility for yourself only
  • Focus on your own progress to stay on track. Don't let your partner's habits become your undoing.
  • Don't preach, or pester your partner to join you.
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD on /2, 07

Sources

SOURCES: Lydia Hanich, MA, psychotherapist and author; Cynthia Sass, MA, MS, RD, nutrition consultant and author. Nancy Clark, MS, RD, nutrition consultant and author. Pomerleau, M. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2004, pp 1230-1236; Linde, J.A. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, December 2005; online edition..

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