By Brett Willden, DO, family medicine physician
Have you gained the “quarantine 15?” If you have, chances are your partner has put on some pandemic pounds as well. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), an individual’s weight loss or weight gain is strongly affected by one’s romantic partner; in fact, having an obese spouse increases one’s own risk for obesity by 43 percent.
The good news is pursuing weight loss together will increase your chances of achieving your goals. A recent European Society of Cardiology study presentation found couples who hold each other accountable for healthy lifestyle changes had a better shot at shedding that quarantine 15 compared to control groups that tried affecting change on their own.
February is American Heart Month, and, of course, Valentine’s Day is February 14th. What better way to improve your heart health and show your love for each other than starting your weight loss journey together?
Here’s some tips for a successful weight loss partnership:
Recognize your differences.
Men and women gain and lose weight in different areas of the body as well as in different ways. For example, the way metabolism works is different in men and women; water retention impacting weight is also a primary difference between the sexes. Speak with your primary care provider (PCP) to understand your differences so you can each support and empathize with each other as well as have realistic expectations.
Plan meals together.
Decreasing calories does not have to mean going hungry or eating foods you don’t like. Plan your meals, shop for ingredients, and cook meals together to increase the enjoyment and benefits of your weight loss journey.
Get active together.
For some, “exercise” is a dreaded word. Plan ways to get active that you can do together, so the focus becomes on time together- something you like doing- instead of exercise. For example, take your dog for long walks together; sign up for dance lessons, karate, or another activity in which you are both interested together.
Hold each other accountable thoughtfully.
Be a cheerleader for your partner, not a cynic. Putting a person down, pestering or criticizing are not optimal ways to provide support and hold your partner accountable. Keeping a journal of what you eat and your activity levels is often recommended as part of a weight loss program; share your journals with each other, talk about what worked and what did not that day, and identify solutions together.
Communicate with each other.
As you begin your weight loss journey together, share with each other your concerns, vulnerabilities, etc. Talk about what causes you to overeat, so you can support each other along the way as those instigators show up. For example, “emotional eating” is common, and a stressful day can ignite a desire to eat more and/or choose “comfort” foods. Understanding these areas of vulnerability will help each of you be aware and support each other during those challenges.