How Relationships Affect Your Dietary Choices
If you’ve ever struggled with your weight, you know just how challenging it can be to change unhealthy habits or maintain healthy ones. Many factors impact the food choices we make each day, but having a significant other in your life can play a key role in how you eat — and even how much you weigh.
“Interpersonal relationships can impact our eating behaviors and lifestyle habits, which in turn can influence body weight and overall health,” says Shelby R. Birdwell, M.S., R.D., L.D., a registered dietitian with the University of Miami Health System. “Whether it is a romantic partnership, friends, family or even coworkers, the people we spend the most time with can affect our decisions on food in both positive and negative ways.”
The research supports Birdwell’s notion that relationships can positively or negatively impact weight, depending on the scenario. For example, a 2012 study of 1,293 dating, cohabiting, or married couples found that the couple who transitioned to cohabiting or married were more likely to become obese than those who were dating. Conversely, another study of 130 couples published in the journal Obesity found that when one spouse entered a weight loss program, the other spouse tended to lose a significant amount of weight.
Birdwell says that relationships beyond just your romantic ones can also play a role in your weight journey.
“Our social network and how it influences health is described in the Framingham Heart Study,” she says.
“Social ties between 12,067 adults were analyzed from 1971 to 2003, and longitudinal regression models showed that having an obese friend was associated with a 57% greater likelihood of future obesity. Similarly, having an obese sibling or an obese spouse was associated with greater likelihood of future obesity by 40% and 37%, respectively.”
It’s more than just relationships.
“There are many factors that can influence weight gain beyond interpersonal relationships,” says Stephanie S.J. Morris, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at the Mailman Center for Childhood Development and the University of Miami Health System. “For example, significant life events such as transitioning to college, activity level and frequency of eating out. Thus, it is essential to seek healthy mental and physical health practices for appropriate weight management.”
Partnering up for good health.
Luckily, the evidence indicates that couples who gain weight together can also lose weight together – if they commit to the goal. Birdwell and Morris each had suggestions for how couples can encourage each other to practice healthy habits:
Do something you enjoy.
The habits that truly stick are the ones you take pleasure in, says Birdwell.
“If the gym isn’t your thing, try a brisk walk on the beach, a bike ride or a swim,” she says.
Make eating an adventure.
People often think healthy eating involves a lot of baked chicken and vegetables, but with a little research, you can find an entire world of exciting healthy options.
“Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring,” says Birdwell. “Challenge yourself to try a new vegetable each week or hit your daily water goal.”
Reward good behavior.
Morris says that working together with your partner and rewarding yourself for success is a great way to stay motivated.
“Having small rewards, such as doing a special activity with a partner or friend like going to the movies or mall for completing a certain amount of exercise each week, can be a great motivation to complete set goals,” says Morris.
Make change slowly.
Setting lofty goals can also lead to frustration if the results don’t come quickly.
“Goals should be manageable and obtainable, so make them small and slowly change them as you find success,” says Birdwell. “Just aim to be one percent better than you were yesterday.”
Hold each other accountable.
Birdwell says that accountability can be one of the most effective ways that partners can help each other meet their goals.
“When I work with weight loss patients, I always want to know about their support system,” she says. “There can be a powerful synergistic effect when partners commit to working on health goals together.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.