When I was in college, I knew this ridiculously gorgeous girl. Let's call her Claire*. Claire was tall, blonde and had abs and arms you'd kill for. She met an equally attractive guy -- let's call him Bill* -- and they got together.
It was the makings of a classic all-American romance.
I wasn't particularly close to either of them. I'd see them at the same bars and offer a friendly hello, but I wasn't best friends with them. I didn't know that much about them except that I’d see them out and think, "God, they are a beautiful couple."
Over the course of four years of our academic career, things seemed to change rapidly. The change wasn’t in Claire or Bill's happiness with the relationship -- they never seemed to be anything short of obsessed with each other -- but in something far more visible: Claire and Bill got fat.
The golden couple became the poster children for the phrase "Couples who stay together, get fat together." They didn't become obese or anything extreme, but they certainly didn't miss any meals between orientation and graduation day.
From what I hear through the collegiate grapevine, Claire and Bill got married last year. From what I can tell through Facebook, both of them are still pretty chunky.
I wish the two of those kids all the happiness in the world. I'm so happy they’re happy. But Claire and Bill also make me wonder: Does love make you fat?
According to a 2013 study published by The American Psychological Association, "Marital Satisfaction Predicts Weight Gain in Early Marriage," couples who experienced happy, healthy partnerships did indeed see a weight increase.
The study followed 169 newly married couples twice a year over the course of four years. Researchers recorded and evaluated changes in height, weight, marital satisfaction, stress, steps toward divorce and several other covariates.
Then, researchers used this information to evaluate which of these models -- the health regulation model or the mating market model -- would prove true.
The health regulation model vs. the mating market model
"The health regulation model suggests that satisfying relationships facilitate the functions of marriage that promote health.” So, if you're happy in your relationship, you'd be less likely to gain weight because happy relationships make you healthier. On the contrary, if you're dissatisfied in the relationship, you're more likely to gain weight because "marital strain causes stress that interferes with self-regulatory behaviors."
The mating marketing model suggests that if you're happy in your relationship, you'd be more likely to gain weight because you don't need to impress or look for another partner. If you're dissatisfied in the relationship, you're less likely to gain weight, because you’d be hitting the gym to make yourself more desirable to attract someone else.
According to the study, the mating marketing model reigns supreme. It found that the happier the couple, the more likely they were to put on a few pounds: "Given that satisfied newlyweds have already attracted a desirable mate, they may relax their diet and exercise regimen and, therefore, gain weight."
We're not talking Jabba The Hutt; we're talking dad bods
Sarah Novak, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University and coauthor of the study, tells Elite Daily that couples don't necessarily get fat together. Compared to non-married individuals, however, couples do tend to put on a pretty significant amount of weight.
Novak tells Elite Daily,
We're talking 5, 10, maybe 15 pounds over four years. That's not a lot, but it can be a meaningful amount for potential health risks like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, especially if the pattern continues over more time.
She points out that her research goes against the large body of existing research that indicates that a happy marriage is good for your health. In fact, the couples headed toward divorce were much better at maintaining their weight.
If you don't need to keep your six-pack to keep your husband or wife happy, it is easy to let that rigid gym routine slide. Novak tells ED that if you're working out because you enjoy it, it's unlikely that a happy relationship would affect your activity. But if you're working out for the purpose of a attracting a member of the opposite sex, settling down could detract from your routine.
If you run five miles every day because you enjoy it, being in a stable, happy relationship won't undermine that. But if you run five miles every day because you want to look cute to attract someone new, you'll lose that motivation when you're in a happy relationship.
Priorties, priorities, priorities
The reason couples might gain weight once they're happily settled may have a lot to do with priorities.
People's priorities are different when they think they might have to date and attract someone new. If you think your relationship might end, you might prioritize healthy eating and working out. If you're comfortable in your marriage, you might prioritize activities that are more pleasurable, like sleeping in or sharing brunch.
People say that "love means never have to say you’re sorry," but apparently love means never having to count your calories. I know, I'm so funny.
So, I guess Clair and Bill no longer felt the need to maintain their bodacious bods once they found each other and realized they were in it for the long haul.
Lucky for me, their story has me hyper-paranoid. Love is never going to be making me fat. No, sir.
*Names have been changed