It’s no secret that dating has its drawbacks, but did you know that weight gain is one of them?

By Catherine Orda | Lead photo from Toa Heftiba /Unsplash

As we welcome the barrage of complaints lamenting singlehood on Valentine’s Day, here’s something to think about: when people enter into a new relationship, they gain weight. What’s more, once these couples start living together, there is a higher chance of weight gain. A 2009 study with 7,000 participants found that co-habiting couples were twice as likely to gain weight as compared to their single friends. A number of studies has since made similar claims, with some talking about the allegedly contagious nature of obesity and the fact that it is the women who tend to gain more weight. But let’s sharpen our focus a bit—what exactly is happening here? Is relationship weight gain actually a thing? Here’s all you need to know about it.

Why Does It Happen?

There are many factors that cause relationship weight gain, one of which is that people actually become less active when they start dating. This may be brought on by the idea that a large part of what motivates people to maintain their weights has to do with finding a romantic partner. It may be a bit of a generalization, but the logic here is that once people find their partners, weight loss and maintenance stop being concerns. Another reason has to do with the likely case that going on dates and sharing meals become a central part of a relationship. In other words, people start eating more when they date and start a new relationship.

How Does It Happen?

So what if dating increases the amount of food and the number of times you eat? You usually go out and eat with your friends and family anyway. Research has even shown that eating a meal with another person–regardless of your relationship with them–can boost the amount of food eaten by about 33 percent. But the thing is, going on dates is another extra opportunity for you to eat more on top of all the eating you’ve been doing in, say, night outs with friends and family gatherings. Also, people tend to behave differently when they’re in relationships: studies claim that you’re more likely to engage in somewhat unhealthier choices when you’re with the one you love.

It’s More Likely to Happen to Live-In Couples and Newlyweds 

Setting aside averages, the number of pounds gained usually varies from person to person, or relationship to relationship–but the general consensus among experts is that the effects of increased consumption are more pronounced in live-in couples and newlyweds. These couples can gain up to three to four pounds in their first three months of co-habiting. There is even a study claiming that happily married couples are the ones that are most susceptible to weight gain, as marital satisfaction is apparently positively associated with increase in weight. An explanation for this is a recurring one: since people in couples have no need to attract prospective partners, weight loss and maintenance are not given much thought. Also, people tend to pattern their diets and health habits after their partners’.

Studies claim that you’re more likely to engage in somewhat unhealthier choices when you’re with the one you love

It’s the Women Who Have It Worse

We’re broaching sensitive territory here, but this important finding may as well be raised: on average, it’s the women who gain more weight in relationships. In the abovementioned 2009 study, it was found that women are more likely to become obese the longer she lives with her partner. The obesity risk for men on the other hand reaches its highest peak during the first two years of co-habiting. Nutritionist and wellness coach Rania Batayneh attributes this to the idea that women tend to neglect self-care when they co-habit, as they focus instead on their partners’ needs. There’s also all the added pressure entailed by societal expectations, which often lead to feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction, and in turn to the neglect of personal health which may include stress eating. Lastly, it may have something to do with metabolism: men typically have higher metabolisms, and so they more quickly burn all the extra calories brought on by being in a relationship.

Research has even shown that eating a meal with another person–regardless of your relationship with them–can boost the amount of food eaten by about 33 percent

How to Ward off the Love Pounds

Despite all of this, the good news is that there are many ways couples can lose all the weight they gained together. It will take work, obviously, but at least none of them will have to do it alone. The idea that people pattern their diets and health habits after their partners’ proves to be especially useful here—if before, they’ve made unhealthy lifestyle choices together, they can just as well make healthy ones. Cooking together at home instead of eating out is a good start. A great next step is to exercise as a couple, which, research shows, can actually make your workout sessions more productive.