By Sunny Sea Gold
December 20, 2018

It started on my honeymoon, the slow gain of "happy fat” that so many other people in relationships put on. By day two of our 14-day cruise of the Greek islands, the new white pants I brought for dinners out were pinching around the waist. I wasn’t too upset, except at the waste of money.

Things were very different in the three months before the wedding. I’d been so anxious during this time that for the first time in my zaftig life, I actually couldn’t keep weight on. I kept having to get my size 12 dress taken in, and my weight fell to an all-time adult low. Looking back at our wedding photos, my husband says that although I “looked beautiful of course,” I didn’t look like myself.

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Abondance is the French word he sweetly uses to describe me now; it means abundant or bountiful. (And it’s also a kind of French cheese. We like cheese a lot. Perhaps one reason for my abondance?) Full disclosure: I’ve put on a significant amount of weight in the nine years since we got married, much of it due to a relapse of binge eating disorder after I had our second child. 

But even men and women without disordered eating issues tend to put on weight when they’re coupled up. A 2018 survey of 2,000 Americans found that 69% of the men and 45% of the women gained weight when getting into their most recent relationship, mostly due to eating out more and moving around less, preferring to cozy up on the couch. A different study followed 169 newlywed couples for four years and found that the happier they were together, the more pounds they gained.

I’m not exactly comfortable with the weight I've gained in the last several years, but dieting is not on my menu. The nutritional therapist I’m seeing suspects that my postpartum dieting after having my second baby may have caused my binge eating disorder relapse. So now I continue to work on my relationship with food, stay off scales, aim for balanced meals and thrice-weekly trips to the gym, and accept my body as it is, for the most part.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a struggle to adjust. The same goes for these three women, who are sharing their own stories about food and relationships with Health. All have different experiences; one gained weight she's now trying to lose, another is making peace with her post-marriage pounds, and a third credits her partner with helping her form a healthier relationship with food. Their honesty reminds us that it’s normal for our eating habits and bodies to change over time—and it’s not necessarily anything to fear.

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"Food was our 'thing'—and I put on 30 pounds"

“My weight has been up and down from a young age, so it's important [to me] to watch what I eat. When I am single, I track pretty much everything that goes into my mouth. I usually follow a high-protein, medium fat, and a low-carb diet. But when I am in a relationship, I get comfortable and track nothing.

In my last relationship, my ex and I would go on tons of dinner dates where we would splurge—appetizer, main course, drinks, and dessert. I would also cook a lot of hearty meals for the two of us; we loved these meals together, it was so full of pleasure. And then on the weekends, we’d have lazy days in bed. We were actually having dinner at Chili’s when he told me he wanted to live together, and it became a special place for us. Every time we went there after that we felt more connected.

I put on 30 pounds while we were together. It took several months for us to truly break up, and in this time I was so unhappy that I gained even more weight. It caused me to be insecure; I would get angry and jealous if I thought he was looking at women who were more fit than me. He was also not supportive and used to say awful things to me about my weight gain. I resolved it by finally cutting him completely from my life. Now I am living a healthy lifestyle and have made serious health goals for myself to find my peace and self-love again.”     —Kiah, 23, single

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"Love helped me overcome my eating disorder"

“My situation is a little unique because I'm recovering from anorexia. I'm in a really solid place right now and consider myself almost fully recovered, and I partially attribute that to the support of my amazing boyfriend, Sean. While my work in therapy helped the most, the support I have from Sean has made an impact on my relationship with food in such a positive way.

When I was single, I had a lot more anxiety around food and around sharing my eating disorder history with the people I was dating. With Sean, I know I have a constant, steady source of support in all corners of my life, but especially in regards to eating and food.

I have gained weight while I've been with Sean, but I attribute this to my recovery, not to our relationship. At first, it was really challenging for me to accept the weight gain because of my ED history, plus the added part of worrying that Sean would feel different about me. However, I now realize that my body knows what's best and that Sean loves me for me, not for a number or a size. Being in a relationship with someone who is super normal around food and is totally unapologetic about his love for food has been so refreshing and has made such an immense positive on my own relationship with food.”     —Colleen, 21, in a relationship

"Once I was part of a couple, I gave myself permission to eat foods I'd been depriving myself of" 

“When it comes to the way I ate when I was single versus when I’m in a relationship, it's a different universe. When I was single, I was more focused on me, more mindful about what I put in my body and more in tune with myself. Once I was part of a couple, I gave myself permission to let go and breathe and give in to all the things I had been wanting to eat but had been depriving myself of. The deprivation also served my other emotional needs and need to feel in control.

A lot of rituals and social behaviors surround food, and when you're in a relationship, you're exploring new rituals together. For example, having pizza is my husband and my Monday night ritual. We always order pizza on Mondays from our favorite restaurant. Because it's viewed as a treat, we ultimately overindulge and excuse it because it's our night. We have both gained a lot of weight in our three-year relationship, about 50 pounds.

I have always gained weight in relationships. But through therapy and becoming a therapist, I've learned a lot more about the food/emotion connection. I put on weight because I began craving and allowing myself the foods I associate with happiness. In love, things are happy, and what better pairs with happiness than a cupcake or a cookie or going for ice cream?   —Sarah, 32, newlywed

Sunny Sea Gold is a health journalist and author of Food: The Good Girl’s Drug. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @sunnyseagold.

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