Mind & Body

Dieting for Two: Your Weight Loss Efforts Rub Off on Your Partner

Tell us if this sounds familiar: The holidays are over, the leftovers are packed away, and your diet is getting back to normal. But then, you step on the scale and — ouch. Maybe just getting back to your usual eating routine won't be enough, and it's time for a weight-loss diet. It turns out that losing holiday pounds won't just benefit you — it could also have an impact on your romantic partner.

Related: An App to Retrain the Brain for Weight Loss

Weight for It

Here's the takeaway: When you go on a diet and you live with a romantic partner, your significant other is likely to lose some weight of their own — even if they, personally, aren't trying to cut back on their calorie intake. It's called the "ripple effect," and there have been a lot of studies to back it up. But some of those studies fall short in a few key ways.

First of all, many of them focus on individuals who are bariatric surgery candidates or who are undergoing lab-based weight loss programs, not those who are trying diets and programs that are accessible to the general public. Secondly, older reports have generally focused on self-reported weight loss from the non-dieting partner instead of actually weighing those participants. Finally, not many studies have measured the impact that the type of weight-loss program has on the non-dieting partner.

According to a recent study led by Amy Gorin at the University of Connecticut, the ripple effect is caused more by the dieting partner's efforts than the specific program that they're in. The study recruited 130 cohabitating couples and split them up, putting 65 solo participants in a Weight Watchers program and 65 participants in a self-guided weight-loss program (the latter were given a four-page pamphlet, then left to their own devices). They let the partner of each participant do their own thing.

The researchers then checked in on both groups three months after starting the program, and again at six months, weighing the participants' partners on the same timeframe. Both dieting groups lost about the same percentage of weight after six months. Interestingly, the partners of both groups lost weight, too. About one-third of the partners of both groups lost at least 3 percent of their baseline weight, despite not receiving any weight-loss intervention.

Health in a Handbasket

Something clearly connected the partners in this study in a way that encouraged both to lose weight. In fact, even their relative success or lack thereof was linked — if the treated partner struggled to lose weight, their partner did too; if it was comparatively easy for one, the ripple effect was more strongly expressed. One other question remains: If one partner losing weight can encourage the same in another, could it be that other healthy habits are just as addictive?

According to a 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, the answer is a resounding "yes." This earlier study set its sights not only on weight-loss, but on three specific parameters: smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity. Just like with the weight-only study, these researchers found that one partner quitting smoking made it much more likely for the other partner to quit, and one partner starting a regular exercise regimen made it easier for the other to do the same. Interestingly, a physically inactive person having a more athletic partner was more likely to start exercising more, but they were even more likely to do so if their partner had been practicing unhealthy habits but started exercising over the course of the study. It's a testament to the fact that sometimes, inspiration starts at home.

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Tired of trying diets to lose weight? Here's an answer: stop dieting. Stephen Guise's "Mini Habits for Weight Loss" offers an approachable, non-judgemental tactic for rethinking your weight and your health. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas December 28, 2018

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