Ronda Kaysen: This is what Anna Lorenzetto's husband likes to eat for dinner: a heaping bowl of pasta, half a loaf of bread, two glasses of wine, and a chocolate dessert. This is what that diet did to Anna: load a whopping 40 pounds onto her 5' 6" frame.
"Basically, we got married, he said what he wanted for dinner, I made it, and he loved it," said Anna, 30, who lives in Indianapolis. "For a long time I was in denial, and then all of a sudden none of my clothes fit, even stretched to the max."
Within three years of their 2004 wedding, Anna had ballooned from 155 pounds to 195 pounds and her pants were pulling at the seams. When she gave birth to her son in 2008, she weighed 215 pounds.
Anna's story is far from uncommon. It's actually the norm, according to a 10-year Australian study that found that women who shack up with their sweethearts gain much more weight than women who live alone. Don't blame it on having babies because kids or not, women get plumper when they're sharing an address. On average, a 140-pound woman can expect to gain 20 pounds over a decade if she has a baby with her partner, 15 pounds if she doesn't, and only 11 if she stays solo.
"To me, [the study] is just more proof that it really is true that the more time that you spend with a guy, the more careful you have to be that you don't adopt his eating habits," said Jenna Bergen, author of Your Big Fat Boyfriend: How to Stay Thin When Dating a Diet Disaster. "Basically your new best friend is a bigger person who has a bigger appetite, who eats more calories every day. The more you hang out with him, the easier it is to eat when he eats."
Let's face it, married life is a more sedentary existence than a single one. Nearly 55 percent of respondents to an Essence poll agreed that couples tend to be less active than single people. Combine less activity with more attention focused on mealtime and you have a perfect storm of weight gain. For women, the new lifestyle of calorie-laden dinners out, lots of meals together at home, and far less time spent at the gym is a recipe for obesity. After all, it only takes 500 additional unused calories a day for a week to equal a pound of fat.
"For a lot of guys, it's normal to have pizza four or five times a week," said Bergen. But for a woman, that can be far more calories than her body is equipped to handle. "You're suddenly around foods every day that you're used to only having once in a while."
That's exactly how Alexa Flanders, 38, went up two dress sizes in the three years after she moved in with her then-boyfriend, Zach Howard. "I was eating man-sized portions," said Flanders, who lives in western Massachusetts. Competitiveness partly drove her feeding frenzy. "I wanted to make sure that I was getting my fair share," she said. But even Howard, who is now her husband, gained weight.
It wasn't until after the couple had their first baby that both of them began shedding the pounds. Now, 18 months after her second child was born, Alexa is back to the figure she had before she first moved in with Howard in 1998. Howard has fared well, too. He has "lost a ton of weight," according to Flanders.
"I think it's a combination of working and nursing," she said of her own weight loss. "If you are running after your kid and nursing for awhile, you lose weight. That's what happened with me."
It is possible to lose the weight, but it's not easy, say fitness experts. Shedding major pounds requires changing your lifestyle and getting support from friends and family. "If you are willing to put the work into it, you can get your body back," said Britney Rhodes, a personal trainer in Manhattan who gained five pounds when she moved in with her fiancé a year ago. "You have to do it day by day. Nothing happens overnight."
Rhodes, who is still trying to shed her extra pounds, suggests changing your dating habits: replace a dinner out with an afternoon hike or a walk in the park. Join a sports team together. Eat smaller portions at dinner. If you're lingering over a nice meal, take a second portion of vegetables rather than pasta. For dessert, order coffee and skip the pie. And don't change your exercise habits just because you're living together. If you used to hit the gym before you came home, continue to do that.
For Anna of Indianapolis, having a baby motivated her to lose the weight. Six weeks after her son, Nicholas, was born, she was back to 195 pounds and miserable. "I was very unhappy," she said. "Nothing fit right. I was no fun to be around when I was getting dressed."
So she made some drastic changes, some of which she had started before she got pregnant. She strapped Nicholas into the Baby Bjorn and walked an hour a day. She also changed her eating habits. She still made Stefano his lasagnas and pastas, but she made different meals for herself, returning to the foods she ate before she started living with an Italian -- beans, rice, salads, and vegetables.
"The food I eat grosses Stefano out," she said. "But I can't eat pasta every day. Women just can't."
Stefano might not be a fan of beans and rice, but he was supportive of Anna's diet and tempted her to keep at it with promises of a shopping spree the next time they visited his family in Italy. "He was very encouraging," she said. "He wanted to have a thin wife, too."
By the summer of 2008, Anna was down to 135 pounds. She's maintained the weight ever since. She still cooks Stefano all his Italian favorites, but she doesn't find that she wants them anymore. "That wasn't my diet before I got married, so it was easy to go back," she said.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|