Love makes you fat

A new study finds that women who get married and have babies gain a bit more weight than those who don't

Published January 7, 2010 5:08PM (EST)

New research from Australia has shown that over a 10-year-period, women who have partners will gain more weight than those who don't -- and women who have babies will gain even more. Writes Nicholas Balakar in the New York Times, "The differences, the scientists found, were stark." Oh my -- how stark? A whopping four and nine pounds, respectively: "After adjusting for other variables, the 10-year weight gain for an average 140-pound woman was 20 pounds if she had a baby and a partner, 15 if she had a partner but no baby, and only 11 pounds if she was childless with no partner." (There weren't enough women with babies and no partners to draw any meaningful conclusions about them.)

There's a plausible metabolic explanation for pregnancy pounds sticking around, but it's assumed that partner-related excess gain -- which, I'll remind you, was all of four pounds, a statistically significant but not terribly impressive number -- must be a matter of behavior. Behavior like eating more and exercising less, one presumes. Unless they mean behavior like admitting your real weight instead of shaving off a few pounds -- the data here was self-reported. Or maybe changes like no longer starving yourself in hopes of attracting a partner, or sitting down to regular balanced meals once you're more settled, something like that. Or "lifestyle choices" like whether or not to drop out of a 10-year-study before it's finished. Any of those things might have played a role in these findings.

Maureen A. Murtaugh, "an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Utah who has published widely on weight gain in women," has another idea, though: People with partners might have "a more active social life." Really? All the partnered people I know went out a lot more when we were single and didn't want to sit in front of the TV alone, but okay. "Think of going to a restaurant," she said. "They serve a 6-foot man the same amount as they serve me, even though I'm 5 feet 5 inches and 60 pounds lighter." Good point! The absurdity of serving two differently sized people similarly sized meals -- and indeed the danger of it, during an Obesity Crisis -- is obvious. I mean, we all know there's no such thing as a doggie bag or wasted food; everyone eating in a restaurant eats every bite put in front of them, regardless of their size or appetite, or whether they (like somewhere between a third and half of American women at any given time) are dieting. The only exceptions to that rule are the nutritionists and obesity researchers who constantly bang on about the evils of restaurant portion sizes in the media -- they make wise decisions, but the rest of us are too ignorant to know that plate-clearing is not compulsory, and/or too bereft of self-discipline to stop eating before we make ourselves sick. All those plastic boxes and paper bags and sheets of aluminum foil waiting to be crafted into cunning little swans just sit there unused, and the dumpsters behind restaurants certainly aren't full of half-eaten meals. No one ever goes out for dinner intending to take the leftovers to work for lunch the next day. I know it must be true because so very many articles like this have told me so.

What other lessons can the average woman take from such a study? Dr. Annette J. Dobson, lead author of the study, says that -- apart from the stunning news that people tend put on a few pounds as they age -- "Getting married or moving in with a partner and having a baby are events that trigger even further weight gain. From a prevention point of view, one can look at these as particular times when women need to be especially careful." These "particular times" being A) when your body is charged with nourishing a fetus, and B) the rest of your fucking life after you're married, apparently. (I'm guessing further research is required to determine whether divorce will take those four pounds back off.) So essentially, women need to be "especially careful" about weight gain for the majority of their adult lives, unless they remain single and childless, in which case they'll still gain an average of 11 pounds over a decade. And it's vital that we get that message out because until now, there was so little pressure on women to stay as thin as possible. So far, only about 80 percent of American women are dissatisfied with their bodies, but if we work together to reinforce the important message that women must always be vigilant about our weight -- and surely, the prospect of gaining an extra four pounds over a decade underscores the danger of letting our guards down for even a moment -- I'm confident we can get that number up to 100.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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