One of the perks of being married is better health, right? We’ve known that for a long time now. Not only do married people engage in fewer self-destructive behaviors, like smoking or doing drugs, they tend to keep an eye on each other’s health and support each other through stressful times. All this leads, research shows, to a longer, more healthful life than we would have enjoyed if we’d never married.
However, sometimes we like to undercut ourselves. Or our spouses. We ask, “Does this make me look fat?” or we poke at the belly that is chubbier than when we were newlyweds. We wonder and worry if our spouses will still love us if we gain weight or if our body looks different than it did on our wedding day. I can speak of this based on firsthand experience, in fact, because it actually happened to me. I had only been married a few months — but had gained at least a dozen pounds — when I found myself facing these exact questions.
I cried to my husband about my fears that he wouldn’t like what I was becoming. (Not that it was my problem alone — he’d gained several pounds as well.) However, afterward he assured me he didn’t care what I looked like as long as I felt good about myself. We talked and decided that the real problem wasn’t the weight, as much as it was not feeling healthy, that was bothering me. A few days later we woke up early enough to sneak in a run before work and started a habit that persists today, nearly 9 years later.
We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but my husband’s focus on my health and how I felt rather than how I looked probably made a huge difference in how feel about my body, my health, and my eating habits today. A study published this month in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that young adult women who felt their significant others were encouraging them to diet or lose weight were more likely to develop disordered eating, whether that meant severe restrictions or binge eating, than those who didn’t receive such encouragement. In fact, women who were strongly “encouraged” by their significant other to diet were nearly twice as likely to binge-eat. That’s a pretty striking difference with some pretty serious consequences. Being encouraged by someone you love to diet or lose weight undoubtedly leads to feelings of inadequacy, shame, and a fear of being alone.
The best way to combat those feelings? Forget appearances. Think about health, rather than weight. Get active together. And remember, it’s part of a spouse’s job to look out for each other and support each other, not degrade or demean them. If you are tempted to poke at your spouse’s belly fat or comment on their weight, it might be a better idea to hand them their running shoes — and lace up yours as well.