Wedding Weight Loss: Dos and Don'ts (cont.)

"It is amazing to me how focused and motivated they become during this frantic, crazy, panicked period in their lives, and it's the one thing that they stick to," says Fleming. "If you need to use the wedding day to get you started, that's OK, but most people continue to work out, feel great, and look back at the pictures and say, 'Wow, I can do this.'"

Once a couple says their "I dos," they may be at risk for a honeymoon holdover effect. Research shows that newlyweds gain weight at a faster rate then their single peers.

"Married people are heavier than people who have never been married," says researcher Jeffery Sobal, PhD, associate professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University. "They are also somewhat heavier than people who have been previously married, divorced, separated, and widowed.

"Recently married people eat about half or more of their meals together," he says. "So marriage really is a huge influence on what you eat, its caloric value, nutrient composition, and all of those things."

What seems to happen, Sobal says, is that newlyweds eat more regularly, and more formally, than they did in their single days.

"The fact that you have dinner together is seen as one of the wonderful thing about marriage. You've got an eating partner," Sobal tells WebMD. "Those meals are usually more formal and consist of multiple courses."

Sobal says his research has shown that when you control for other variables, like age and having children, the "marriage effect" seems to go away to some extent in women while it persists in men.

"It suggests that there is something about being married that makes men slightly, but not hugely, heavier," says Sobal. He says more long-term studies will be needed to determine the exact nature of this marriage effect on weight.

Say 'I Don't' to Post-Wedding Weight Gain

"You're never as thin as when you get married because it's all leading up to the big day," says newlywed Bonnie Lee of Mamaroneck, N.Y.

But in the two years since they exchanged vows, Lee says, she and her husband, Wayne, have managed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, despite constant temptation from the homework she did while studying at the French Culinary Institute in New York. Lee recently completed the culinary arts program at the cooking school and says her training has helped, rather than hindered, their efforts to maintain trim, post-wedding waistlines.

"One of things that we love about our marriage is that we both cook together," says Lee. In their single days, she and her husband used to eat out a lot more, grabbing a pizza or burger here or there.

"One thing I've learned about restaurants after working in them is that they don't measure the amount of oil they use," says Lee. "The food is saturated in oil, and you don't even know it."

Instead of eating out and risking fat overload, she puts together quick, easy meals that incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables, like stir-fries and salads.

"Cooking doesn't require a lot of time once you learn to cook efficiently," Lee tells WebMD. "The best and most inexpensive ingredients are usually those that are freshest and are in season." Mercer agrees, and adds that her own husband lost 20 pounds after they got married more than two decades ago and never gained it back. But even if you're not married to a registered dietitian, having a spousal support system can make it easier to stick to a healthy lifestyle.

Lee and Mercer offer these tips for avoiding postwedding weight gain:

  • Keep a well-stocked pantry. Having no food in the house can cause too many trips through the drive-through.
  • Plan meals ahead. Go to the grocery store with a list.
  • Focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables. It'll help your budget as well as ensure a healthy variety.
  • Watch portion sizes. Men are usually larger and require more calories than women, so portion sizes among couples shouldn't necessarily be equal.
  • Make exercise a part of your new life together. Take a walk after dinner, or learn a new sport as a couple.

"Cooking and exercising together is a good way to support each other," says Lee, "and that's an important part of marriage."

SOURCES: Nelda Mercer, RD, nutritional consultant in private practice, Ann Arbor, Mich. Sue Fleming, author, Buff Brides; personal trainer. Jeffery Sobal, PhD, associate professor of nutritional sciences, Cornell University. Bonnie Lee, culinary school graduate/newlywed, Mamaroneck, N.Y. Donna Eck-David, RN, postpartum nurse/newlywed, Chicago. Obesity Research, August 2002. Appetite, February 2003. Social Science & Medicine, April 2003.

Originally published Thursday, May 20, 2004.
Medically updated May 2006.


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