Will your decision to lose weight affect your partner? Read on for the surprising results.
Does the ‘Ripple Effect’ Lead to Weight Loss in Couples?
If you’re in a long-term relationship, chances are you or your partner have tried to lose weight—or at least live a healthier lifestyle—at some point since you’ve been together. Maybe you’ve noticed that when you diet, your partner loses weight too, or when your partner goes to the gym, sometimes you tag along. Well, it turns out that what’s good for one of you may be good for both.
In a study funded by Weight Watchers, research conducted by University of Connecticut behavioral psychologist Dr. Amy Gorin examined the “ripple effect” — the idea that when one spouse participates in weight loss treatment, the “untreated” spouse may also experience weight loss. Published in the research journal Obesity, Gorin’s research focused on 130 cohabitating couples, in which one partner received weight-loss “treatment” while the other did not. The couples were split into two groups: one that participated in Weight Watchers, and a control group, which participated in “self-guided” weight loss.
Each couple participated in a randomized 6-month program. Of the “treated” participants, half were given free access to Weight Watchers, while the other half were given a four-page handout with basic information on healthy eating, activity, and weight-control strategies, and asked to lose weight through a self-guided treatment. In both groups, the “untreated” spouses did not receive any resources or access to Weight Watchers.
The surprising truth: losing weight without trying
Over the course of six months, researchers assessed and weighed both partners in each group at three and six months, revealing a correlation between treated and untreated spouses. Surprisingly, the authors found that “untreated spouses lost weight at 3 months and 6 months, but there was no effect of treatment condition on untreated spouses’ weight loss at either time point.”
In other words, regardless of whether the treated spouse used Weight Watchers or a self-guided method, untreated spouses lost weight as their partners did. Ultimately, more than 30 percent of untreated participants experienced significant weight loss by the end of the study. In addition, treated participants in the Weight Watchers group experienced greater weight loss than those in the self-guided group.
Although this study of “ripple effect” weight loss is unique in its field, Dr. Gorin noted that it “adds to the growing literature, suggesting that weight and weight change within married couples is highly dependent” and may contribute to more effective methods of treatment for individuals attempting to lose weight.
According to Medical News Today, Dr. Gorin also hopes to further examine the effects of environment on weight loss by researching the impact of other family members, such as children, siblings, or parents.
For successful weight loss, maybe it’s time to try the buddy system
While Dr. Gorin’s research does not include the possible reasons behind “ripple effect” weight loss, it stands to reason that people who spend a majority of their free time together can have a strong influence on one another’s habits. For example, if one partner shifts toward a healthier diet and stops consuming fast food, the other partner is likely to follow suit—if only for the sake of convenience. It’s a bit like Couvade syndrome, in which the partner of a pregnant woman experiences sympathetic symptoms, such as weight gain. (But the opposite of that.)
So, if you’ve been pressuring your partner to lose weight or get healthy, step up and make an example of yourself. Chances are your partner will benefit from your efforts whether he or she means to or not!