I know a lot of married women who constantly communicate using the word “we”, but with Rosa, I had to laugh.
“We were feeling really sluggish in the spring, and we put on some weight,” she was saying, “but in July, we dropped about 10 pounds and really got our energy back.”
While this was certainly amusing, I wasn’t actually all that surprised. Romantic partners, family members, and friends can influence your health– and weight loss– in more ways than you might think.
The power of relationships and the people closest to you on your physical health can be positive, negative, or a bit of both. And understanding it makes all the difference.
In today’s article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about how your relationships can impact your weight loss efforts, and how to make the most out of these connections.
How different relationships affect weight loss
Many people assume that our relationships with our romantic partners have the most power when it comes to affecting our health, but that isn’t always the case.
Most of us have important relationships with at least a few different people, from immediate family and spouses to friends and coworkers.
One interesting study found that a person’s chance of being obese increases by 37% if their spouse is obese– and by 57% if a close friend is. For siblings, the likelihood was 40%.
What accounts for the stronger relationship between a friend’s weight and your own when compared to the relationship between your spouse’s weight and your own?
An additional finding from the same study may help to explain this: the effect was greater for both friends and siblings when they were the same sex.
This makes sense when you think about how often we compare ourselves (whether consciously or not) to the people around us who look more like us. I definitely know some women who have found extra motivation to clean up their diets after going out with female friends who had recently lost weight!
Still, other research has suggested that relationships with romantic partners are most impactful when it comes to weight losses and gains.
The reality is, it’s likely that all of your significant relationships have some impact on your health and your weight. So, as you read on, keep in mind that the patterns and connections we’re talking about here may apply in different ways to different people in your life.
6 Ways Your Relationships Can impact Your Weight Loss
Your relationships may be affecting your weight loss and health goals in more ways than one. Here are some of the most common (and sometimes surprising) ways in which your spouse, friends, family members, and even coworkers may be playing a role.
#1. You have shared habits, patterns, or routines.
If you’ve been in a romantic relationship for a long time, chances are you have a rhythm and a routine. Maybe you and your partner are in the habit of ordering a pizza whenever a new episode of your favorite TV show comes out, or you’ve been enjoying dessert together at the end of your meals for so long that you don’t even think about it anymore.
I think this is one of the reasons why I see so many women lose weight shortly after getting out of relationships. And don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you leave your partner in order to reach your goals! But the truth is that it can be hard to shake up your routine or change your habits when they’re so intertwined with someone else’s.
The same thing can happen with friends and family members, or really anyone who you spend a lot of time with. But the good news is that habits can always be changed, especially once you identify them– and you always have the opportunity to create new, healthier ones together.
#2. You share the same fridge (and who’s cooking two meals?)
One of the biggest challenges I hear from women who have started new diets or healthy eating plans is that their spouse and/or their kids don’t want or need to eat the same way.
This can make meal planning and preparation more complicated, time consuming, and stressful– and it can also get expensive to shop for two (or more) different eating styles.
It’s common (and completely understandable), especially if you’re the one doing the bulk of the cooking, to end up compromising your own eating goals a bit in order to save time, money, and/or stress.
#3. You’re influenced by what you observe.
We’re all influenced by what the people closest to us do, whether we realize it or not. Of course, this has the power to be either positive or negative, depending on how healthy our loved ones’ lifestyles are!
Research has found that if one person starts to exercise more or eat a healthier diet, the people closest to them are more likely to start doing the same.
To quote from one study on partner influence in lifestyle habits, “adoption of exercise or diet modifications in one individual is likely to spread to others, creating a social environment characterized by mutual reinforcement of healthy behavior”.
#4. You motivate each other (or you don’t).
Beyond being influenced by what we see our partners and friends doing, the people closest to us have the power to help keep us motivated by encouraging us– or to (usually unintentionally) do the opposite.
A partner who cheers you on, tells you you’re making progress, and even gently nudges you forward when your own motivation is waning, can be extremely helpful when you’re working on improving your health.
On the other hand, a close friend or spouse who frequently says things like “oh, don’t worry about it, you should treat yourself” may have the opposite effect. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that you shouldn’t ever treat yourself, and I know that loved ones who say things like this are coming from a good place!
It’s only when this starts to become really common that it may need to be looked at.
#5. Your microbiome may become more like your partner’s.
Yes, you read that right. While still in its early stages, some research has found that if you live with your partner, your skin microbiome may start to resemble theirs.
In fact, in the study linked above, a computer algorithm could actually identify couples who lived together with 86% accuracy, just based on the makeup of bacteria living on their skin!
The same may be true for your gut microbiome: a 2019 study found that married couples– and in particular those who described their relationships as being very close– had more similar gut microbiomes than did siblings.
#6. Your relationship is causing you stress.
Emotional stress can significantly impact your weight loss efforts and health, for example by impairing your adrenal function or disrupting your hormonal balance.
If you’re struggling to lose weight even though you’re eating a healthy diet and exercising, stress is an important place to look– and relationships are one of the most common causes of excess stress.
Remember that any of your relationships– whether with a partner, a friend, a family member, or even a boss– can affect your health in this way.
How to harness the power of relationships for healthy weight loss
Just about all of the connections between relationships and weight or health can work for or against you. Here are a few ways you can use the power of your relationships to help you along your weight loss journey!
- Spend time with people who share your goals. I’m definitely not suggesting that you replace your entire friend group just because they don’t have the same health goals. But if you do find that your current circle struggles to relate to what you’re going through, consider reaching out to someone who you know is more on the same path as you, or even looking for local meetup groups centered around fitness or healthy lifestyle activities.
- Suggest a new (healthy) activity or restaurant. If you’re in the habit of spending all of your time with friends at the bar, or going to a less healthy neighborhood restaurant with your spouse, it might be worth shaking it up and suggesting something more aligned with your goals. You may find that your loved ones have been wanting to live healthier, too!
- Practice mindful eating. Now that you know how much your partner’s habits, words, and attitudes can influence your eating habits, make a practice out of stopping to consider whether you’re eating something because it’s what you want to do, or whether one of these other factors may be at play.
- Talk to your partner about it. Your partner (or other person in your life) may have no idea how they’re affecting your progress, or what they can do to help. Have an honest and open conversation with the people in your life, and let them know how they can support you.
- Make a plan together. If you and your partner have different eating styles or diets, there are plenty of ways to make it work, with a little bit of planning and creativity. Sit down together and work on a meal plan for the week that allows for easy substitutions and meets both of your goals.
Final thoughts on relationships and weight loss
I know that it can be challenging to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan when the people closest to you are paying less attention to their health, or when they don’t seem to understand.
But it’s still completely possible to achieve your goals, and it all starts with understanding exactly how these relationships can impact your efforts, and what to do about it.
And remember Rosa’s story as an example– if you do share health goals with someone in your life, you can reach those goals together!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD