Tip: Marriage, Weight Gain, and Happiness

The science of the ripple effect, plus some controversial research on why couples either get fat or stay lean.

In Sickness and in Health

Men and women usually gain fat after they get married. That's what several scientific studies and people who have eyeballs have noticed.

Researchers involved in a four-year study of 169 newlyweds even said this may be a sign of a GOOD marriage, though obviously bad for health. The logic works like this:

A couple gets hitched. Then...

  • HAPPY spouses gain a little weight, sometimes a lot. This, according to the study, is because they have a satisfying marriage and aren't planning on getting divorced. Secure and comfortable in their blissful marriage, they inadvertently gain some weight because they aren't planning to be on Tinder any time soon.
  • UNHAPPY spouses are less likely to gain weight, or at least not gain as much. Why? Well, the researchers said that unhappy spouses keep themselves fit because they're "motivated to attract an alternative mate."

Yeah, I know. As one-half of a fit couple, I bristled a bit at these conclusions.

But the research here is only pointing out a trend based on the general population, not we sexy lifters. That statistical trend may not match your marriage or mine, because we're, ya know, BETTER than average people. But the trend is real across a wider population.

Also, while the study didn't address this, we could theorize that people who are already into fitness tend to marry people that are also into fitness. That couple is more likely to stay lean, at least until kids come along and mess up damn near everything. (Kidding, kidding...)

Here's what we can take from this: Don't allow your awesome marriage to make you complacent. Your waist measurements and resultant health don't give a shit if you're happy. And there are of course many reasons to keep the fat off besides the prospect of "alternate mate selection."

Now this is a touchy subject. Past studies have looked at lots of things, like nagging your spouse into losing weight, and they all came to the same conclusion: it doesn't work. So what does work? A study published in the journal Obesity said: the "ripple effect."

See, fat gain tends to occur in most average couples, whether they're unhappy or not, just in different amounts. So chances are, if you're worried about your spouse's weight gain, you've probably gained some too. And the best way to get your wife or hubby to lose some fat is to lose some yourself. This will cause a ripple effect and your spouse will get healthier too.

The study tracked 130 couples for 6 months. When one spouse really committed to losing fat, the other half of the pair bond lost fat too. The spouses lost an average of 3 percent of their bodyweight, even though they weren't on the structured plans their wives or husbands were using.

This ripple effect could've been caused by several things, like the non-dieting spouse eating many of the same healthier foods as the dieting spouse, or joining in on the exercise plan. Or maybe just seeing their spouse make some positive changes motivated them.

  • Don't get too comfortable in your happy marriage. Buck the fat-gain trend.
  • If you get fat and your spouse gets ripped, your dumpy ass is about to get dumped. Okay, maybe not. But if the marriage is on rocky ground already, it could be a sign to seek some counseling.
  • If you want your spouse to lean up, don't nag, just lose a few pounds yourself. Lead from the front.
  1. Meltzer AL, et al. Marital Satisfaction Predicts Weight Gain in Early Marriage. Health Psychology, 2013
  2. Amy A. Gorin, et al. Randomized Controlled Trial Examining the Ripple Effect of a Nationally Available Weight Management Program on Untreated Spouses. Obesity, 2018
Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram