Recently, an article titled “Cohabitation is Bad for Women’s Health” immediately caught my eye. It was one of The New York Times Trends of the Year. Uh-oh. Living with men puts pressure on women to consume more unhealthy foods. Evidently, now I’m also living in (ee-gad!) nutritional sin!
Another preachy article warning me that something I do is wrong! Plus, it quotes a study that only focuses on straight unmarried people. What about gay couples? Unmarried couples with kids?
Unfortunately, when I did an informal survey of my friends, almost all agreed with the results of the study, in terms of their own lives.
Here were a few responses:
“I gained almost fifteen pounds in the first five years I lived with my boyfriend. You start to throw caution to wind more, like, ‘Sure I’ll have more wine’ or ‘Yes, I’ll have some ice cream.’”
One gay male friend said, “[Moving in] totally has an effect on gay couples. My eating habits are out the door. We eat out way too much and I don’t get the fruit/veggie intake that I used to.”
Another friend said she “adapted to my boyfriend’s eating schedule, and ate heavier meals late at night as a result.”
As much as the study bothered me, the fact is, I don’t eat quite as well as I used to, I’ve gained weight since moving in with my partner, and don’t exercise as much as before we lived apart. My family simply calls the added weight “love pounds,” but that is only part of it. I am quite happy, but why don’t I listen to my inner self that sometimes says, “Hmm. You probably shouldn’t eat the kind of portion that he is eating. You’re a smaller person.”
Why don’t we eat as healthfully in coupledom as we do in singledom? Is it all men’s fault? The more I examined my own relationship, the more I realized it was not.
Since I’ve known my partner, I have changed jobs twice, moved, and generally had a lot going on in my life. I haven’t always dealt with the stress too well. Sweets are sometimes an outlet, when it should be exercise.
He’s been more than generous as a soul mate. Since he often does feed me, I take a lot of pleasure in that. He never pushes me to eat crap. It’s true we sometimes make different choices about food. He may want more red meat or cheese in his diet than I’m accustomed to, but he’s not pressuring me to eat what he eats. Like most women, I just want everyone to get along. And now that I am part of a couple, I find myself comfortable eating what he eats. Is that so bad? Yes and no.
For example, we are bound by our love of bacon. As much as I sometimes limit our intake of bacon, I adore it as much as he does. He has encouraged me—and I’ve allowed myself—to find my inner meat lover.
We both cook, but when he cooks for me, I’m relieved not to be doing it myself, especially after a hard day’s work. So, I’m just not willing to say, “Hey honey, there’s not enough green on my plate!” Likewise, when I cook, I don’t want him telling me what to put on his plate.
It’s true, we both shop together, but I am more apt to put “greens” on the list. I might ask him to grab the broccoli or Swiss chard off the supermarket shelf. I will stock vegetables in the fridge—so he can include them in the meal (and he does). The duty to eat “nutritionally sound” often lies with me. (I count to see if at least some of the four food groups are covered. Too much yellow? Oh, better add some green.) He eats quite healthfully, but is less conscious of extra calories, how much oil to use, adding sufficient fiber in our diets, and the importance of portion size than I am.
Also, eating with my partner is a joyful, fun experience that often includes having that second glass of wine, extra piece of cheese, or bite of chocolate. Ultimately, are our partners responsible for our eating habits? Or as individuals do we need to take control ourselves? Or is there room in the middle?
Coupledom brings this sense that you’re able to let some things slide a little (unfortunately nutrition being one). And some of us just don’t protest. We join in. We do what makes us comfortable—and, for some, what we think will make everyone around us comfortable. We go with the flow. In the words of my sister, “Hell, I’m just grateful when someone else makes me dinner!”
Personally, I cannot be one of those women who “do it all”—even if I tried. After a long day, eating the right foods becomes another task. Given how hectic life can be, we sometimes turn to “meat and potatoes” meals or take-out—bound to be less healthful. My partner and I are both aware of it and we’re trying to break those bad habits together by planning meals at the beginning of the week and stocking the fridge with healthy food options.
Perhaps it’s as much about our health as our approach to relationships—and coping with a hectic lifestyle. As my life changes, my health changes, too. I can’t always control how we eat and what we put on our table, any more than my partner. And I don’t want to tell my partner what not to eat. I read somewhere that trying to change the person you’re with is a recipe for disaster.
But we can influence our partners, just as they tend to influence us. Saying “no” to his offer of—and, to be fair, my own need for—that extra spoonful of ice cream is an ongoing challenge. We are working at it. But please, no more studies, okay?