Your partner could help you lose weight -- or be your worst enemy, according to new research

  • A new study funded by Weight Watchers suggests that your significant other can be your strongest ally – or your worst enemy – when it comes to achieving your weight loss goals.
  • The research builds on previous studies not funded by the company that came to similar conclusions.
  • Amy Gorin, a professor of behavioural psychology at the University of Connecticut, says her findings represent what she calls “a ripple effect.”
  • Gorin’s study is one of the first of its kind to use a gold standard of scientific research – a randomised, controlled design – to look at couples’ progress.

Eating healthy can feel like torture in the country that’s home to the Crunchwrap Supreme.

Dieting is expensive. Working out is time consuming. On top of all that, weight loss can be somewhat of an uphill battle for people with genetic predispositions to obesity.

Yet if your social media feed is anything like mine, it’s replete with inspirational images of couples teaming up to lose weight together and killing it.

Enlisting a significant other in your weight loss plans could be a great way to help ensure your success, but only if your partner is just as committed as you are, recent research suggests. Conversely, if they struggle to lose weight, your performance may take a similar dive.

Amy Gorin, a professor of behavioural psychology at the University of Connecticut and the lead author of a new study on these impacts, calls this the “ripple effect.”

“When one person changes their behaviour, the people around them change,” Gorin said in a statement.

The study was funded by Weight Watchers, which merits some scepticism. Still, it’s one of the first of its kind to use a randomised, controlled design in its study approach, which lends some heft to its findings.

It is also not the first study to come to these types of conclusions.

A 2008 study Gorin published in the International Journal of Obesity(which did not receive Weight Watchers money) reached a similar finding. That paper was actually the first to use the term “ripple effect” to describe how social networks could impact weight loss.

For her most recent study, which involved 130 overweight or obese couples age 25 or older, Gorin and her team found that when one member of a couple lost weight, it significantly raised the chances that the other partner would too – even if that partner wasn’t actively participating in any weight loss program. Similarly, when one partner struggled to slim down, it made it more likely for the other person to have problems as well.

To come to these conclusions, Gorin split the couples into two groups. In one group, one partner joined Weight Watchers. For six months, they got in-person counseling and a host of online tools to help them lose weight. In the other group, one partner got only a printed handout on healthy eating, exercise, and weight-control strategies.

After six months, a third of the untreated partners in the study lost 3% or more of their initial body weight, a figure that dietitians consider a sizeable benefit. These people participated in no weight loss program at all; only their significant others did. Half of them used Weight Watchers, the other half used an approach of their own.

In other words, it didn’t matter if the partner who was trying to lose weight participated in Weight Watchers or not. All that mattered was that they were trying to lose weight.

“Whether the patient works with their healthcare provider, joins a community-based, lifestyle approach like Weight Watchers, or tries to lose weight on their own, their new healthy behaviours can benefit others in their lives,” Gorin said.

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