Reationships alter weight and healthy habits

By Rebekka Schlichting

Alec Brit, a junior at the University of Kansas, cuddles with his girlfriend on the couch in his dim-lit apartment. The LCD screen in front of them reruns Disney’s Alice and Wonderland for the fifth time in October. The coffee table that supports their intertwined legs is also home to Jimmy John’s wrappers and empty chip bags.

“Me and my girlfriend love to eat fast food and watch Disney movies,” Brit said. “We both have busy schedules and don’t like to cook so our nights together can get pretty lazy.”

Brit and his girlfriend have dated since their sophomore year in high school. Since they started dating four years ago, he has gained 20 pounds. Brit juggles his girlfriend, video games, work and studying in medical school which doesn’t give him much time for the gym.

A researcher at the University of Arizona is currently conducting a study which looks at how one’s romantic relationship might play a role in the obesity epidemic in the United States, according to an article by The head researcher, Emily Butler, associate professor of family studies and human development, plans to observe 80 couples who have lived together for at least six months. She will focus on common relationship patterns that link to health behaviors. For example, one pattern is when one partner encourages a positive habit change and the other partner responds negatively and rebels.

Vickie Hull, a marriage and family therapist in Lawrence, said people in a relationship can affect and infect one another.

“This can happen behaviorally or emotionally,” Hull said. “If your partner uses food to soothe stress, you may begin to do this as well.”

Hull said there are many types of relationships that can lead to changes in weight: stressful, abusive, coersive, manipulative, partnerships where one or both people are already overweight, or one where an image is held up as ideal and forced upon the other.

Tiffany Lee, a senior at the University of Kansas, said she went from weighing 120 to weighing 150 pounds during a two-year-long relationship. She said it was because her boyfriend was verbally abusive.

“He had an issue with my past relationships,” Lee said. “He would bring one of them up and say horrible things like calling me a slut or stupid.”

About six months into the relationship, Lee’s boyfriend started to continuously tell her she was a horrible person. She started to believe him and became depressed.

“I had really bad days,” Lee said. “I’d just wake up and not want to do anything. I stayed inside all day and watched movies and ate a lot. It mostly days after he said horrible things about me.”

One day Lee’s boyfriend found a text message from a guy on her phone. After he spit in her face, she decided their relationship was over. She ran to the bedroom, locked herself inside and dialed 911.

Lee started losing the weight she gained after she broke up with her abusive boyfriend. Now, she is 30 pounds lighter and in a new relationship. Lee and her boyfriend often work out together and she doesn’t over eat anymore.

“A healthy relationship is one where you can be yourself and where your goals, dreams, hopes, and aspirations are honored,” Hull said. “If you have to change a lot of things about yourself to please someone, you are in the wrong relationship.”

Tips on how to avoid the girlfriend gut and the boyfriend belly according to

  • Swear off sweets together for a length of time
  • Keep only healthy snacks around
  • Share a drink or serving at a restaurant
  • Workout together
  • Say not to fast food
  • Cook healthy meals together
  • Use positive motivation

Video Script

Brenden Lavallie and Kayla Kent are freshmen at Haskell Indian Nations University. The couple started dating in September. They started working out together a few weeks afterward.

(Music “Stronger” by Kanye West)

Kayla Kent: I like to work out and I always saw him at the gym.

Brenden Lavallie: We were down there at the same time anyway. It’s good to motivate each other. I think that helps build your relationship- to have somebody there to motivate you.

Rebekka Schlichting: Why do you guys work out together?

Brenden Lavallie : She pushes me. Like if I’m working out by myself, I might not do as much as I could, but I know if my girlfriend’s there watching me, I’m gonna try to show off and push myself to the fullest.

Kayla Kent: It’s a fun thing to do as a couple.

Breden Lavallie: I just recommend working out with your partner if you have one because it’s way better than doing it on your own.

This is Rebekka Schlichting reporting for Love in College.


About rschlichting

I'm a junior at the University of Kansas William Allen White School of Journalism. Check out my stories about relationships, sex and health in college!
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