Beat the mate gain

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesEarlier this week, the number five most e-mailed story on the New York Times was: Study Says Women With Mate Get Heavier. Yes, love handles have found their empirical source. The study, after adjusting for other variables, showed the 10-year weight gain for an average 140-pound woman was 20 pounds if she had a baby and a partner, 15 if she had a partner but no baby, and only 11 pounds if she was childless with no partner.

I first heard about the mate gain when I was doing research for my book about the long-term unmarried relationship, A Little Bit Married: How to know when it's time to walk down the aisle or out the door . In 2006, Clay Risen wrote a piece in the New York Times Magazine about a study out of Newcastle University Human Nutrition Research Center in Britain. Researchers found that living with a male seemed to put pressure on females to consume more of the "unhealthy" choices. The irony, of course, is that females have a positive influence on their mates' diets.

Here are some tips on how to avoid the mate gain.

Understand the psychology of the mate gain. All the research shows that women are more susceptible to their partners' bad eating habits. So the first step is to be aware. Are you more likely to go along with ordering the extra-cheese pizza instead of suggesting grilled chicken and veggies? Identifying the problem is a key part of solving it.

Set the tone. The other salient finding that emerges from the field of mate gain research is women can exert a positive influence on their partners' eating habits. You don't have to be a food Nazi and insist on eating your home-grown alfalfa sprouts at every meal, but you can vote with a shopping cart and a set of pots.

Frame it in terms of sex. If you aren't getting any traction by saying "eat your peas and carrots," encourage exercise as a way to balance out the extra calories you are consuming. Tell your mate about the study that found women were more sexually responsive following 20 minutes of vigorous exercise.

Find a new mentality. Treadmills and spinach are not just for the single ladies. You may have spent years, spinning, running, climbing, and contorting yourself into various yoga poses. But now you are nesting. (Enjoy the honeymoon period!) However, landing a mate wasn't the only reason stay in shape. For many women, though, the mate hunt is a big motivator to watch their waistlines. So it's time to reboot the system and find fresh reasons to stay in shape, like your health.

Be picky. This tip comes from Dr. Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Lab at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center : "You don't always have to eat the same stuff," she says. "In fact, it's good not to, because your temptations are often different from his and when you eat your favorites plus his, you eat more." Roberts says the first meal of the day is a great time to go your own way.