Thursday, May 18, 2006

As if the rigors of palimony and dicey relationship issues were not enough. Here’s another reason why women should reconsider cohabiting with a boyfriend: Living together makes her pack on the pounds while he slims down, according to nutrition research.

“Women eat more unhealthy foods and tend to put on weight and increase their consumption of foods high in fat and sugar when they move in with a male partner,” notes an analysis by Amelia Lake, a nutritionist with Britain’s Newcastle University.

She based her conclusion on 20 dietary and lifestyle studies of cohabiting, heterosexual couples in the U.S., Australia and England.

“Men, on the other hand, report a reduction in ‘bad foods’ when they begin to cohabit, reducing fat and sugar and increasing consumption of vegetables,” Miss Lake states.

It is a complicated mechanism at work.

Just as in a traditional marriage, a “honeymoon period” asserts itself in the early days of cohabitation. In order to please her man, the woman tends to adjust her routine to suit her partner — right down his robust diet. The analysis found, time and again, that men preferred whole-fat dairy products and plenty of meat.

The women tended to go along with it. One study respondent noted that she is “complacent and tends to eat whatever he eats for easiness.” Other women said they did the grocery shopping and therefore tried to buy the goodies that their live-ins preferred. They also relieved the stress of a live-in relationship with food, the analysis found, while the man did not.

Other studies confirm that, for better or worse, men and women relate differently to food.

A 2005 study by Cornell University found that women crave sweets such as cake and chocolate to elevate a bleak mood, while men will opt for a protein-rich steak. But men don’t seem to have the need for comfort food in the first place.

“While women comfort themselves which such foods when they are feeling down in the dumps, men indulge as an enhancement when they are feeling their best,” noted psychologist Jordan LeBel, who led the study.

A 2003 nutritional study from the University of Illinois also found that men derived the most pleasure out of a heavy, hearty meal while women preferred snack-based fare.

Dietary reasons may not be enough to dissuade a couple from living together, however. According to the Census Bureau, about 4.6 million unmarried American couples are living together, representing 4.2 percent of all households, and an increase of about 3 percent compared with 1996 figures.

“You can’t just blame an unhealthy lifestyle or diet on your partner, as there are many other things that affect what you eat and do,” observed British dietitian Miss Lake.

“Couples who move in together should use the opportunity of the honeymoon period to make positive changes,” she added.

Her research was published in the April edition of Complete Nutrition, an industry publication.

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