Women who have a baby or live with a partner for a decade put on more weight than women who are childless and partner-less, a study has found.
Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia found that an average 140-pound woman gained 20 pounds across 10 years if she had a baby and a partner; 15 pounds if she had a partner but no baby; and 11 pounds if she were childless and without a partner.
There is no reason to believe that having a partner causes metabolic changes, so the weight gain among childless women with partners was almost surely caused by altered behavior.
This does not explain the still larger weight gain in women who became pregnant.
I'm no expert in nutrition or metabolism, but I am one-half of a married couple, with child, so I'll offer a few explanations: When you meet that special someone, there is indeed "altered behavior," such as going to French restaurants, sleeping in on weekends, and experiencing a diminished biological need for ripped abs. As far as explaining the "still larger weight gain in women who become pregnant," besides the obvious reason, I can think of at least one other: there are pizza parlors that deliver. Right to your door.
There's something deeper at work here, says Todd Whitaker, head trainer at the Fitness Camp in Irvine, Calif. He started a program specifically for mothers with young babies in strollers called "Hot Mama Boot Camp." Whitaker also is self-publishing a book based on the program.
"When a woman has a child, there's sort of a subtle message of, 'It's OK to be heavier,'" he said. "There are incredible time demands put on women when they have children, and one of the first things to fall by the wayside is exercise. Also, they tend to eat on the go, eat whatever's there. They give themselves permission to be the way they are because they've had a baby. If it's OK with them and it's OK with their significant other, then cool. But it's not some hard-and-fast law that that's the way it's gotta be."
Whitaker firmly believes that with discipline, and a workout program built around weights and not just cardio, women can have the same body - or better - they had before they got pregnant.
"Quite a few women have come to me not being able to take off those last 15 pounds," he said. "And it's not some magic on my part. They were consistent: They showed up, they trained hard, they ate decently, and the weight came off. It comes down to self-discipline. If you've got it, you can do anything you want."
I asked Whitaker what he thought of a New York Times story about a new book by the prolific health specialist Dr. Susan M. Love. A clinical professor of surgery at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine, Love wrote "Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health," published by Crown.
The book, co-written by Harvard professor Alice D. Domar, recommends not beating yourself up if you don't get eight hours of sleep a night; exercise like a fiend; or always eat the right foods, among a long list of concerns.
"The point of this is to use your common sense, and if you feel good, then you're fine," Love told the paper. "The goal is not to get to heaven and say, 'I'm perfect.' It's to use your body, have some fun and to live a little."
This philosophy certainly has some appeal at this point on the calendar, when some of us still hunt through the couch cushions to find every last green and red M&M. Whitaker says Love's thesis, "which is 'Don't worry about every little thing you put in your body, just worry about your overall health,' is a good message. But that's not the way it's going to be interpreted."
People who just hear about the book or read its reviews, he says, might think it absolves them of making any effort to exercise and eat well.
"That kind of message could be at the least flawed and at worst dangerous," he said. "Someone who is so respected in her field, I assume she would get upset if her masterwork is misinterpreted by millions and gives license to people to lead unhealthy lifestyles.
"None of the let-yourself-go messages are good - for individuals or society."