Diet blog: are single people slimmer?

Judith Wills / 28 February 2018

Do people in relationships weigh more than single people? Our diet expert weighs up the evidence.

Almost half of people over 60 live alone, and while many studies agree that those of us who do so tend to have a higher risk of social isolation and depression, it seems the experts just can’t agree on whether it’s better for your waistline to be on your own or living with a partner.

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I began looking at the available research on the subject recently for an article I was writing and was amazed that around half the studies found that having a partner was the best way to stay slim, and the other half found that living alone did the trick.  Admittedly, few studies have been carried out specifically on older age groups – most of the people studied were adults of all ages. 

So I’ve been busy conducting my own research with the help of my friends, acquaintances and relatives, who range from youngsters of 50 to nearly 90.  The people I’ve quizzed also vary in their lifestyles and activity levels, whether or not they are retired, where they live, whether they are introverted or ultra-sociable, confident or shy, country or city people.  Many have lived both alone and with partners.  

What I’ve found is that the consensus is that living alone is much more likely to result in a smaller midriff than is living with a partner. 

Why? Well, when it comes to meal planning, food occasions and cooking, it seems that most of us who live with a partner tend to cater for the person in the partnership who enjoys food the most. 

"Even though I would have preferred lighter foods, had I been on my own, I ate what he ate."

For example, a lifelong friend of mine who spent 20 years married and has been divorced for nearly the same number of years, says, “In our marriage, it was my husband, who was tall and had a physically active job, who – quite naturally, I suppose - had the bigger appetite and enjoyed hearty, high-calorie roasts, cooked breakfasts, steak and chips and so on.  So, because I didn’t want to do separate meals for myself, even though I would have preferred lighter foods had I been on my own, I ate what he ate.  Yes, I could have had half portions or something, but it really is hard when you are a couple!  You tend to eat alike.  And if he’d come home with a bottle of wine and two bags of crisps, I’d eat and drink that too, even if I wouldn’t have even thought of it otherwise …

“After we split up, I lost two stones in a few months without even trying."

“After we split up, I lost two stones in a few months without even trying – looking back, food no longer seemed so important, and for once I was eating what I wanted, when I wanted to.”

And, let’s face it, most of us most of the time enjoy eating because it is a sociable thing, and there’s a big element of wanting to provide something that’s taken effort for people we love.  If we’re on our own, the whole thing of meal prep and eating becomes much less important.  So we eat less.

There’s also research that living on your own suppresses appetite.  And if being alone, as we saw, increases depression, that can kill your appetite bigtime. 

Of course this is not the case for all.  Some people eat more when they are depressed – particularly junk type foods – chocolate, biscuits, and so on.  And if you can’t be bothered to cook a ‘real’ meal with veg, you’ll probably sit on the sofa and grab a snack pack of some sort. 

But on balance, I reckon for most of us the only way to stay as slim as you were before you got married or began living together, is to both have exactly the same attitude to food, likes and dislikes, and similar activity levels and appetites.  And how many of us can say that?

But there is one bit of good news for couples – apparently, if you are both on the overweight side and decide you really do need to do something about it – your slimming campaign will be much easier.  And if even just one of you does get strong on willpower and decides to embark on a weight loss regime, the likelihood is that the other will join in, too, once they see the weight shifting. 

Motto – don’t ditch the partner – just ditch your joint bad habits.  It’s a lot better for you, in more ways than one!

Extra bites

  • PFAs, chemicals found in cling films, non-stick cookware and other household items, have been found to increase the likelihood of gaining weight after a diet by lowering your metabolic rate, a US study has found. 
  • Switching to low-alcohol wine can lead you to drinking more, not less, researchers at Cambridge University have discovered.  This may be because some bottles of wine sold as ‘low in alcohol’ can actually contain as much as 8.5% alcohol by volume, but people, not realising this, quaff the wine as if it is water.  When buying low-alcohol, check the label – or go for wines that are ‘alcohol free’ instead – these by law can contain no more than 0.05% ABV.

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