Q: A couple years ago I had my heart broken and lost 24 pounds in four months. It was like an ironic parting gift from that vile, deceitful woman that almost made it worthwhile. I didn’t starve myself or eat particularly healthfully — there were plenty of nights of eating Pizza Lucé over the sink — but I guess I was just in too much pain to feel hungry. It’s like when you are sent back into the dating pool, nature helps you out a little.
Once I got over it, I regained about 7 pounds and dated casually for a year. I’ve had a new girlfriend for six months, and in that time I’ve put about 10 more back on, distressingly. Why do people seem to lose weight when we’re single and gain it when we’re in a relationship? Is it possible to be both happily partnered and thin?
A: Nature not only does you a solid by slimming you down before you head back into the dating pool; you also go through a significant ugly phase after a bad breakup. Your posture is weak from lack of confidence. Your face is drawn and mopey. You’re the last person invited to the dinner party because all you do is rant about the diabolical troll who ruined your life. Your forehead is plastered with “DON’T EFFING TALK TO ME” and, even when you do feel like distracting yourself with a one-nighter, the desperation oozes from your pores. You know those “bad decisions” we all make while in a fragile rebound state? They’re not our fault. That’s us scraping the bottom of the barrel because the scum down there are the only people who will touch us in our sad, festering state.
This is nature saving our asses, believe it or not. We’re in no condition to start a new relationship, in the pity-party phase, but once the funk clears, it’s on. We lace up our running shoes, we buy some new duds (the fatty clothes don’t fit anymore, anyway) and we regain our party-invite status. We go out, we have fun, and one night in the not-too-distant future, we meet the next one who ends up making us forget all about the last one.
So goes the cycle and, yes, weight fluctuation is a part of it. “Many people overeat when sad, but loss of appetite is a symptom of depression, which certainly could happen after a bad breakup,” says Patricia Aletky, a local licensed psychologist who specializes in sexual health. “I don’t believe there is any metabolic change; less food equals fewer calories, that is it.”
What about the weight gain? It’s a multifaceted problem. First, you now have a partner in crime who probably indulges your bad habits. There was no reason to bake a whole batch of chocolate chip cookies before, but now you can share them. One Bloody Mary at brunch turns into four, and now that you mention it, you’re brunching every weekend. Also, it’s easier to rationalize skipping the gym in favor of Netflix and takeout when someone has your six. “Maybe people just let go after they are off the dating track, which tells us they do not have self-motivation, as opposed to trying to look good for an event or a date,” Aletsky says. “People who care about themselves do not pig out and get fat just because they are in a relationship.”
That last sentence is my favorite. Remember your “vile, deceitful” ex? Those people who don’t truly care about us cause us to care less about ourselves, too. The relationship becomes unbalanced; we get manipulated into focusing all our energy on the other person, and our own well-being is sacrificed — abs, core and all. My Ph.D. in Awesome may not hold water in the psyche community, but I think I’m onto something.