WHEN summer’s heat and humidity come on, heavy clothes come off. As we remove the layers that kept us warm in winter – and hid our extra pounds – many of us don’t like what we see, and we resolve to lose weight.

Losing weight can make us healthier and improve the quality of our lives.

It can also have an impact on our most intimate relationships.

Even in small amounts, weight loss affects self-esteem, activity levels and lifestyle – all of which can either improve or stress a marriage and other intimate bonds.

According to a study published in the March issue of JAMA Surgery, weight loss “surgery was associated with increased incidence of divorce and separation, as well as increased incidence of marriage and new relationships”.

Experts think these effects accompany weight loss resulting from diet and lifestyle changes, as well as surgery.

The JAMA study concludes that weight loss can have both physical and emotional benefits. Those who lose weight became more comfortable socially and feel empowered to seek out a romantic partner – or gain the confidence to end a relationship that has become toxic.

Better choices

Melinda Watman remembers being teased about her weight in kindergarten. “It took about 30 seconds for the mean kids to turn Katzman (her maiden name) into Fatzman,” she says.

It was then that she made herself “bulletproof”. She decided she would excel socially and do well in life. She earned several advanced degrees, including an MBA, and succeeded in a number of careers.

She has also had lots of friends.

But her love life was less successful. For seven years, she engaged in an unhealthy relationship. “I just shut my eyes to” his neglect and controlling behaviours, she says.

By 2000, standing just over five feet (1.52m), she weighed 225 pounds (102kg) and decided to try bariatric surgery.

She eventually lost 125lb (57kg) and has maintained her weight for more than 18 years.

The weight loss, she says, not only made her healthier and happier, it also helped her choose better partners. A year after her surgery, Watman ended the unheal-thy relationship. “I think that he had less control over me, and I had no interest in being controlled” anymore, she says.

Watman, who lives in Boston, United States, is now in a happy 13-year marriage to a man she says is loving and supportive.

And, at age 63, she is the president and founder of THE F WORD FAT, an organisation that works to prevent weight discrimination and provides weight management support for individuals.

Sofia Rydin-Gray, a clinical psychologist and director of behavioural health at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, says losing weight can improve self-esteem and how we relate to others. Feeling better about one’s self “changes the dynamic” in a relationship and can help individuals assert their own needs more effectively.

Wallflower to social butterfly

Losing weight can also make people more outgoing, creating opportunities to meet romantic partners.

After languishing as a “wallflower” most of his life, Rob Portinga, 50, found that losing weight got him back into dating.

“I wasn’t this way 10 years ago,” says Portinga, who lost almost 91kg (200 pounds) after undergoing bariatric surgery in 2008.

“I was the person hiding in the corner at a party, afraid of the rejection I felt was inevitable.”

Portinga’s improved health also enabled him to become more active. He took up hiking and leads a group that explores the Central Cascade Mountains.

He met his girlfriend, Bonnie Mills, 42, in the group.

Every weekend the friends hike together, enjoying camaraderie, beautiful scenery and staying fit.

Physical intimacy

Excess weight can interfere with a couple’s sex life, says Dr Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington. “There may be big differences in the sexual interest and sexual function, as well as attraction between two people in a relationship,” he says.

Physical intimacy often improves after weight loss. Increased self-confidence, better mobility and more energy make sex more enjoyable.

Pandora Williams, 41, a personal trainer and general manager of a gym, says her interest in sex increased after she lost 260lb (118kg). But her husband continued to show indifference, she said.

When she was heavy, she blamed his lack of interest on her weight. When this didn’t change, Williams concluded, “We spoke love in different languages.”

The couple continued to drift apart, separated in 2013 and are now in the process of dissolving their 11-year marriage.

Ensuring success

Losing weight and keeping it off requires better food choices, more meal planning and increased exercise. According to experts, couples can help each other adopt this new lifestyle by thinking of themselves as a team and working together to get healthier.

“The more encouragement and support (partners) get” from each other, the more likely they are to succeed, Rydin-Gray says.

“At a minimum, you want to have open communication,” advises Dr Luke Funk, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Before beginning a weight-loss programme or having surgery, couples should discuss why the overweight partner wants to lose weight, what lifestyle changes will be needed and how they both will benefit from new habits.

“You go through a lot of changes as you lose weight,” says Dr Funk, “and it’s really critical to have somebody by your side.”

Improved health and greater mobility give couples an opportunity to find new ways to connect.

Discovering healthy activities together, such as dancing, hiking or traveling, breathes new life into long-term relationships and can strengthen a couple’s bond.

More benefits than risks

While relationships may be negatively affected by weight loss, experts say the benefits outweigh the risks.

Improved health, better self-esteem and greater quality of life remove the limitations of excess weight, making individuals happier and more fulfilled.

“When people lose weight,” says Dr Kahan, “most things improve.”

And most relationships fare well. Though the JAMA study showed an increase in separations and divorces, Per-Arne Svensson, the study’s lead researcher, points out that “80% of those that were married… were still in the same relationship” 20 years later. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service