Ending a marriage is always difficult, but can it also be dangerous? In terms of diet, apparently so. A new study surveying individuals ranging in age from 39 to 78 shows that after getting divorced, separated, or becoming widowed, men greatly decrease their consumption of fruits and vegetables, while women who have lost or are apart from their significant other showed little to no change in their consumption.
Harris Stratyner, PhD, a Scarsdale-based psychologist as well as a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Icahn School of Medicine, offers some insight. “Men’s diets deteriorate often after divorce because their wives watched out for them health-wise, which got translated into healthy food shopping, meal choices, and restaurant choices,” he explains. Though Straytner is also quick to stress that such an effect is based less on gender roles than the nature of marital relationships. “It is not ‘women’s work’ to do the food shopping or cooking,” he elaborates. “In many couples who are older, more traditional roles would help to account for, at least in part, the discrepancy.”
Whatever the root, this gender-specific decline poses serious threats. Not getting enough fruits or vegetables or varying one’s intake can lead to increased risk of certain cancers and Type 2 diabetes. Fruits and vegetables also provide vitamins and minerals that are essential to cardiovascular, skeletal, eye, and nerve health, among other important bodily functions.
As further caution, Stratyner points to a drop-off in socializing as a possible cause. “Men can often be less active,” he observes. “And studies have shown that in many couples, the wives actually are more involved in making social plans, which gets men up off the couch and decreases sedentary lifestyles.” Part and parcel, he notes that “Depression levels would also be interesting to study,” probing at tough questions such as, “Did post-divorce husbands become more depressed in a manner that manifested itself in laziness, increased alcohol consumption—which is a central nervous system depressant—and hanging out in bars, that serve unhealthy food to accompany beverage choices, which certainly leads to potential heart disease?”
As for why women seem less prone to suffering the same ill effects, Stratyner theorizes that societal pressure possibly still “reinforces women to stay in shape to be attractive to men they might date, while men can still be attractive in society despite a bit of a belly,” though he hopes those expectations are shifting. But for now, a recent cultural acceptance of the “dad bod” seems to corroborate this statement.
Still, when it comes to healthier dietary choices, Stratyner places responsibility solely on the individual. “Men must make healthier food choices, not be afraid to join a gym, seek professional counseling if they feel depressed post-divorce, take pride in their appearance, and in general, realize that if they do so, they will live longer and feel better,” he explains, before offering a concise bit of advice: “To divorced men approaching 40: Change your misogynistic thinking. Women are looking for guys who are in shape, eat healthy, don’t consume a great deal of alcohol, get off the couch, treat them as equal partners, and who take as much interest in making plans as they do—otherwise, you are doomed perhaps, to be alone.”