Falling in love. Perhaps the most extraordinary feeling a person can experience without psychotropic drugs. It’s an all-consuming state of being that takes us to our highest highs and lowest lows. But in the whirlwind of meeting the person of your dreams, sometimes you focus on your heart and lose sight of your waistline. Yes, the dreaded dating dozen is the sister of the freshman fifteen, but hopefully with higher-quality food involved. Are you someone who tends to put on a few as soon as you start seeing someone new? Why does this happen, and how can we avoid it? What about those of us who save the weight gain for the demise of the relationship, also known as Ben and Jerry Therapy? Let’s take a look at dating on a diet.
It is fairly traditional to go out to dinner and a movie when you first start spending time with someone. You don’t want to look like the “weirdo who only eats salad” so you let loose a little bit. Perhaps you have a drink or five to continue on the loosening process. If this was for only one night, besides the imminent hangover, it’d be just fine. But when you really like someone, and you’re happy, you might shed your eating inhibitions for quite some time. He or she might like you for who you are, and not care about a few extra pounds, which is not really a bad thing. But as we all know, if the cycle continues, you can lose sight of your fitness goals and end up feeling like you just finished your first year in college, only this time with a few added wrinkles.
Let’s look at some ways to keep the love alive, without damage to your thighs.
1. Talk about it.
Communication is one of the pillars of any great relationship. This doesn’t mean you need to go into a diatribe about your bad habits with food on the very first date. Again, being the crazy person who spends 20 minutes discussing carbohydrate vs. fat grams upon first meeting might leave your future phone calls unanswered. But if this is Mr. or Ms. Right, talk to them about your diet and fitness goals. Explain why you are working out like crazy and that the trip through the Jack in the Box drive-through might not be your best date option. If they can’t be supportive of your healthy choices, this is probably not who you want to spend forever with.
2. Plan activity dates.
Why does a date have to be dinner and drinks? The answer is, it doesn’t. With a bit of creativity, you can take the focus off food, and do something that might help the two of you get to know each other while you’re not inebriated. Plan dates that have activities as the focus, and simply eat before you leave the house. Try hiking, bowling, mini-golf, dog walking, visiting museums, playing a board game, getting a massage, playing on a playground, making pottery, throwing a Frisbee, or sitting together and thinking of more fun, creative ideas. You will learn a lot about the person you are with, like if they get really upset when you cream them at mini-golf. And, more importantly, you will stick to your eating plan.
3. Cook meals at home.
Again, this is not a suggestion for a first date, because having someone in your home that you do not know is never wise. But if you begin to spend a lot of time together, cooking together can be a fun, sexy activity that can save you a lot of money and calories. Grilling up some chicken or fish and steaming some veggies and brown rice is incredibly simple, and it tastes fantastic. Throw in some candlelight and soft music, and it’s as if you were in a 5-star restaurant, only you don’t need to be concerned about public displays of affection. And if you can talk your significant other into doing the dishes, it is a perfect date.
For those of us who prefer getting out of the house, a picnic is always a fun alternative, unless you live in Alaska and it’s January. In that case, we suggest you enjoy the picnic on the rug, inside a building. With a picnic, you have control over what goes into the basket, and into your mouth. Pack a bunch of different cut-up fruits, vegetables, low-fat cheese, and whole wheat crackers. Bring either low-fat dressing or hummus to dip the veggies in. A lovely tablecloth, some music—you have a date to remember.
5. Choose wisely.
So your date has been dying to try the latest hot spot for dinner. Don’t rain on the parade, but be very smart when attending. Remember that steamed, broiled, or grilled items are usually healthier than fried, sautéed, or baked-in-cheese-sauce ones. Look for lean cuts of meat, dressings on the side, and avoid the bread basket. If you want to be very prepared, see if the restaurant has a Web site, which will usually have a menu, and decide what will be healthiest in advance. There are a ton of Web sites with calorie counters that can help you make your choices. If the restaurant doesn’t have a Web site, call and ask them to fax a copy of the menu. Sometimes preparedness is the best defense.
6. Avoid the snack bar.
Movie theaters, sporting events, and concerts all have one horrible thing in common. No, it’s not bad parking. It’s concession stands. Whoever originally chose the menu for snack bars must be eight years old, as elsewhere, most adults hardly ever eat nachos, hot dogs, fat-infused popcorn, greasy little pizzas, and pretzels larger than their heads. The best possible choice in situations where you will be faced with a concession stand is to eat first. There’s usually nothing of great nutritional value at these places, and even a seemingly innocent small popcorn with butter can pack 630 calories and 50 grams of fat! Grab a cup of water and run for your seat!
7. Buy date clothes.
We all want to look attractive for our special someone. Oftentimes, a new, flattering, and slightly sexy outfit can transform you into an irresistible creature that makes your date desire you all the more. I’m not suggesting you wear a Speedo with a sports coat, but more formfitting clothing has the ability to keep you aware of your waistline. I was once told that if I wanted to eat ice cream, I should do it while wearing a bikini. I stopped after three bites.
8. Work out first/on the date.
It has been repeatedly proven that we tend to eat less and store less fat when we have a rigorous workout before a meal. Before a date, exercise can give us the added endorphins to feel fantastic and make us look our very best in the moment. Also, consider exercising with your new partner. Watching them try to conquer an INSANITY plyometrics workout will give you a good gauge of their persistence and a good indication of what they look like with no makeup and messed-up hair.
9. Make alcohol less of a focus.
Limiting the amount of alcohol we consume on a date can be challenging. Having cocktails is fun, and it lowers our inhibitions, so getting to know someone becomes much easier. On the other side of the coin, alcohol packs on a lot of excess calories, and might make us get to know someone too quickly. One margarita or cosmopolitan can add 400 calories to an evening. Try to plan dates that are not “bar focused” (see #2), but if you end up somewhere celebrating, lean toward wine, light beer, champagne, and anything not mixed with a ton of sugar.
10. If he/she is all wrong.
Relationships can be incredibly complicated, and sometimes they just fall apart. If this unfortunate experience occurs for you, try not to let your sorrows drown in a vat of ice cream. Comfort food can be, well, comforting, but can also do residual damage that will make you feel even worse in the long run. It is pretty awful to work your tail off for months to reach a certain level of fitness, and have it all slip away because some jerk could not see what an incredible catch you are. Take all of that excess frustration and go on a run or a hike, lift weights, or do a P90X workout.
Emotional eating is usually considered a negative reaction to a stressful or sad experience, which dating can sometimes be. But often, we eat in celebration of life, and the amazing person we have finally met. In all of the new emotions we encounter, in both the beginning and sometimes ending of a relationship, make sure you never lose sight of yourself—you, who has worked your tail off to get where you are. Keep up all of the good work, and remember that finding and keeping that perfect person is so much easier to do when you feel good about yourself.