Obesely Speaking

The brain and obesity

9 Unforgettably Romantic Valentine's Day Gifts

Love is like a street fight, so you have to bring it.

Adaptability is essential for species survival. Thus, we humans must adapt our proclivities for celebrating holidays unhealthily, e.g. giving processed sugar and saturated-fat-dense candies on Valentine’s Day. When holiday celebrating turns to unhealthy behaviors, the celebration is over, and the denigration of mind, body and soul begins. Our mindset needs to reflect that. Valentine’s Day is about love and romance. Here are 10 things that provide more romance and neuro-chemical benefits than a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Handwrite a Love Letter and Hide It

Humans are hunters and gatherers; we love to hunt. Evolution encourages this with neurochemical rewards. Dopamine will release in anticipation of the reward of finding the love letter, and increased adrenaline production is a default response when humans hunt. Your valentine's brain will be very aroused hunting for your love letter.

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Then there is the homunculus. The homunculus is the representation of visceral sensation from the body in the brain. Various areas of the skin have greater representation in the brain. The hands are one such area. When you handwrite something, you stimulate the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS filters the necessary information your brain needs to give more attention to your current focus. So this exercise also enhances your memory of why you love someone.

Make Something from Clay Together

Humans love to sculpt. You would be hard-pressed to find a human who has never seen a sculpture of some sort. Again, you have the neurochemical benefits of increased dopamine from anticipating the finished work. You also reap oxytocin and vasopressin from bonding through sculpture. Then there is the washing of each other’s hands when it is completed. Sculpting also has longevity on its side. What you create will be around for as long as you choose.

Treasure Hunt

Anything involving hunting and gathering is going to appeal to humans on a cellular level. Like any hunt, there are dopamine, adrenaline and endorphin rewards. There is also the bonding experience and of course the treasure. On a beach, there are shells and beautiful rocks. You just have to look closely. You can use the treasures you find, like driftwood, shells, stones, sea washed glass, or whatever to make things for your home or each other in the future.

Plant a Tree

Planting trees and watching them grow is very rewarding. Time goes swiftly, time goes slowly, but time always marches on. Soon enough, any thing that is, will be gone. Trees are a wonderful living tribute to your time together. I advise planting it from a seed. Nurture it, watch it grow; reap the rewards of having it. Planting trees like this is like having children that don’t cry as babies, use your last nerve as a trampoline when they are adolescents, then marry, move away and break your heart when they are 20 something—or worse yet, be a boomerang kid.

Make Dinner for Your Grandparents or an Older Couple

I stole this idea from my Godson and his wife, who did this for their grandparents. I am sure they will someday do this for their godparents as well, but I digress.

Nothing endorses love more than witnessing the power of a sustained love. In addition, there are the same neurochemical rewards in doing this as there are in any service. This is not just inviting them over for dinner. This is going to their house and becoming their chef and food server for a meal. You set the table, pick the music, select the flowers, choose the wine, seat them, make the meal, serve them, then clean up and go.

Take a Picnic Basket to a Pediatric Floor in a Hospital

If you have ever looked into the eyes of a parent who has a terminally ill child, you know what true sorrow looks like. We are a social species. If we do not love each other when we are down, then when? There is no greater vulnerability than that of a parent, helplessly, watching their child suffer and die. Make the basket and go to children’s hospital or the pediatric wing of a general hospital. The nurse’s station will tell you which parents need that basket the most. If you and your valentine do not walk away from that experience more in love than ever, I do not know what to tell you. 

Ten Things You Did Not Know About Each Other

Write down ten things that the other person did not know about you and put them in two containers. Take turns drawing from each container. The anticipation of what will be drawn will yield dopamine and adrenaline rewards. It will increase intimacy and the act of drawing it out of each other’s bag or box is ritualistic. Humans love ritual. This is also cheap and cheerful, which is compatible with love and beauty on a budget.

Long Walk into the Unknown

When you walk down a railroad track that you have never been down, you see so many things that you just would not see and only you and your valentine see them. Singular experiences like this create intimacy in couples.  It also promotes conversation and you find yourself talking about things that just normally would not come up. It is also exercise—endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. It does not have to be a railroad track. It can also be a country road. It just needs to be something that goes somewhere that you have never been.

Erogenous Massage: Finger Painting

Begin by creating a romantic sensory environment. Start with the nose. Smell is important to the brain. Therefore, use some nice scented candles, incense, oils, or whatever. Then get some finger paints, a soft blindfold, some massage oil, and any other massage tools, or other devices that you envision enriching a sensual massage.

Set up the paint and the paper. Then have your valentine lie in place where they can use the finger paint during the massage. Blindfold them. When you blindfold a person, the other senses heighten to compensate. Therefore, visceral reward will increase, as will the neurochemical benefits. As you massage the person, he or she finger-paints. The connectivity between you and your valentine will be incredible. When their sensual massage finishes, you finger-paint and they massage you. Then let the finger paintings dry and frame them.

Romance requires creativity, intelligence, and intimacy. If you want to celebrate love, you have to find an activity that embraces and promotes these things. It is like a candle, if not properly handled it will burn the house down. If managed properly, soon all those around can warm in its glowing. Love is the most powerful human tool, so treat it thusly and celebrate it appropriately. You cannot manufacture anything that will justly honor the power of love in a candy kitchen, nor can you package it in a heart shaped box. Love ferociously, or do not love at all—so this Valentine’s Day—bring it! Remain fabulous and phenomenal!

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Billi Gordon, Ph.D., is  Co-Investigator in the  Ingestive Behaviors & Obesity Program, Center for the Neurobiology of Stress, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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