Obesely Speaking

The brain and obesity

7 Tips for Dating While Dieting

Looking for love on a low-calorie budget

Eating is one of our favorite social activities. But that becomes problematic when you're trying to remove excess weight. It is especially problematic when you are dating because dining is one of the most common dating activities. Dating is stressful enough without having to choose between straying from your weight removal plan and being a fun dinner companion. A chief dating complaint is, “My date could not find anything on the menu that he or she could eat.” This leads to people perceiving this behavior as difficult or annoying. Beyond that, removing excess weight is a personal concern and should not become an issue in the social arena. Your date should be getting to know you on a date. Your eating requirements are not who you are, they are just among the things you do. However, humans are social animals that organize social events around eating. This is potentially challenging for compulsive or healthy eaters and dieters. Here are some helpful tips:

DINING OUT

Have a restaurant list:  You would be surprised how many restaurants actually serve healthy food that is delicious and well-presented in a fun dating atmosphere. Knowing these eateries is to your advantage. Besides, people often ask their dinner dates to suggest a restaurant, so this list serves a dual purpose. In addition, make sure your list is diverse and contains many types of cuisines in different price ranges. Remember, the entire menu does not have to work for your food plan. You just need one meal that works. 

Be prepared: When you are paying for an expensive meal you want complete satisfaction. There is no satisfaction when you betray your food plan. Thus, you should call ahead, talk, and learn your options. Mid-range and inexpensive restaurants often have less healthy eating options than expensive restaurants do. If you call ahead, you can find out what they can and cannot provide. Advanced warning usually increases your options.

Talk to a chef: Chefs understand restaurants and know the importance of communicating with patrons. Find an approachable chef, and ask some questions. Most chefs will respect this and give you sage advice about dining out and sticking to your food plan. 

FAST FOOD

Know your fast food options: America has become much more health conscious. It is not your mother’s McDonald's anymore. Most of the fast food chains have healthier options. Of course, I don't have to tell you that fast food will never be truly healthy because fast food at big chain restaurants is not economically feasible. However, they are much better than they were. Here are some general guidelines. 

Burger places: Go for the burger without mayo or cheese or the grilled chicken sandwich. It is not a sin to throw away the bun. Some chains have veggie burgers. Most have a garden salad with grilled chicken. McDonald’s also has a tasty yogurt parfait.

Sub shops: Choosing the whole grain and eating an open-faced sandwich is a good basic strategy. Go for the lean meats, stack on the veggies and choose lower-fat cheese such as Swiss or mozzarella.

Taco joints: Grilled chicken and fish tacos are an option. Veggie and bean burritos also work.

Pizza parlors: Thin-crust pizza is a good thing. A world without pizza is not a world most people want to live in. Mozzarella cheese is a low-fat cheese, and many pizza places also offer Swiss as a topping. Go for it and pile on the veggies, and stand down from the greasy meats like pepperoni, sausage and ham. Most pizza places also have an antipasto with lots of veggies.

Asian eateries: People love Chinese food because it is arguably the most diverse of all cuisines. They can fry like a Southerner and hold their own with vegans. You just have to look. Sadly, lo mein, my favorite, is not a good choice, and everybody knows about white rice. However, egg drop, miso, wonton, or hot and sour soups are safe. Asian food is also big on stir-fried, steamed, roasted and broiled entrees. Just request a wine or broth sauce to go with them. You can also ask them to add broccoli or snow peas to any dish.

ON THE GO

Healthy snack alternatives:

Durable fruits like apples, citrus fruits, and pomegranates are great. They are healthy, easy to transport, and last a long time. Environmentally safe hygienic glass containers come in all sizes. This is perfect for nuts and veggie sticks. Boiled eggs are a good on-the-go easily transportable protein. They're especially great if you trash the yolk, chop up the whites, and get creative with the condiments. If you are removing excess weight, you should aim for more active dating activities. Active dates usually lead to snacking because of energy repletion.  

Stay hydrated: The body is mostly water. In addition, the brain often confuses the hunger and thirst signals.1-3 Staying hydrated prevents this and promotes healthier food choices on dates.

Understand how the old brain works. The brain, mammalian biology, and evolution are generic human components no matter how we express or satisfy them individually. The rich neurochemical rewards from sex and eating are considerable because both are germane to human survival.4-7 Sadly, structures such as the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which monitors the fulfillment of basic human needs, are subcortical and cannot think.8-12 They can only react to cues from other parts of the brain signaling physiological events. Because humans are exceptional symbol smiths, we can easily fool the VTA into thinking eating is love and family because of what eating a certain food symbolically represents.16,18,19 Thus, rich fatty foods symbolically associated with family can instigate emotional cues in the brain that trick the VTA into opening the neurochemical cookie jar. That is why and how rich fatty foods can replace the need for love, dates, and family. 20,21

This is why you must eat healthily and have normal dates the way normal eaters do. Compulsive overeaters are predisposed to taking the easy lover (i.e., food). Dating and maladaptive ingestive behaviors are complicated, but it can be a win/win situation. You just have to control for it, like a wheelchair-bound person checks for wheelchair access before he or she arrives. We must feed mind, body, and soul. Strained dates because of diet restrictions starve the mind and soul. Never stop participating in life or sacrifice yourself to do so. We are as entitled to our happiness as we are to our misery. Remain fabulous and phenomenal. 

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REFERENCES 

1. Blundell JE, Gillett A. Control of food intake in the obese. Obes Res. 2001 Nov;9 Suppl 4:263S-70S.

2.  Bray GA. Afferent signals regulating food intake. Proc Nutr Soc. 2000 Aug;59(3):373-84.

3. Malikova AK, Petrova EV. [The thermal activity of the rabbit brain in motivational states of hunger or thirst]. Zh Vyssh Nerv Deiat Im I P Pavlova. 1998 Jul-Aug;48(4):623-9.

4.  Blum K, Gardner E, Oscar-Berman M, Gold M. "Liking" and "wanting" linked to Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS): hypothesizing differential responsivity in brain reward circuitry. Curr Pharm Des.18(1):113-8.

5. Bradley KC, Boulware MB, Jiang H, Doerge RW, Meisel RL, Mermelstein PG. Changes in gene expression within the nucleus accumbens and striatum following sexual experience. Genes Brain Behav. 2005 Feb;4(1):31-44.

6. Coria-Avila GA, Hernandez-Aguilar ME, Toledo-Cardenas R, et al. [Biological and neural bases of partner preferences in rodents: models to understand human pair bonds]. Rev Neurol. 2008 Aug 16-31;47(4):209-14.

7.  Esch T, Stefano GB. The Neurobiology of Love. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2005 Jun;26(3):175-92.

8.  Pezze MA, Feldon J. Mesolimbic dopaminergic pathways in fear conditioning. Prog Neurobiol. 2004 Dec;74(5):301-20.

9. Hommel JD, Trinko R, Sears RM, et al. Leptin receptor signaling in midbrain dopamine neurons regulates feeding. Neuron. 2006 Sep 21;51(6):801-10.

10.  Jerlhag E, Janson AC, Waters S, Engel JA. Concomitant release of ventral tegmental acetylcholine and accumbal dopamine by ghrelin in rats. PLoS One.7(11):e49557.

11. Kest K, Cruz I, Chen DH, Galaj E, Ranaldi R. A food-associated CS activates c-Fos in VTA DA neurons and elicits conditioned approach. Behav Brain Res.  Dec 1;235(2):150-7.

12. Mark GP, Shabani S, Dobbs LK, Hansen ST. Cholinergic modulation of mesolimbic dopamine function and reward. Physiol Behav.  Jul 25;104(1):76-81.

13.  Hunter RG, Kuhar MJ. CART peptides as targets for CNS drug development. Current Drug Targets - CNS Neurology Disorders. 2003 6/2003;2(3):201-5.

14.   Lupica CR, Riegel AC, Hoffman AF. Marijuana and cannabinoid regulation of brain reward circuits. Br J Pharmacol. 2004 Sep;143(2):227-34.

15.  Balfour ME, Yu L, Coolen LM. Sexual behavior and sex-associated environmental cues activate the mesolimbic system in male rats. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004 Apr;29(4):718-30.

16. Carlezon WA, Jr., Thomas MJ. Biological substrates of reward and aversion: a nucleus accumbens activity hypothesis. Neuropharmacology. 2009;56 Suppl 1:122-32.

17.  DeBold JF, Frye CA. Progesterone and the neural mechanisms of hamster sexual behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1994;19(5-7):563-79.

18.  Andino LM, Ryder DJ, Shapiro A, et al. POMC overexpression in the ventral tegmental area ameliorates dietary obesity. J Endocrinol.  Aug;210(2):199-207.

19. Narayanan NS, Guarnieri DJ, DiLeone RJ. Metabolic hormones, dopamine circuits, and feeding. Front Neuroendocrinol.  Jan;31(1):104-12.

20.  Acevedo BP, Aron A, Fisher HE, Brown LL. Neural correlates of long-term intense romantic love. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci.  Feb;7(2):145-59.

21. Chenu A, Tassin JP. [Pleasure: Neurobiological conception and Freudian conception]. Encephale.  Apr;40(2):100-7.

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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