Originally published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution
Food is an inherent part of dating when you’re over 50 and single, especially if you’re systematically going on multiple first dates set up via a dating app — or you have the old-school “dinner and a movie” mindset. But where does that leave your careful menu plan and other food-related health progress?
Whether you’re entering a phase with lots of coffee shop meetups or are just reaching the point in a new relationship where every outing is a chance to celebrate with the cocktails, fried foods, and lavish desserts we’re all trying to eat in moderation, it’s a good idea to plan ahead so you can maintain healthy habits.
“Can you be committed to dating and finding a new relationship while also staying committed to your own well-being? It’s easy to disregard one or the other when we’re extremely focused and excited about whatever is the ‘new shiny,’” Atlanta-based certified eating psychology counselor Margaret Schwenke told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“When you’re in the flush of a new relationship, it might be easy to skip meals because you’re so preoccupied with those butterflies,” said Schwenke, who is also a certified holistic health counselor and the founder of Authentic Nourishment, where she focuses primarily on women’s group work.
“Or, to the contrary, you might feel pressure to go with the flow not to be seen as difficult when ordering at a restaurant or eating a meal together while the relationship is still new.”
If you’re a guy dating a woman — or women — you may be battling another behavior pattern. A study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab published in Evolutionary Psychological Science showed that men show off to the opposite sex by eating larger quantities of food in the company of women — especially pizza.
“The findings suggest that men tend to overeat to show off,” lead study author Kevin Kniffin said on the Cornell blog. “Instead of a feat of strength, it’s a feat of eating.”
To counteract any of those tendencies, try these tips for healthful eating on dates:
Google your options ahead of time
Be sure to check the menu beforehand for any eatery where you’ll be meeting even on the most casual date. And decide what you’ll order there before you leave the house. New dates, in particular, can cause you to get flustered and order way too much or too little as you try to go along to get along or fit in with a date you haven’t met before.
Eat reasonably in the time leading up to the date
Skimping on food to fit into a special outfit or in an attempt to “bank calories” for indulgent date foods can instead cause you to overeat.
“The best strategy for special occasion meals is to continue to eat a reasonable, healthy diet in the days leading to the event,” psychiatrist Jennifer L. Derenne told WebMD. “Once there, order foods that you enjoy — including dessert!”
Don’t show up with an appetite
“We usually look forward to eating out, so naturally, we don’t want to spoil our appetites before eating out at a nice place that is probably expensive,” psychology professor and relationship expert Lawrence Josephs wrote on Psychology Today.
“That is a strategic error. You shouldn’t show up hungry. It’s better to eat some fruit before eating out … You’ll be more likely to stick to the tasting menu rather than binge.”
If you’re on a weight loss program that restricts high-carbohydrate or high-fat foods, “you are at high risk of binging once you get a taste of your favorite fattening foods,” said Josephs, who is also the author of “Food Fantasies: Overcoming the Diet Lies We Tell Ourselves.”
“Your self-control won’t be good if you are hungry.”
Drink lots of water
Along with saving money, drinking water will “slow you down from eating your food too fast, which will help you enjoy the food more, and it will allow your brain to get the message from your stomach that you’re full so you don’t overeat before your plate is already empty,” said clean eating blogger Lacey Baier.
“You can ask for a slice of lemon if plain water is too boring. To ease into just having water, you can also wait to order a different beverage until after you’ve finished your first glass of water.”
It may fight instincts developed over a lifetime, but you should feel okay if your healthy approach means you leave the date while you’re still hungry, but after you “at least had a taste of all of your favorite fattening foods. When you get home, just have some more fruit and vegetables or plain non-fat yogurt, so you don’t have to go to bed hungry,” Josephs said.
“The point of eating out with your partner is to deepen your romantic connection … not to take a romantic evening out as a pretext for binge eating fattening foods.”
Healthy eating and your appeal
A 2016 study published in the official journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, determined women were more attracted to men who ate the fruits and vegetables associated with more pleasant-smelling sweat and higher plasma carotenoid levels, which signal lower levels of infection and potential longevity. The women in the study reacted negatively to the sweat and skin appearance of men who consumed more refined carbs like bread and baked goods.
Along with the date-to-date coping strategies, try to create a life balance and a relationship with food that will serve you no matter your romantic status.
“Instead of focusing so much outwardly when we begin to date, it’s important to stay true to ourselves and our authenticity,” Schwenke said. “What are our values and what are our dealbreakers? Where can we be flexible and what’s a hard no? Want to find the perfect partner? First work on identifying these things for yourself so that you are the very best version of yourself when you meet that potential match.”
The same mindful approach is beneficial if returning to the dating world has revealed or accentuated an unhealthy approach to eating.
“Want to heal your relationship with food?” Schwenke asked. “Do the work on yourself first to be truly nourished in every area of your life.”
Find a link to a free “5-day Mindset Reset” action plan by Margaret Schwenke at margaretschwenke.com/mindfulhealth.