Where do love and crash dieting intersect? If you're a typical guy, this question may sound like jibberish. If you're one of the five women in the country who can eat half a strawberry cheesecake at three in the morning and never gain an ounce, it may confound you, too. But if you're like many appearance-driven Miami women (and gay men), you've probably already been on what Short Order calls "The Love Diet."
The Love Diet is driven by involuntary hormone production and conscious food deprivation. When a woman meets a man she finds desirable, a natural chemical rush ensues. In an article titled Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction and Attachment, biological anthropologist Helen E. Fisher, Ph.D., wrote about a stage of love called "romantic attraction," in which people (women and men) tend to feel "psychophysical responses, including exhilaration, euphoria, increased energy, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, trembling, a pounding heart, and accelerated breathing." Basically, it's comparable to shooting pure cocaine in your arm. Some women say that when they experience the suppressed appetite as a result of meeting a new beau, they take advantage of the boost and turn their high into full-fledged crash dieting.
Michelle, a 32-year-old who works in the fashion industry in Miami, is one such lady.
"I tend to be a little vain whenever I meet somebody and there's a little bit of reciprocal attraction," she says. "I get that merry-go round-rush, I get hooked on that feeling. So then you start checking yourself out in the mirror a million times a day, and you can get consumed with the thought of what you're going to look like the next time you see that person, what outfit you're gonna wear. But the ultimate thought is, 'What if this person sees me naked?'"
Matteo (name has been changed), a handsome 38-year-old gay man who works as a high-end clothing buyer, knows the feeling well. "I see a good looking guy and he pays me the slightest attention, and I'm on the Love Diet," he says, which for him means "starving himself" and working out double time.
Fisher explains the "merry-go-round rush" as a dopamine surge that accompanies romantic attraction. Michelle, completely unfamiliar with Fisher's work, describes this feeling from her own experience.
"Whenever you're enamored, it can occupy your mind, and it's the excitement that's an appetite suppressant. You go chasing that rush instead of chasing after that bag of Oreos," she says. After a very brief pause, she adds, "The Oreos come in after you realize the guy is a douche bag who doesn't clean his bathroom and is co-dependent on his mother. But in the beginning, that feeling is an appetite suppressant, and a suppressant of your ability to recognize another person's defects. But it's a cool feeling, a combination of attraction and excitement."
Fisher notes the phenomenon of being blind to a love interest's shortcomings in the same article. "Individuals reporting feelings of romantic attraction tend to focus on the positive qualities of the beloved and overlook or falsely appraise his/her negative traits," she writes.
When the dopamine recedes, so do the blinders, as Matteo can attest --- he's going through it right now. "I start to notice he didn't take out the garbage or do the dishes. Things he never did before that I didn't pay attention to, suddenly I get really mad about them." He says after living on protein powders and foregoing desserts when the feeling is strong, he goes back to his normal eating patterns when the love dies down.
Michelle says she's aware that she's a puppet to her love-induced hormones, but also claims to harness the effects to use to her own weight loss advantage.
"I think it's chemical, but that there's also a consciousness that goes with it, and whenever I'm not hungry, I definitely roll with it. I want to fit into my cutest clothes--- you don't want to be wearing your fat jeans when you're making out with a new guy."
So what does Michelle eat when she's gone on the Love Diet?
"Diet Coke and cigarettes. I love it, it coincides with the rush. Getting thin and falling for someone -- you go into starvation mode, and save up a little room for when the disappointment comes, so you can binge eat," she says, straight-faced.
When pressed, though, she admits that sushi is among the solid foods she'll swallow when she's under the spell of The Love Diet. "It has a tolerable amount of carbs, and one of the first dates is usually sushi, I think because it shows that you're both cultured and sophisticated," she laughs.
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The effects of The Love Diet can range anywhere from two weeks to three months, Michelle says.
"Depends on how good a kisser he is. Then you get comfortable, and instead of going out on dates, you're lounging around, eating ice cream in granny panties in front of the guy," she says. "I've definitely enjoyed the benefits of the Love Diet before. But the Love Diet and the Relationship Diet are two very different things," she concludes.