|Ah, the sweet delights of romance. A bottle of red wine and a pasta dinner at your favorite Italian restaurant. A puff of cotton candy at the county fair. A mouth-watering box of chocolates eaten in bed. It's enough to make you swoon. It's enough to make you dance. It's enough to completely blow your diet.
With so many Americans on low-carb diets, dating is becoming a particularly tricky business. The lost weight gives singles the confidence to start dating again, but all that wining and dining puts them at the risk for gaining it back. How to keep the love, but not the love handles? Experts offer this advice:
Shower them with flowers
Whether they're elegant roses, sprightly daisies or sexy irises, flowers are the ultimate zero-calorie way to say "I love you" — or at least, "I like you a whole heck of a lot and totally respect your diet." And you no longer have to blow a wad of cash at a pricey florist — you can pick up a beautiful bouquet outside many supermarkets and green grocers. Paul, 43, from Brooklyn, was amazed at the effect a simple bouquet of white tulips had on his girlfriend, Marie. "To be honest, it was kind of an impulse buy. I used to always get her favorite candy bar on my way home from work, but after she swore them off I stopped buying them. Then one night I was buying a quart of milk and saw them there and thought, 'What the heck?' I couldn't believe how thrilled she was — it was like I had done something that required, you know, effort."
Skip the concession stand
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Instead of eating popcorn, sugary sodas and Jujubes at the movies, bring in some mixed nuts and flavored seltzer waters. You'll not only save your diet, you'll also save a bundle as you'll avoid those grossly overpriced movie concessions. And you'll be in a more loving mood after the flick. "Fatty foods are comforting, while sweets and white processed foods make you irritable and less romantic," says Debbie Mandel, M.A., a personal trainer and author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul.
Take your date to the ball game
Ball park cuisine now extends well beyond hot dogs, beer and nachos. Now you can get everything from low-carb tortilla wraps and chicken sandwiches to a high-protein Porterhouse steak with grilled veggies and lamb shanks. It's a great way to enjoy the game without striking out on your diet.
Sip your dessert
Kara and her boyfriend used to be dessert freaks. "For us, the whole point of going out to dinner was when the waiter brought a gorgeous dessert tray over — chocolate mousse, apple pie a a la mode, peanut butter pie — we were all over it," says Kara, 36, from Seattle, Washington. After the couple decided they needed to slim down, they swore off sugar. Now they've become coffee snobs, and love a gourmet roast at the end of the meal. "Living in Seattle is great, since there're so many amazing coffees to chose from," says Kara. For those who need their low-carb treat to be caffeine-free, there's an array of wonderful herbal teas — from raspberry to ginger-peach — that are both sweet and carb free! And if you simply you must satisfy your sweet tooth, try making a low-carb cheesecake or Crème Brulee. Chef Alison Awerbuch offers this trick: Presenting a custard dessert in a votive candle holder. It looks beautiful and controls the portion.
Make an active date
Dinner-and-a-movie is so last century. Now couples are bonding over bowling, bike rides, even yoga classes. Not only does it helps you stay slim, exercise can also get you in the mood. "Exercising raises libido in both men and women, and isn't it great to have your love object with you when you feel like that?" says Mandel.
Skip the big box of chocolates and impress your date with your knowledge of fine cheeses from around the world. There's the firm, nutty Comte from France, classic, smoked Gouda from Holland or even a zingy Wisconsin Cheddar. "My boyfriend and I used to love to get an ice cream cone after dinner," says Mary, 23, from Lawrence, Kansas. "Now we've subscribed to a cheese-of-the-month service, so we'll go home and sample those. Every month, we get a new cheese to try. It's a lot of fun and we don't even miss the fudge-ripple!"
Discover a new low-carb cuisine
Rice and pasta are the foundation of many of the world's cusines. But many others are centered around protein. Trying out dishes from new parts of the globe makes dating more exciting — do you really need to have another bowl of baked ziti in this lifetime? — and makes staying low-carb much easier. Dr. Dana G. Cohen, a physician who specializes in Integrative Medicine and was trained by the late Dr. Atkins, has several recommendations. "Brazilian food is great," he says. "The churrascaria style is different cuts of meat served for their flavor and no menacing sauces to deal with. With an a nice salad and veggies on the side, it's perfect!" At your local Japanese restaurant, Cohen suggests you opt for sashimi, negimayaki (beef rolled in scallions), miso soup and sea veggies. A romantic dinner at a French bistro offers a lot of great options, including French steak with garlic butter (but no frites!), charcuterie plate, sauteed veggies, salad with lardons (French bacon) and gorgonzola cheese. Bon Appetit!
But don't think you have to give up Italian
You might think you have to say arrivederci to your favorite Italian restaurant, but Cohen says this isn't true. Yes, you need to pass over the pasta section of the menu, and ask the waiter not to bring you any Italian bread. But there are still lots of options. "Any good Italian restaurant will honor your request for sauteed veggies instead of pasta on the side of your main dish, which can be a nice fish dish (unbreaded, of course) or perhaps a veal scaloppini," says Cohen. Once you start enjoying these fine cuts of meat and fish, you probably won't miss those old noodles anyway. As April Masini, author of Date Out Of Your League notes, "A big piece of meat is sexier than a plain plate of pasta any day!"