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Food and Romance: How Are the Two Connected and What Does It Mean For Our Relationships?

14/07/2014 13:23 BST | Updated 11/09/2014 10:59 BST

Food and sex; sex and food - there's no getting away from the fact that these two basic human needs are intrinsically linked. From Valentine's Day, where advertisers go crazy selling us aphrodisiac chocolates in heart-shaped boxes, to that special first meal where you spend hours preparing for a partner with the promise of what might follow afterwards.

Like attraction, everything is rooted in our brains and scientists say food and love are bound together because they both produce the same reward hormones, like dopamine and norepinephrine, which make us feel good. But what are the affects of this connection on us during different stages of a relationship?

The beginning

Have you ever spent hours wandering around the supermarket aisle looking for that perfect meal because you are hoping to impress a potential partner? Or have you spent hours slaving over the stove, aiming to prepare something that blows them away? Are you hoping to, literally, win someone's heart through their stomach? This theory is a valid one. After studying the evolutionary basis of romantic relationships, Maryanne Fisher, an associate professor of psychology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, says that the energy and time we invest in buying food and cooking for a new partner shows just how much we like them and is what she calls "an inconvenience display" and something that cannot be faked.

"Food is a way to display skills to a potential mate," she says. "You might buy nicer food or prepare better meals. It's fascinating how it can be used as part of the relationship."

However, most people when they start a new relationship find that their appetite has disappeared. This is because our bodies are flooded with hormones in our brains, like norepinephrine, adrenalin and oxytocin, making us feel excited, alert and most definitely not in need of a big plate of pasta.

The middle stage

Everyone loves their Mum's roast dinners or Gran's homemade biscuits, right? Some researchers say that love can actually be tasted and the same theory applies with a boyfriend or girlfriend who cooks for you; it tastes great!

In one study at the University of Maryland, researchers gave participants two bags of sweets. One had the note "I picked this just for you. Hope it makes you happy", while the other read: "Whatever, I just don't care. I just picked it randomly." They said the first bag, which they thought had been made with love tasted better, when in fact, they were the same.

Have you ever found that after those few crazy days of infatuation and your new love, once you start to settle into the relationship you end up loosening the belt on your jeans, owing to what some affectionately label "love lard"? This is completely normal, too. One recent study showed that 43 per cent of women put on weight during the first year of a new relationship, compared to 29 per cent of men. Most of the women interviewed claimed just being happy was enough to pile on the pounds, while other blamed a poor diet, larger meals and not going out as much.

One research project at the University of North Carolina analysing 8000 couples who had tied the knot warned of "newlywed spread". They found that women who are married are twice as likely to become obese compared to single population, mainly owing to lifestyle changes and getting comfortable. They also noted that the trend could be seen in co-habiting couples, with 63 per cent of women more likely to be overweight.

The end and the heartbreak diet

Most of us have been in a state of heartbreak where the last thing we want to do is eat and we lie awake at night hatching plans to win back our exes. One survey recently claimed that we lose 4lb in the first month after splitting up with someone. Again this is to do with the brain, which like a finely oiled machine created too much adrenaline, which increases cortisol levels and suppresses our appetites. There is also an increase in the love hormone dopamine, which is a natural stimulant.

Once acceptance has set in, this is when most people reach for the Krispy Kremes, trying to recreate those happy feelings that being in a relationship brings. Added to this is that when we are stressed our bodies are flooded with cortisol, which makes us crave carbohydrates, sugar and fatty foods. Food soothes us because of the chemical changes it creates in the body. In order to break away from emotional eating professionals say it helps to be aware of what we are doing and replacing eating with other pleasurable activities or by talking issues through with friends.

As you can see, the connection between love and food is a complex one. Have you lost and gained weight through relationships and break-ups?

Brett Harding is the director of Lovestruck.com, a London based online dating website. For more articles on food and relationships, like how appetite can effect desire, read our blog