Friday, May 12, 2006

Iced mocha a guide to lasting love?

The next time you want to get your man in the mood for love, ditch the smelly perfumes or colognes and bake him a pumpkin pie instead.

And if your love interest is a woman, popping some Good and Plenty candy in her mouth is an instant turn-on for her.

Those are a few of the surprising findings reported in the new book, "What's Your Food Sign? How to Use Food Clues to Find Lasting Love," written by psychiatrist Dr. Alan R. Hirsch.

For nearly two decades, Hirsch, the neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, has offered helpful hints about how smell and taste affect aspects of our lives, from body odor and weight loss to sex.

Now Hirsch has used scientific research to tackle love and romantic compatibility as they relate to our favorite foods.

"Food is a Rorschach Test of personality," says Hirsch, who completed a study in which food preferences were used to decipher personality types and romantic compatibility.

More than 18,600 Chicago-area residents underwent a battery of common psychological tests to determine their personality type. Then participants were asked questions about their food preferences.

Researchers discovered a correlation between food preferences and personality types. When researchers questioned participants' spouses of more than one year, they also were able to pinpoint love matches and romantic compatibility.

"We are leaving our personality fingerprints all the time with everything we do from the way we comb our hair, or the style of shoes we wear to the model of car we drive," he says. "But we never really developed a method of decoding those clues."

The book breaks out foods, tastes and scents by the meals of the day and other dating situations, such as meeting for coffee, ice-cream and happy hour.

Feeding the heart and mind are some of these pearls of wisdom:

Ambitious, independent types go for "serious" cereals, such as Raisin Bran, while the one-day-at-a-time folks reach for the kid stuff, like Lucky Charms.

The date who orders an iced mocha is lively, dramatic and seductive while the chai latte drinker may be stressed-out, cranky and pessimistic.

Favorite cheese shapes are also tell-tale. Cube-lovers are detail-oriented perfectionists. The free-spirited, extroverts like cheese shaped in stars and moons. And the sliced-types are competitive, natural leaders.

A food is not just a food, according to Hirsch. When we eat, we are fulfilling an emotional need that pinpoints personality. Attorneys have used Hirsch's techniques during jury selection. Employers interviewing job applicants during lunch have been known to use the clues as well to pinpoint compatibility.

Q: How did you come up with this research idea?

Hirsch: I discovered it while treating patients who had lost their sense of smell due to head trauma. After their accidents, not only did their food preferences change, but their personalities changed as well. It was logical to assume that the two were interconnected in some way. From there, we conducted a study about how odors could help facilitate weight loss. During that study, we found that women craved chocolate during different points in their menstrual cycle to stave off depression. This made me think: If women craved chocolate when they were mildly depressed, does that mean that other kinds of cravings are indicative of their personalities or moods at any given time?

Q: Wouldn't this information be a little hard to swallow for today's savvy dater?

A: It actually makes a lot of sense given what we know about how the brain works. The part of the brain that's involved with food preferences (the olfactory lobe) is part of the limbic system, "the emotional brain," where personality resides. Food preferences develop between infancy and age 7, which is the same time personality develops in humans. That makes it plausible that food preferences and personality are interconnected in some way.

Q: Why would a singleton need these types of clues while dating?

A: When you first meet someone on a date, you put your best face forward. You may think that the person you are dating is a good person. But three months later, you inevitably end up saying to yourself, "Who is this person?" No one can keep this mask on forever. In time, your true self comes out. By using these different personality clues, you can get a better sense of who that person really is.

Q: How are we supposed to remember what it means if your date orders a drink with raspberry vodka or if it was actually the thrill-seeker or the wallflower who preferred the solid chocolate bunny over the hollow chocolate bunny?

A: I wrote the book and I can't remember them all either. For me, I had to memorize one of two quizzes for the social experiences I'm most likely to have with people, while they are eating snack food, ice cream or eating pizza. People who go out to bars might want to memorize the vodka preferences, while someone who takes his date out to Starbucks would want to memorize the coffee preferences.

Q: Which preferences and personality markers surprised you the most?

A: For instance, we thought that people who preferred vanilla ice cream would be indicative of someone who was blah and bland, or that someone who like chili would be spicier. We found the exact opposite. People who liked vanilla were lively, energetic and the life of the life of the party. Chili-lovers were more introverted. Our postdoc theories were that maybe, if you already have it in your personality, you don't seek it in your food. Maybe it means that the vanilla lover is already overstimulated, and so the food becomes a stabilizer that helps calm them down.

Q: So when it comes to sexual arousal, feeding your girl a handful of Good and Plenty would work better than wearing Armani's Acqua di Gio?

A: We found that when we measured vaginal blood flow, Good and Plenty and cucumber was the No. 1 scent that caused arousal. In men, penal blood flow was stoked by lavender and pumpkin pie. We came up with several theories, but the best one was evolutionary in nature. Our ancestors would wander around independently in the forest and congregate at points of a food kill. That's when we had the best chance of finding a mate and procreating. There may have been a select advantage to having increasing penile and vaginal blood flow in response to foods.

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