Most of you would hear at one point or another that ‘food is just fuel’, like we're a car or machine - the problem is, we're not! Though this way of thinking has excellent intentions, it fails to understand the complicated psychological and physical aspects that humans deal with in regards to food choices. A car doesn’t have the kind of intricate digestion system that a human does which is affected by so many different factors, including pleasure.
Why eat for pleasure?
Your inherent nature is to avoid suffering and seek gratification. Hunger is your pain; food is your pleasure. Seems simple enough, right? Everybody loves food. Your human design is to seek reward - dopamine fixes have helped you survive thousands of years! The challenge is your lack of engagement with the food.
Are you eating while you’re scrolling through Instagram? Watching TV? Scoffing a few bites of food between meetings? Or worse, eating while you’re rushing to work?
This is an issue when constantly being driven by the sympathetic nervous system ('fight or flight'). This sympathetic nervous system that keeps you alert also inhibits the stomach and intestines. The parasympathetic nervous system ('rest and digest') is what you need to help switch on, as it promotes the activity of the digestive organs.
Digestion begins in the brain even before you’ve taken that first bite. Anticipating that meal kickstarts the digestive process, priming the body to take in nutrients. When you eat with pleasure in mind, you are prepping your body for smooth digestion. According to research, you're also likely to ingest less calories by feeling satisfied sooner, and make wiser choices over the long term.
What happens when you don't choose the food you enjoy:
People are worried that when they eat for pleasure, they will want to eat more - but when you open up in joy for food without fear, you will find yourself naturally satisfied. Have you ever tried to eat something that you knew was supposed to “healthy” but put you off? You probably didn’t digest it optimally because your body and mind were shutting down to it
From there, you may also unconsciously feel unsatisfied, looking for treats afterwards!
Eat food you enjoy, instead of following a meal plan from someone else who has entirely different tastes to you. Of course, micronutrients matter, so this isn’t a free pass to base your daily diet on Ben and Jerry’s. Though, it does mean that you can enjoy said Ben and Jerry’s with more pleasure and satisfaction than before – and perhaps needing less than you think.
Shy away from labelling foods as good or bad:
If you treat food like the enemy, then you’re likely to attach guilt and shame when you eat something considered to be ‘bad’. If you’re trying to be super strict, forever denying yourself any treats that you enjoy, then you are likely to set up a cycle of restriction and bingeing. Then you have to deal with the negative self-talk that comes with it, lowered self-esteem and an unhealthy pattern of disordered eating. Not to mention, the guilt and self-judgement that comes along with indulging in those unhealthy foods often negate the pleasure of it anyway!
Just understand that some foods may be more useful than others when achieving a particular goal. Obviously, whole foods may be better for your hormonal health, including energy, mood and muscle recovery. Think of how you want to feel and base your food choices around that – likely, you want to feel energetic, satisfied and in a great mood – so when you start to tune in more, you’ll see that it’s the healthier foods that give you these results over a long-lasting period anyway. Junk foods tend to provide you with a quick sugar rush and then leave you feeling drained afterwards.
If you don’t treat food to be off-limits, you’re less likely to crave it and less likely to overindulge when you do go to enjoy it. If you look at foods as neutral, you can make food choices based outside of emotion.
When you choose to eat your favourite pizza or ice cream, do so without the guilt, and take your time to savour each bite fully!
Remember to slow down:
It takes your brain approximately 20 minutes to realise it’s full.
The faster you’re going (like when you’re thinking of a million things on your to-do list or haven’t eaten in several hours), the less time your mind has to tell you to stop. If you’ve ever blown out after a super low calorie, super strict diet, you’ll know the feeling that comes after scoffing down everything in sight!
If you are eating in a pleasureful, relaxed and mindful way, you’ll have more control compared to eating when you’re overly stressed. You can start to feel both nourished and satisfied. You may also notice your skin takes on a renewed glow too!
The act of mastication (chewing) also primes your digestive system to receive the food – send improperly chewed bits of food down there and you can guarantee your stomach won’t be happy with you. When you slow down, you’re able to pay attention to your internal cues to let you know you’re full, and your body will be better able to assimilate the nutrients. By taking your time, you can also sense better what foods you genuinely enjoy, and how particular foods make you feel.
Final thoughts: Don't forget your Vitamin P (Pleasure!)
The ‘perfect’ diet will never give you all the results you want if its void of the pleasure principle. You’ll probably find it almost impossible to stick to as well! Choose meals that give you joy, put away the distractions, sit down and enjoy the aromas, textures and taste. When you eat what you love and love what you eat, you have primed your digestion to be able to break down the nutrients for your body to use. Eating for pleasure doesn’t mean inhaling a box of cookies - that’s the opposite of pleasure! Eating with pleasure means slowing down, being present in the moment, taking the time to use all your senses to enjoy your food, and taking the time to chew. As you do this, you allow the parasympathetic nervous system a chance to properly activate digestion and nourishment for your hard working body!
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