The Power of Pleasure
“Chocolate!!” exclaims my 6 year old nephew Jesse as my sister and I are discussing the preferred flavour of cake for our annual Turkey Tea party. “I want chocolate turkey cake with brown icing!” Ok. Ever since he was a baby we have been having tea parties for special occasions and holidays, keeping celebrations short to match his uh, time-challenged, attention span. Thanksgiving always includes a cake decorated as a turkey from the local grocery store. From a nutritional standpoint not such a healthy choice, but definitely pleasurable and you could even say “nourishing” in a warm, fuzzy, family tradition point of view. Not that Jesse cares either way. For him it is just pure pleasure, eating all of the icing first, usually with his hands, and then tackling the cake. Funny how kids can do that.
For some of us though, finding pleasure in food leads to great shame and self-hate. “That big piece of turkey cake was so good…but I am so mad at myself for eating it because now I’m going to gain weight,” or “I love French fries but I never eat them because they’re fattening.” You get the picture.
Oddly enough, it turns out that finding food pleasurable is one of the keys to regulating our appetite and putting the brakes on over eating. As humans we are designed to eat and to find food pleasurable. Yes, you read that right.
Think about how boring life would be if we didn’t – there’d be no holiday celebrations, no restaurants, and no classic French cuisine. Definitely no turkey cake! We are genetically built to love sweet and fat, so in this case, it’s NOT you, it’s your genetics. Of course that doesn’t mean we should go whole hog and switch to a cake and chips diet. That’s not what I’m saying.
What I am saying is that when we take the time to prepare and truly enjoy the foods we eat, it does something for us metabolically. When we really dig what we are eating it sets off all sorts of wonderful physiological processes in our body. Essentially, a yummy meal sends a warm fuzzy off to the brain, which then tells our appetite that it is satisfied and can stop eating. Many of us believe that if a food we eat makes us feel good, such as chocolate, then the body is automatically stimulated to eat more. But the reverse is true. When we eat too fast or deny ourselves the foods we love, our system doesn’t register a whole lot of pleasure. As we are designed to love fat and sweet, we are also designed for pleasure and like it or not, we are physiologically driven to eat more if we don’t get our share of it.
Want to invite pleasure back onto your plate? These are my strategies. Slow down. Yup, simply slow down. Give your body the time to stock up on the yum. Secondly, try cooking from scratch. Even the simplest meals will taste infinitely better. Third, welcome your favourite treats back into your life. Savor every morsel, ooh and ahh to your heart’s content, and let pleasure work its’ metabolic magic.
Janice Daciuk, MS, RD is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach and Dietitian who believes that all women deserve to love themselves and their lives no matter what the scale says. Find her at www.janicedaciuk.com or start a conversation by messaging firstname.lastname@example.org.