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Is Eating For Pleasure Healthy?

Can you eat for pleasure and eat for health at the same time? You betcha! In fact, if you don’t eat for pleasure, it’s difficult to achieve health.

It’s a bit of a surprise to our clients when we encourage them to enjoy the foods that they eat. Often a client will sheepishly say, “I live to eat. I should eat to live.” These sayings infer that it is best to eat for the sole purpose of obtaining nutrients from food to merely exist, rather than enjoying the food that allows our bodies and minds to function. Yet, we are human and it is virtually impossible to only “eat to live”.

Our brains are hardwired to experience pleasure from eating

Humans are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. When you apply this to eating, you seek pleasure from food and avoid the pain of hunger. Because we are pleasure seeking creatures, we have taste buds that send tantalizing messages to the pleasure centers of the brain. There’s no way around it, eating is designed to be pleasurable. Yet, when people eat because “the food is delicious”, there may be a feeling of guilt, as if one shouldn’t experience pleasure from eating. Unfortunately, the belief that food shouldn’t be enjoyed permeates our culture and leads to distracted (and disordered) eating.

Distracted eating is a missed pleasure opportunity

When you are distracted during meals, your brain misses the experience of pleasure, leading to hunger as you continue seeking pleasure. Overtime, this results in altered hunger and appetite control. Distraction comes in many forms, including:

  • Eating while watching TV or reading a book
  • Eating in the car
  • Rushing
  • Distracting thoughts of guilt or shame
  • Ruminating thoughts, e.g. “should I eat this or that…more or less… is this good or bad…will I gain weight or lose weight?”

Enjoying food is not only an important key to hunger/appetite regulation, it also allows proper digestion to take place. When you reduce distractions and experience pleasure the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, allowing the “fight or flight” stress response to relax and digestion to take place.

A balanced life

While eating is inherently pleasurable, and one can derive great enjoyment from eating, it is important to consider the role of eating in one’s life. It may be the case that eating is the only pleasing activity of the day or that you look to eating for entertainment, reward and comfort. If you find that eating is the only source of pleasure in your day, address this in meaningful ways and work towards other avenues of life enhancement.

How To Eat

Savor Your Food. Before you begin eating, clear your mind and settle your body. Appreciate your food. Enjoy the colors and visual aspects of the meal. Smell the food. Take a bite. Chew slowly and identify different flavors or textures in the food. Savor the food and act of eating. Allow eating to be enjoyable.

Be Attentive. Pay attention to what you are eating, how it tastes and if it is pleasing to you. Notice how the food tastes different with each bite. Attend to sensations of fullness or satiety. Even when food is not the most delicious meal you’ve ever had, each bite can be enjoyed. Pay attention to other pleasurable aspects of eating, such as the table setting, the person you are with, the aromas and simply taking a moment to relax.

Eat With Others. Eating is an activity that fosters social connection, another innate human need that is pleasurable. Whenever possible, connect with others over a shared meal.

Choose Foods That Are Naturally Flavorful. Herbs and spices are deficient in the typical American diet. Use herbs and spices liberally to elicit maximal amounts of pleasure from the foods you eat. Here are few links to flavorful, delicious meals to bring a bit of pleasure your dinner table!

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