By ALINE VANN, HOLISTIC MIND/BODY NUTRITION COACH
“Eating is Life. Celebrate food, Celebrate your good fortune, honor the body, play, and allow yourself to have a beautiful, soulful relationship with food.” -Marc David-
I equate summer with pleasure. Thinking about the months of June, July, and August conjure up images of lazy afternoons reading by the pool, vacationing with my family at the beach, barbecuing in the backyard with friends, and eating homemade ice cream with my kids. But then I feel a little guilty, thinking of all that needs to be done, and all of the people who are counting on me, and I feel somewhat irresponsible for desiring these experiences.
In full disclosure, I have to be intentional about creating these opportunities to experience joy in my life. Sometimes the busyness gets in the way, and monotony and stress can become dominating forces in my life. I can fall into this same trap when it comes to my food choices. Several years ago, I found myself frequently moralizing food as good or bad, which of course, is silly. What was worse, was that if I ate foods deemed “bad” by me, then perhaps that meant that I was bad. Let’s just say, it is hard to find pleasure in food and eating under circumstances like these.
THE POWER OF PLEASURE
Sometimes we can unknowingly restrict ourselves to a fun-free life. When we do this, the body often responds by literally CRAVING pleasure. After all, as humans, we are wired to seek pleasure (and avoid pain). It’s why we love relaxing at the beach, hiking in the mountains, or enjoying a gooey, warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven.
Sadly, we neglect to honor our human tendency to feel pleasure when we constantly deny ourselves. Sometimes, we aren’t even denying ourselves life’s pleasures on purpose, but simply fail to be intentional about finding pleasure in life, both from food and nonfood sources. For example, maybe you realize that you can’t even remember the last time you and your spouse had a date night, or you met your girlfriends for happy hour, (or for a run), or even played outside with your kids.
Taking time to seek and relish pleasure in our lives is not self-indulgent. It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask so that you can be fulfilled, and therefore a blessing to others. After all, it’s hard to be available and fully present for our loved ones when we are living a pleasureless life.
This pleasure principle is also true as it relates to our relationship with food and eating. Have you ever been on a restrictive diet, one in which you categorize foods as “good” and “bad,” eat only the foods you have been “told” are good for you, and avoid the “bad” foods at all costs?
Sadly, when this happens, we miss out. We naturally seek the pleasure that enjoyable foods provide us, and avoid the discomfort of going without food, or limiting ourselves to foods that we don’t like (but eat only because they are good for us). Food has many purposes, one of which is to enjoy.
Food is so more than just fuel. The brain needs to experience taste, pleasure, aroma, and satisfaction for us to feel truly nourished. We don’t eat simply to extract the nutritional value from our food. (Think about the beautiful, harmonious relationship that many Europeans have with food.) Our meals give us not only what our body needs, but also what our MIND wants and needs. For me, it’s why a tasteless protein bar never fills me up the same way a beautifully plated meal does, even if the NUTRITIONAL value is exactly the same.
We can deny ourselves pleasure around food, often without even realizing it, in several ways…
Eating under stress
Distracted/ Rushed Eating
Guilt and shame around what we eat
Restrictive diets (like eliminating entire food groups, or strict calorie counting)
Not allowing for pleasure in our diets can lead to several problems, including food moralizing, binge eating, and the dreaded, “What the Heck Effect”. You have probably heard of this. It’s when we deny ourselves a cookie because it’s “bad” for us, and then end up eating a pint of ice cream, half a bag of chips, and the leftover chicken strips on our kids plates, all because we wouldn’t let ourselves have the one, small cookie we wanted in the first place. Not allowing pleasure with eating also tends to cause us to eat more than our body is asking for. We tell ourselves, that we had better eat until it’s gone, because we know that we won’t let ourselves have it again tomorrow.
On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that I am going to have honey buns for breakfast every day, or fast food every afternoon for lunch. Honestly, I wouldn’t get much pleasure out of having these highly processed foods very often, because they wouldn’t make me FEEL good.
However, if I stress about having a doughnut with my daughter on a Sunday morning, the stress of worrying about the doughnut will probably be much more detrimental to my health than the doughnut itself!
See the difference?
Here’s what works for me. Usually, I CHOOSE to indulge mostly in high quality, pleasurable foods, and yes, that includes foods like homemade chocolate cheesecake. When I eat it, I sit down, and eat it slowly, savoring every bite, and feeling absolutely no guilt.
One final thought. If we don’t have enough non-food pleasure in our lives, we can allow food to become our ONLY source of pleasure. This can lead us into some very unhealthy habits around our relationship with food. Not to mention, it can be pretty miserable. So, it is incredibly valuable to do some self-reflection, and figure out what things give you pleasure in life. Write them down. Then Commit to them.
Over the next week, I challenge you to choose and enjoy one thing that gives you pleasure each day. It can be a food or a non-food derived pleasure. It can be as simple as a bowl of fresh strawberries topped with whipping cream, or a slow walk with your spouse on a clear, summer evening. Enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer!