Eating for pleasure is fun.
Eating for pleasure is the way we are naturally designed to eat. Eating this way will bring us into a calmer and more balanced relationship with our food, and once we trust ourselves to seek true pleasure in our food, then we can say goodbye to guilt, shame and self-loathing over ourselves and our eating.
Food = Guilt.
I don’t think many of us eat for true pleasure. We might enjoy the feasting feeling of eating flavours that we desire, but that is often followed by guilt, shame, or anger. Perhaps because we know that what we ate wasn’t really great for us (according to what’s going on in our food rule book in our heads at the moment) and the way we ate it felt negative (impulsive, mindlessly, a lot of it). Perhaps it wasn’t really pleasurable after all – perhaps eating it was more to do with punishment, or illicit enjoyment before it gets taken away again.
There seems to be a real anti-pleasure mindset with many of us towards our food. Food is seen as something to control, something that controls us, something that defines us, something we try to master, something that can make us thin or fat or holds power over us.
It’s almost as if we are fearful of truly enjoying our food.
But can those of us who feel this way ever transition to viewing food simply as food? Or even better – food that tastes great and is pleasurable to us without an aftertaste of shame?
I truly think we can. And we should.
Food should be simple, easy and pleasurable. It should nourish us at all levels; filling us up, leaving us feeling nourished and giving our taste buds and other senses a real thrill.
Never Restrict Yourself: How to Start Eating For Pleasure, Gain Self Trust and Truly Enjoy Your Food.
You might gasp at that. Never restrict yourself?
Perhaps images of you sitting amidst snack food wrappers weighing well over your comfortable weight come to mind. “I knew I should have restricted myself,” you wail.
“If I didn’t restrict myself, I’d eat everything. I’d never stop. I’d keep on eating and eating and eating.”
But the irony is that restricting your eating feels bad – really bad. It leads to living life totally out of control. You binge, restrict, feed, feast. It’s a whirlwind of ups and downs and unease.
Living inside a mindset of restriction is to give more power to food that it ever should have, and takes away your self-trust. I’d argue that you can’t nourish yourself healthily without self-trust.
If you take away the barriers of restriction you might do as I did – and go crazy. Yup, just totally go for it with food, like a starving prisoner finally allowed out of the diet cage. “You’re telling me the ban has been lifted? You’re telling me I can just eat what I want?”
But eventually you calm down. It’s almost kind of boring to allow yourself anything all the time. It’s actually fun to restrict and indulge in a kind of ‘getting away with it’ way. Having everything there for the taking all the time, well, it loses some of its sparkle. It loses some of its power. This is exactly what will happen to you too.
When this happens, your self-trust is finally allowed to blossom again. All of a sudden what you eat is down to choice. Choice based on what is right for you, what will nourish you and what will give you true pleasure.
Not the “Heehee, that was naughty” kind of pleasure. But “Waw, that was filling and tasty and I feel really heartened after that meal” kind of pleasure. And you’ll come to define that latter kind of pleasure as absolutely fine, and RIGHT to feel.
When you eat anything you want, you are open to it. Instead of turning away from it, you turn towards it and give it a real honest appraisal. “Okay, so I allowed myself to eat 5 bags of sour sweets. And now I feel more poorly and sick than I’ve ever felt before.” The thoughts return to basic. Instead of “I know I feel sick, but I’m not going to eat these for another week so I HAD to eat them really otherwise I’d crave them all week.” Take away the restriction and you are free to judge how food really affects you, and not feel anything other than that. No guilt, or excusing or arguing on behalf of your behaviour, or gambling your health for short term pleasures because of the way your diet week will pan out.
Don’t Push It Away.
My theory is that, in evolutionary terms, early humans never needed to NOT think of anything.
It would be vital to remember the thing you weren’t supposed to engage with – dangerous cliff spots, poisonous berries or a lair of a man eating beast.
But to not even think about it- well that would have meant death. So our brains can’t NOT think of something we tell it not to think about.
But these days, it seems that we are always trying to push things out of our minds.
“Got to eat less”, “Can’t eat that slice of cake,” “Can’t eat chocolate this week.” All the while thinking of the very thing you’re trying not to think about.
When we push thoughts away (or feelings or cravings), then believe me they will make themselves heard all the louder. It is not part of our brain make-up to push things away, especially things that we are slightly fearful of – like double fudge chocolate cakes. If we tell ourselves to not think of it, our brain will make us think of it all the more. Because it is important in our ancient brains for us to know what is frightening, so we are kept safe.
Food isn’t Good.
It’s wise to not add moral value onto foods, like bad or good. Sins or punishments. Rewards or treats. Adding moral values like this onto food, is to also add moral value onto yourself and onto your behaviour.
If you are good you deserve something bad. If you are bad your deserve to be punished.
This is very harmful thinking. And it’s annoying and uncomfortable too!
We are not good or bad people because we eat a certain way. We are meant to eat; eating is fine. Enjoying eating is fine too.
Food is never meant to be there as a reward or prize. It’s there to fill us up when we’re hungry and for us to enjoy the pleasure it brings at the same time.
This is why in my post – Raising Healthy Eaters – I say to never ever bribe, cajole, punish or reward children using food. Never do it!
“You’ve done so well in school sweetie. Here’s a doughnut”
And when you’re an adult that transforms to: “You worked so hard today/ you dieted so well this week/ you were so good for resisting that cake that you deserve a huge glass of wine and a bag of crisps.”
Where To Go From Here.
Don’t fear yourself, or what you’ll let loose on yourself if you are allowed to eat anything you want.
Know that you might go a bit nuts on everything once you let yourself out of the restriction cage – and you might put on weight. But you’ll handle it.
Let yourself feel what it feels like to eat what you’ve been eating. Allow yourself to feel nourished, full, sick, bloated, itchy, uncomfortable or satisfied with your eating. Don’t push these feelings away. Embrace them, because they no longer dictate your life. You can choose what to eat next based on how you feel today.
Be curious. “Was this too much? Maybe I’ll eat and savour this much of a portion today and see how that feels.”
Let self-trust bloom. If you are eating frantically and impulsively all the time, it could be because you still hold the fear it will be taken away from you again. Trust that you won’t do that to yourself this time.
Investigate the fear a bit more. If the impulsiveness won’t stop and the rampant eating is still like a beast, then perhaps you need to seek help to explore these fears in more depth. But know it might take a while.
Be kind to yourself. If food is the only way you know how to ‘treat’ yourself, then maybe you aren’t looking after yourself very well the rest of the time.
Eating good quality, well cooked (often home cooked) and nourishing foods is to say to yourself that you care about that which goes inside of you because you are someone who should be cared about.
Give yourself time. In the right time, you’ll eat right for you. Decent portions that are kind to your stomach, nutrient dense foods that are kind to your cells. Real flavours that are kind to your tongue. And you’ll find a rhythm and balance that suits who you are.
Trust that you actually already know what good food is and you will return to eating this, as well as eating rich food, or heavy foods and the like. You’ll naturally trust that you can balance out the types of food you eat over weeks and months.
I’m telling you, that if you restrict your eating or your thoughts around food, you will end up not trusting yourself, gaining weight, becoming obsessed with that which you are trying to push away and you will be unhappy.
If you eat for pleasure, then your life will become easier, calmer, balanced and happy. And I’m not talking about the kind of pleasure we are used to associating with food, the guilty pleasure per se – but the true pleasure that comes from knowing you are looking after yourself and giving yourself the gift of real flavours and tastes and the true comfort that comes with food that is right for you.