In today’s health- and weight-centric culture, pleasure gets a bad rap – ironic, given that the modern food environment heavily promotes indulgent and less-nutritious foods.
When we feel conflicted or confused about our food choices, rush through our meals or eat while distracted, we deprive ourselves of food pleasure and eating satisfaction. This can have negative consequences for health.
The reality is that true pleasure leads to healthy choices, because ultimately we want our food to both taste good and make our bodies feel good.
What makes a food pleasurable? Taste is obviously one factor, but it’s also about what would feel good in terms of temperature, texture and substance. The crispiest, juiciest, most flavorful apple in the world won’t bring you true pleasure if you’re hungry for a warm, filling meal. Similarly, if you are craving a big salad but all that’s available to you is a burger, you’re not going to take a lot of pleasure in your meal.
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Most people find a variety of foods pleasurable, and some of those foods are going to be more nutritious than others. Marrying pleasure and nutrition often takes some thought, both about what you would like to eat and where and how you are going to procure it. This is true whether you are cooking at home or sleuthing out restaurant options. A good place to start is to experiment with some tasty new vegetable recipes at home or check out farm-to-table-type restaurants that are doing interesting things with seasonal vegetables.
Pleasure provides satisfaction and the sense that you’ve eaten enough. In their book “Intuitive Eating,” dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch point out: “When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content.”
One of the principles of intuitive eating is to honor your hunger. The reasons are twofold. The first is that eating when you are moderately hungry makes it easier to eat in tune with your body’s true needs. When you eat when you’re not hungry, you may be eating mindlessly or for reasons that have nothing to do with sustenance, such as to stave off boredom or soothe emotions. When you delay eating until you’re ravenous, it’s easy to overeat because you feel as though you have a bottomless pit to fill.
The second reason is pleasure. Eating when you’re not hungry – or are too hungry – will diminish your pleasure no matter how otherwise appealing the food is. Have you ever eaten enough to take care of hunger, yet not felt quite satisfied? It’s probably because your food choices for that meal didn’t provide enough pleasure or otherwise “hit the spot.”
A balanced, varied, nutritious diet allows for both pleasure and health. A rigid, restrictive, rules-based diet does not. Rigid diets also tend to lead to struggles with food guilt.