Often, we associate the pleasure of food with weight gain. When we enjoy food “too much,” the thinking goes, we over-indulge and pack on extra pounds. Actually, the reverse is often true – pleasure, when approached in a healthy way, can actually help us lose weight. But there are a number of toxic beliefs and behaviors we need to overcome for that to be the case.
Here are a few of them:
We’re afraid we won’t know when to stop.
Many of us don’t allow ourselves to truly enjoy our food because we’re afraid that this would mean “opening the floodgates.” We worry that if we allow ourselves to take pleasure in what we eat, we’ll enjoy it so much that we’ll find ourselves constantly overeating. We don’t trust ourselves or our intuition to know how much is enough. As a result, we often try to avoid pleasure to some extent by counting calories or adopting other restrictive dietary habits, or by making certain foods “taboo” – which or course will only make us crave those foods even more.
We cause ourselves unnecessary stress.
When we’re constantly fighting a battle with ourselves – trying to prevent ourselves from enjoying our food, something which is perfectly natural – we create a great deal of stress. When our bodies are under stress, our metabolism slows down and we produce hormones that signal our bodies to actually store more fat. If we eat under stress occasionally, it probably is not an issue, but for many of us who have an unhealthy relationship with food and pleasure, the stress around eating is chronic. This can be a significant contributor to weight gain.
We feel guilty.
Often, especially when we’re trying to lose weight or if we’re heavier than what we’ve deemed to be the “right” weight, we don’t feel we should be “allowed” to enjoy food. It’s as if we’re not worthy of that pleasure until we lose a certain amount of weight – as if we haven’t yet earned it. We view the enjoyment of food as a sign that we lack the willpower necessary to lose weight. We imagine that our relationship with food should be one where we eat as little of it as possible, and where our main concern is how many calories, carbs, or grams of fat a particular food contains – not how much we will enjoy it. As a result, we avoid pleasure because we know that “indulging” in foods we enjoy will leave us with feelings of guilt and even shame.
We emphasize food too much.
On the other end of the spectrum are those of us who get so attached to the pleasure of food – or have trouble taking pleasure in other areas of life – that they rely on food as their main source of pleasure. Food may come to eclipse relationships, sex, intimacy, physical activity, connection with others, and even a sense of purpose in life. When we depend on food to provide us with the majority of the pleasure we experience in life, the enjoyment of food becomes so heightened that we often find ourselves overeating. Food is convenient, and it is much easier to turn to food for pleasure than it is to address the underlying issues that may need healing and that are preventing us from enjoying other areas of life.
What is the solution?
On one hand, avoiding pleasure and being overly restrictive when it comes to our relationship with food can be highly problematic. But using the pleasure we receive from food as a proxy for other pleasures in life is not a healthy option either.
The answer is to allow ourselves to have a balanced and healthy relationship with pleasure in all aspects of our lives, including food. If there is a deeper fear, insecurity, or emotional concern of any kind that is preventing us from enjoying food or any other area of life that is ideally a source of pleasure, we need to address that so we can begin to heal. The goal, of course, is to allow ourselves to take pleasure in our food – and in the rest of our lives, too.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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