4 Simple Ways to Regain Pleasure In Eating 

After years of dieting and/or watching family members follow diets, food may be viewed strictly as fuel. It’s something you need to merely tolerate in keeping you alive. All other forms of eating are indulgent and counterintuitive to your goal weight. 

This may sound like an innocent philosophy, especially in the name of “health,” but it does more harm than good. Food is meant to be enjoyed, even meant to be comforting. People have used food as part of ceremonies, traditions, and holidays for centuries. When we are babies, our mother’s milk (or formula) comforts us when we cry. 

White-knuckling your way through eating strictly for fuel typically results in eating only a handful of “safe” foods, and usually bland foods at that. This restriction leads to mounting cravings, and these cravings lead to binges. 

If we allow pleasure in eating, it can be a satisfying experience, one where we savor and are mindful in the practice of eating; one that provides joy and leaves us feeling energized and at peace in our bodies, not deprived on one end of the spectrum (when we restrict) or uncomfortable and shameful on the other (when we inevitably binge). 

So, if you’re looking to enjoy eating again, here are four ways to start: 

  1. Ask yourself: What do you REALLY want to eat? If you had unconditional permission to eat, what sounds good and would leave you feeling good in your body? You have body autonomy and are allowed to eat whatever you want! I remember when I was restricting and there was a dessert table at a family gathering, I would eat one of everything, even things I didn’t like! My restriction was creating cravings for things I didn’t even enjoy, simply because they were a “forbidden fruit.” Allowing all foods, though, allowed me to really discover what would really both taste and feel good in my body. 
  2. Use all five senses as you eat, without distraction. When we experience a binge or a cheat day, we tend to eat quickly, mindlessly and/or in secret. We don’t even get to enjoy the experience because we don’t want it to be an enjoyable experience! If it’s an enjoyable experience, we’d want to do it more, and then say goodbye to your weight goals! Stripping away the pleasure of the experience, though, doesn’t stop us from eating our trigger foods: we either do it mindfully and habitually, or we do it with shame in the form of a binge. So if you want to experience the former, slow down. Intentionally allow yourself to eat the food. Minimize distractions like your phone or the TV. If you have negative thoughts come up during the experience, journal them after. Use all five senses to taste, smell, see, touch and hear the food you’re taking pleasure in. Maximize the pleasure. Honing into the experience will also give you a more clear sign of when you are satiated. 
  3. Create a pleasurable experience. If you wait until you’re famished, eating is not a pleasurable experience. It’s an experience where your prefrontal cortex shuts off and your primitive brain just tries to keep you from starving to death. Conversely, if you eat when you’re not hungry at all, it’s typically because you are trying to numb out from a “negative” emotion like anxiety or boredom. If you follow the hunger and fullness scale, wait until you’re about a 4 to eat; for me, this is the sweet spot when I feel “pleasantly hungry,” when the food seems to taste that much better, and the calm that comes over me when I’m pleasantly full and satiated feels amazing. It’s also worth noting on this strategy that hunger may not present itself as a growling stomach; it might be irritability, lightheadedness, an inability to concentrate, or an empty, gnawing sensation in your stomach. Increased interoceptive awareness will allow you to hone in on one those early hunger cues so you do not miss it and end up ravenous before you sit down to eat. 
  4. Don’t settle. If your food isn’t high quality or otherwise up to your standards and/or doesn’t taste as good halfway through, you have permission to stop eating. When I was a disordered eater and I had “saved up” to have a slice of cake at a birthday party, if the cake was subpar, I would eat the whole thing anyway. I had been looking forward to it, a slice of cake I would rarely allow myself; and since I had already eaten some of it, I might as well continue to “cheat” on my diet. This is what happens when you restrict fear or trigger foods. If you genuinely allow them at any time, though, and cultivate habituation, you begin to get picky (in a good way) with your foods. Now if I go to a party and there’s mediocre cake, I don’t eat it. I can have cake whenever I want, and I only want delicious cake! I want to savor it slowly until I’m satiated and then move on with my day without guilt. 

Food can, and should, be pleasurable; the key is to allow yourself to experience it and be with the food fully and mindfully. While this can understandably be scary at first, repeated exposure will calm your fears and excite your taste buds.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s