2 Ways To Get More Pleasure From Your Food

The pleasure of good eating is about much more than the taste of the food or being satiated. It is about a deep appreciation for, and connection with, everything on our plates.

I grew up in a very rural area where gardens, harvesting and preparing food for winter storage was common..especially among my grandparents. My grandmas and great aunts had large gardens where they grew all of the vegetables and condiments we ate in season and canned for the winter months. Our winter meat was often from local farms or what my family hunted.

When I moved away from my rural roots in my early 20s, I lived throughout the Caribbean and a small period in South Africa. In each of these places, local fruits and vegetables provided a large part of the typical diet. When I moved just outside of New York City for a year, it was interesting to notice the shift in food.

Food was shipped in from around the world to provide an abundance of fruits and vegetables all year long, regardless of season. And a lot of food I ate ended up being convenient – packaged, made with chemicals and additives – and in huge portions.

At this time, I was in full recovery from being anorexic in my teens and early 20s…and then started swinging to the other side of the pendulum.

Having food available everywhere, any flavor/texture/portion I desired at any time made it really easy to eat quite a lot and quite often.

My animal brain, starved for years during anorexia, now seemed in overdrive trying to catch up. It became really hard to resist the temptation of food and large portions – especially when I was often having business meetings over breakfast, lunch or dinner.

It was subtle…but powerful.

My portions were growing larger, as was my desire to satisfy my cravings for sweet stuff. I thought I was eating “mostly healthy” with salads, lean meats, yogurt, fruit, sugar free candies, diet sodas, etc…but I was eating a lot of foods mindlessly out of habit. And I was eating foods with a lot of artificial ingredients.

For many in first world countries, food is a commodity like any other. Somewhere along the way we came to expect only that our food would be fast, convenient, and cheap. “Factory food” no longer seems like a strange concept. Farmers are now routinely told that the only things that matter are color and shelf life.

However, here appears to be a growing shift in the mass-produced, factory generated food trends as we keep looking to feel satisfied with our meals. It seems that the pleasure of good eating is not only about fast, convenient, and cheap, but also about memory, romance, and trust.

The level of enjoyment we experience in eating our food has very real biochemical consequences that directly affect our metabolism and digestion, says nutritional psychologist Marc David, MA, founder of The Institute for the Psychology of Eating and the author of The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy and Weight Loss (Healing Arts Press, 2005). “Half of nutrition is what you eat,” he explains, “but the other half is how you eat.”

Marc says, “We are all programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s the most primitive part of the human nervous system. So, when you eat, you are seeking the pleasure of food, and you are avoiding the pain of hunger. But here’s the trick: You can’t receive pleasure unless you are aware that you are engaging in it. So, if you’re eating food and you’re not paying attention — if you’re watching TV, talking too much, rushing or reading — you will potentially miss the experience of pleasure. And, if you do not get the pleasure that you seek, the brain often interprets that missed experience of pleasure as hunger.”

Beyond enjoying food, there also appears to be links between pleasure and metabolism.

In the absence of pleasurable satiation, one of the chemicals that increases our appetite is neuropeptide Y. In the absence of pleasurable satiation, one of the chemicals that increases our appetite is neuropeptide Y.

Pleasure catalyzes a relaxation response, and the same switch in your brain that turns on relaxation — the parasympathetic nervous system — also turns on full, healthy digestion and assimilation.

Conversely, the same switch in your brain that turns on stress, anxiety and fear — the sympathetic nervous system — turns off digestion and assimilation. There is a direct biochemical connection between eating with pleasure and our digestion and long-term calorie-burning metabolism.

So what does it take to break the habit eating quickly, binge eating or overeating, or eating out of habit instead of from true hunger?

In my experience, it involves two things.

First, it takes a simple act of appreciation.

Appreciation for where your food is coming from, what it took to get to you, what ingredients are included and awareness of why you’re choosing to eat that particular food.

Appreciating is acknowledging. It might also include being thankful, but it’s mostly about noticing. Noticing the source of your food as well as your intentions for eating. Noticing the flavors and textures. Noticing how you feel while eating.

Second, it takes choosing real food instead of factory-made food and ingredients.

It was shocking to me how much less I battled with cravings for sugary and salty foods when I started eliminating processed foods from my diet.  I was also working on the mental and emotional drives behind my eating, but this was the big physical shift.

Replacing sugar-free, fat-free or hidden sugar foods with whole foods that had healthy fats felt scary at first. (Eating veggies with butter instead of a fat-free yogurt?!) But it took no time for me to start to feel way more satisfied and less like a cookie monster.

Where did the foods in your last meal come from? What were they made with?

Think back over the past few days and see if you see patterns of eating foods with chemicals, or eating out of habit. It may only take subtle shifts in awareness to be able to make big changes in your behaviors.

Thanks to Marc David and his work from The Psychology of Eating for references for this article.

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