It's understandably tough for lots of people out there who have dieted off and on to experience joy when they eat. Dieting often causes us to consume foods that we don't enjoy, and experience guilt and anxiety when we eat what we actually want.
While food does provide us with much needed energy for survival, it's also about experiencing satisfaction or PLEASURE. Feeling mentally satisfied with what we've eaten is incredibly important! It can empower our emotional and physical well-being. When we eat what actually sounds good - in a setting where we can really appreciate what we're consuming - we're more likely to notice when we're comfortably full, and feel mentally satisfied with what we just ate. As the book, Intuitive Eating, states, "When you allow yourself pleasure and satisfaction from every possible eating experience, your total quantity of food will decrease."
How can we create an environment and meals that will be as enjoyable and as satisfying as possible? The reality is that some days this is easier than others. And that's OKAY! Not every meal or snack needs to be perfect! We are going to eat so many times in life. But generally aiming to experience as much satisfaction as possible when we eat can help us experience more pleasure/feel more mentally satisfied from our meals and snacks. With this in mind, here are some strategies that have been adapted from the Intuitive Eating book for experiencing more pleasure and mental satisfaction from eating.
TIPS FOR MAKING YOUR EATING EXPERIENCE MORE PLEASURABLE
KEEP A WIDE ASSORTMENT OF FOODS IN THE HOUSE - AND DETERMINE WHAT YOU WANT TO EAT
Understandably, many people who have dieted have made their food choices based on what's allowed on their plan, which has frequently led to not really knowing which foods they like anymore. If it's tough to know which foods sound good, take a few weeks to taste test a wide assortment of foods - and distinguish which flavors, textures, aromas, and temperatures you prefer. Maybe you'll discover that you like pasta, bread, soup, beans, meat, produce, yogurt, cheese, salsa, hummus, chocolate, etc. Or maybe not. Everyone is different. Keeping a mixture of foods in the house that you enjoy will make for more interesting and satisfying meals throughout the week - as will asking yourself what you would like to eat in the moment.
TUNE INTO YOUR FOOD
I get it. You work hard. Sometimes consuming a meal or snack consists of eating as quickly as you can at work - or while you work. Or flying down the highway running errands while you eat your meal in the car. Life happens. If possible, give yourself permission to set a certain amount of time aside to enjoy your meal each day. Even carving out 20 minutes to enjoy a meal is something. And if you're like me, you'll probably find that you can enjoy your food even more when you're sitting at a dinner table/desk versus being on your feet.
Some people find that they're able to tune into their food more easily if they find a way to decompress before they begin a meal. Breathing in and out a few times before taking your first bite of food can be helpful - as can chewing your food slowly so that you can take in the mixture of flavors, textures, and temperatures that your meal offers. When you eat your next meal, tune into what it tastes like. Is it sweet, sour, savory, or bitter? Does it taste good, bad, or neither? Are the textures crunchy, smooth, soft, etc.? Do you like the textures? Why? Why not?
EAT WHEN GENTLY HUNGRY AND TUNE INTO WHEN YOU'RE COMFORTABLY FULL
Can you remember a time when you went for too many hours during the day without eating? Most likely this was followed by feeling ravenous and being unable to enjoy your meal. Eating when you're gently hungry (A 3-4 on the hunger scale) is helpful because you'll have an easier time identifying what you would like to eat. Eating before you become extremely hungry will enable you to enjoy how your food tastes, versus rushing through each bite and not noticing the different flavors, textures, and temperatures that your food offers.
Throughout your next meal, explore where you fall on the hunger/fullness scale. As you reach the uncomfortably full stage, your food will not be as pleasurable to eat. Eating up to the point of being comfortably full (7 on the hunger/fullness scale) helps with maintaining a higher level of satisfaction from meals because it's more difficult to experience the physical discomfort of being uncomfortably full. I will add, Intuitive Eating is never a hunger/fullness diet - so you ALWAYS have permission to eat past the point of feeling comfortably full - without judgement.
WHEN FEASIBLE, EAT IN AN ENJOYABLE SETTING
Decreasing the amount of distractions and doing things to enhance the setting that you eat in will make for a more pleasurable eating experience. Some things that commonly distract from a meal are the television, cell phone, and computer. Some studies indicate that it takes longer to feel full and register fullness when playing computer games or watching television while eating.
Try removing some of these distractions from your meal time. If it feels a little intimidating, try eliminating distractions from the first bite of a meal/snack, and then another bite in the middle of your meal/snack. If it feels right you can gradually build up to eliminating distractions from one meal a day - and go from there. In general, eating more meals without distractions is so helpful for experiencing as much pleasure as possible from our food. It's about balance.
What does a nice environment to eat in mean to you? For some, this means eating off of a pretty plate, lighting some candles on the dinner table, playing some relaxing music, etc. If you have children and find that your meal time is somewhat chaotic, you might try eating part of your meal with your family, followed by eating the remainder of the meal after everyone else is done eating. As always, do what feels right to you.
TRY TO MAINTAIN PEACE THROUGHOUT YOUR MEALS
Most of us can relate to the frustration of sitting down at the dinner table to enjoy a meal, only to have an argument break out at the table. In these moments of annoyance, we might consume our meal more rapidly than usual, and miss out on enjoying the different flavors and textures in our meal. Plus, who wants to feel angry when they're finally sitting down to experience some pleasure? Try to make the dinner table a safe zone where arguments are banned. You deserve to have a peaceful meal.
Remember, these tips are NOT rules. They're simply some ideas to experiment with. As you develop a healthier relationship with food through rejecting the diet mentality, honoring your hunger, and implementing the additional Intuitive Eating principles, it becomes much easier to enjoy your food. All of the Intuitive Eating principles affect the level of mental satisfaction that we experience when we eat. Remember, progress - not perfection.
If you would like to work with me on making peace with food and your body, or address general wellness concerns, click here to learn more about my private one-on-one sessions. Happy eating!