diet culture often ignores pleasure and satisfaction. here’s why you shouldn’t.
This week’s reminder talked about the importance of removing moral value from foods and understanding that eating is neutral.
We discussed how this is often one of the hardest concepts for people to grasp because, from early on, it’s drilled into us that there are ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods. In addition to harming our ability to make peace with food, viewing food in this dichotomous way completely removes the pleasure and satisfaction factors of eating, which are incredibly important when trying to pursue a calm relationship with food.
Diet culture purposely makes very little mention of pleasure and satisfaction, as they know the sterile and restricted eating plans they provide offer nothing of the sort. It positions these concepts as wrong, lazy and in the way of reaching your diet culture goals.
It’s forced to demonize seeking pleasure and being satisfied so that it doesn’t have to answer to the fact that its plans provide none. It pays no mind to the fact the human’s basic survival is dependent on us finding pleasure and satisfaction from food. If we didn’t find eating food pleasurable, we wouldn’t seek it out and would have a pretty hard time surviving. If we never felt satisfaction we’d always be seeking with no time for anything else, which also doesn’t lend itself well to survival (this might sound familiar if you’ve ever tried to control your intake – often it consumes the majority of our thoughts, leaving little time for other things).
As such, the deeper we are embedded in diet culture and its messaging, the more we lose touch with our own needs and desires. As soon as a craving or need pops up, we automatically stuff it down if it doesn’t fit within diet culture’s rules.
Over time, it becomes really hard to even identify those things that bring us pleasure and satisfaction. Our needs, desires and preferences get all tangled up in the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ of diet culture until we can no longer even decipher what we actually want from what we think we should want.
When we make peace with food and our bodies, we begin to not only unearth those needs and desires we’ve buried so deep, but we are also free to view them as valid and honor them just as they are, without need for substitution, correction or compensation.
Diet culture loves to push substitutions – ‘craving chips? trying crunchy carrots instead!’ The only problem is, when you want chips, and you instead eat carrots, you don’t satisfy your craving and likely garner no pleasure out of the experience because you’re not eating what you actually wanted in the first place. I know I’m not alone in having experienced the dissatisfaction of the ‘healthy swap.’
More often than not, you end up eating a bunch of carrots, only to find they don’t do trick (no shock there because what you actually wanted was chips!). So then you finally ‘give in’ to the craving and eat the chips (likely more than you even wanted in the first place thanks to restriction-driven rebound eating), but you do so while filled with guilt and shame. And the worst part is, it doesn’t even end up satisfying the craving because the guilt and shame mar your ability to take any pleasure in the experience.
This is why, going back to this week’s reminder, there are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. Because if what you truly want and are craving is chips, trying to substitute carrots for it will just leave you wanting and continually seeking the pleasurable experience you never got.
So sure, bite for bite, you might get more fiber and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from a carrot than you would a chip, but that completely discounts the positive impact pleasure and satisfaction have on our well-being. In the broader scheme, controlling and restricting your intake do more harm to your overall health than whatever micronutrient bump you might get from eating the carrot.
It’s also worth noting that food and the experience of eating is about so much more than just the nutrients it provides. Food offers connection, community, bonding, celebration, pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction, creative expression, etc. These are things that provide far greater benefit to our health and well-being than the general nutrition profile of what we’re eating (though even with that, studies have shown that our bodies better absorb the nutrients in a food if we enjoy what we’re eating (1)).
We know the physical and mental toll that dieting and controlling our intake takes on us. It breeds anxiety, food fixation, restriction, disordered patterns and behaviors, shame, guilt, feelings of failure etc., all of which harm our overall well-being.
If you’re invested in pursuing health, it’s important to take a holistic view of it – your mental, physical and emotional health all matter. So if the way you’re eating is harming other aspects of your well-being, then you’re not actually helping your health.
At least once this week (more if you feel up to it!), allow yourself to enjoy a craving when it comes up. Ideally you choose a time when you’ll really be able to sit and savor the experience (so, not when you’re rushing to get to a meeting or an appointment) and choose a craving that is stemming from a desire for food rather than a desire to numb a hard feeling.
For example, if before bed really you’re craving a bowl of ice cream, rather than subbing it for something or ignoring that craving all together, scoop the ice cream into a bowl, sit at the table (or on the couch or in bed!) and take time to truly enjoy it.
Before you dig into your chosen food (it could be french fries, pasta, a muffin, pizza, chips, candy, a doughnut…whatever you really want), notice your inner dialogue. Try to re-frame any diet mentality thoughts that are causing you to feel guilt or shame – ‘I am honoring my body’s craving and building trust for a more peaceful relationship with food.’ Remind yourself that taking pleasure and satisfaction in an eating experience promotes well-being and that you’re not harming your health or ‘failing’ for listening to your body.
Take a bite and notice all the different sensations. The taste, texture, smell, the feeling of it in your mouth, etc. Chew slowly to give yourself time to take in the experience and extract pleasure, joy and satisfaction out of it. Continue until you’ve had as much of the food as you want. Notice if you get to the point where the food no longer tastes as good as it did at the outset and how that makes you feel.
The more often you can have these experiences where you show your body trust and honor its wishes, the more calm your relationship with food and eating will be. Your body will thank you for validating its desires and allowing it pleasure and satisfaction.
Content warning: This study, as with most scientific studies, contains some stigmatizing language so if this is something that will trigger you, I encourage you to skip clicking through to the link I’ve included.
- Hallberg, L., Björn-Rasmussen, E., Rossander, L., & Suwanik, R. (1977). Iron absorption from Southeast Asian diets. II. Role of various factors that might explain low absorption. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 30(4), 539–548.