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Pleasure is part of a healthy diet

Pleasure is part of a healthy diet

Almost everyone has an answer to the question “what is your favorite food?”.

It’s easy to see why: Humans are hardwired to derive pleasure from food. In fact, for many, eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures!

In addition to making mealtime a pleasant experience, enjoying food also has significant health benefits. Savoring food aids digestion, can help improve your relationship with food, can help overcome eating disorders, and more.

In some cases, getting enough “vitamin P” (or perhaps vitamin Mmmm) is as important as the contents of the dish. Read on to dive into the tasty delights of why enjoyment matters in food.

For years, researchers have studied the science behind eating for pleasure. Their results are intriguing and largely encouraging.

Physiologically, the pleasure people get from food occurs in both our mouths and our brains.

“Pleasure of any kind, including that from food, leads to a release of dopamine in the brain,” explains therapist, dietitian and nutritionist. Body Trust Certified Supplier Aleta Storch, RDN, MHC, by Wise heart nutrition and wellness.

“Dopamine is often referred to as the ‘feel-good hormone’ because it activates reward pathways in the brain, which help promote happiness, calm, motivation and focus,” she says.

In fact, some old research from 2011 indicates that people with obesity may have disrupted dopamine sensitivity, leading them to overeat to get adequate pleasure from food.

When brain chemistry is working properly, however, our enjoyment of food can lead to physical benefits.

“When we enjoy the food we’re eating and stimulate dopamine, we actually digest and metabolize it more effectively,” Storch says. “When we are relaxed in response to a pleasurable eating experience, our nervous system goes into rest-and-digest mode, which allows us to fully break down and utilize the nutrients in the foods we eat.”

Eating for pleasure could also promote healthier eating.

A 2020 large systematic review examined 119 studies on the connection between enjoyment of food and a healthy diet. Fifty-seven percent of studies found favorable associations between food enjoyment and dietary outcomes.

A 2015 study, for example, associated greater food enjoyment with higher nutritional status. Other Education they highlighted the importance of enjoying healthy foods to promote a nutritious and balanced diet.

“There’s this belief that ‘healthy’ food has to be bland or not taste good, but that’s not true,” says certified dietitian and intuitive eating counselor Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN. “When we eat food we like, satisfaction increases, which can actually improve the quality of the diet and reduce the chance of overeating or binge eating episodes.”

Mealtimes would be pretty boring if food was just fuel. Food casts a wide net across the human experience, from bringing us together with our loved ones to connecting us to our cultural heritage.

In short, food is emotional nourishment as well as physical. Here are some ways enjoying food can nourish your spirit.

Enjoying food increases social connection

What’s a party or family gathering without something to munch on?

According to a., the fact that people enjoy meals with others often contributes to increasing their sense of happiness 2015 study about Thai social communities.

The pleasure of food offers physical and emotional comfort

Hot chicken soup when you’re sick, a pasta that reminds you of your grandmother, or a favorite dessert that always seems to hit the spot: foods like these have a way of lifting our spirits and calming our bodies.

“Sometimes food also offers comfort at the end of a busy day, which many people associate with negative emotional eating,” says Anzlovar. “But when we allow ourselves to connect with food and enjoy it, there are many benefits.”

The pleasure of food breaks the hold of diet culture

Diet culture has multiple definitions, but a hallmark of this message on a societal level is that you need to say no to the foods you love, especially if they are high in calories or fat.

Choosing to consciously enjoy what you eat helps break this harmful mindset.

“When all foods are allowed without rules, including the most delicious ones, the body learns to trust that it will get what it needs,” Storch says.“Creating permission for these foods that have been labeled ‘bad’ or ‘banned’ is an important step in the healing process and can help someone feel more peace, confidence and freedom around food.”

The pleasure of food connects us with our cultural heritage

For decades, research has shown that a sense of belonging is vital to mental health. What more beautiful place to experience belonging than within your own family or cultural heritage?

This is where the enjoyment of food could play an important role.

“Culture and tradition serve as a form of connection with others and with ourselves,” Storch says. “Limiting or denying foods that promote connection can lead to disengagement and loneliness. By omitting cultural foods, we are saying not only that the food is “bad,” but that the underlying identity associated with the food is “bad.”

Embracing these foods could ultimately create a sense of freedom and belonging that improves your mental health.

You’ve probably heard that emotional eating isn’t ideal.

Turning to food to deal with difficult emotions like stress, anger, or sadness often results in mindless eating and creates a difficult relationship with food. That said, it’s understandable that you’re wary of the idea of ​​eating for pleasure.

Fortunately, emotional eating and eating for pleasure differ in both intentions and results.

“Emotional eating is when people use food as a way to deal with both positive and negative emotions,” says Anzlovar. “Eating for pleasure means choosing a food to specifically appreciate its taste, texture and experience, like when you go out for an ice cream cone in the summer or eat an apple straight from the tree in an apple orchard.”

Another important distinction between these two behaviors is the connection you feel towards your food.

“Often, though not always, there is a lack of connection or dissociation with food when people eat emotionally,” explains Anzlovar. “When you eat for pleasure, there’s usually a real connection and enjoyment you get from the food.”

Of course, there’s no perfect dividing line between emotional eating and eating for fun, and sometimes the two can overlap.

One way to figure out which one you’re practicing: How do you feel afterwards?

Making a commitment to consciously enjoy your food won’t leave you with feelings of guilt or shame.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder (or are worried about developing one), seek help from a qualified health care provider as soon as possible. You can start with the National Eating Disorders Association Help and support pagewhich offers a screening tool, hotline and provider database.

Few things in life match the daily joy of enjoying food. The food we consume nourishes our bodies, comforts our spirits and satisfies our taste buds.

To bring more pleasure to your table, try starting small.

“When you prepare a meal or snack, see if there’s anything you could do to make it 10% more enjoyable,” advises Storch. “Sometimes, warming a brownie, adding a little goat cheese on a salad, or adding more milk to thin out a bowl of oatmeal can take a dining experience from ‘meh’ to ‘yeah’!”

Finally, at the end of the meal, ask yourself: how much pleasure did your food give you?

What positive feelings came from emotionally connecting to the items on your plate? The mental notes you collect could help you make future food choices even more delicious.


Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer and food blogger. She find her sharing down-to-earth nutritional information on A love letter to food or follow it Twitter.

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