Nothing screams lack of satisfaction in food like having a recent dental procedure [yuck]. Excuse my mini pity party, but this has been the PERFECT week to tune into what satisfaction in food means, how it effects our abilities to remain in tune with intuitive cues, and what results from denying such pleasures. For the past several days I’ve been stuck having to use baby-food-like versions of anything that was once tasty in my life – over and over and over – and it very quickly occurred to me that I was feeling SO unsatisfied after every make-shift meal. Try eating scrambled cheesy eggs every day, sometimes more than once, and you’ll see what I mean. Sure, I’ve been paying attention to things like getting my protein in for healing purposes, even plenty of fats to contribute to satiety given the lack of fiber possibilities, but my brain (and tummy) WANTS CARBS. And crunchy ones. And Sweet and salty ones… you get my drift.
All this to say – FINDING PLEASURE IN FOOD IS IMPORTANT. And complicated for many reasons. For example, think of that last time you were snacking after dinner while vegging out before bed. You try to do all the “right things” by choosing the yogurt and berries even though you stared at the Ben and Jerry’s in your freezer for a few minutes first. You eat. You’re physically full. But you just feel like something is missing and go back into the kitchen for more. A few snacks later, you’re back in the freezer and finally grabbing hold of what you really wanted. End result? You are way past comfortable fullness, and maybe even feeling guilty for having “given in” to the oh-so-forbidden sweet treat.
Kicker is, if you felt able and allowed to eat what was most satisfying, without attached morality, you likely would have felt much different both physically and mentally. Because diet culture is so constructed by external rules, it doesn’t leave much room for creativity or flexiblity. God forbid you eat what YOU want [cue shocked face here], you might just eat the “wrong thing” [the horror]! When did we build such distrust in ourselves to make such a natural decision? Hint: when we were taught that we were wrong. That our bodies were wrong, and that our eating was wrong.
Embracing the idea of finding satisfaction or pleasure in the food you eat is a central part of enhancing each and every IE principal (1). Be it hunger, fullness, movement, body respect, or challenging the food police, the point of intuitive eating is that every decision made is YOURS. It is not your Mom’s, who will maybe forever see food at points. Not your Grandma’s, who would stuff you like a chicken with her food and love if she could. Not your personal trainer’s, or co-worker’s, or even your dietitian’s. So start asking yourself: What is it that you want?
If your eyes are currently bulging at the screen after reading that question and your reaction is a panicked, “I don’t know!” – don’t fret! There are ways to dig deep and work toward being able to answer that question with confidence and reason. For example, after inadvertently tuning into satisfaction this week I know EXACTLY what I want right now. I want a cold crunchy salad with tons of texture. I want a perfectly toasted bagel with cream cheese. And I want to chomp on some Dill Pickle Chips [if you haven’t tried these before, you need to take a trip to the store, pronto].
There are so many sensory aspects of our eating experience that contribute to how food satisfies us. I typically much prefer creamy, sweet, and rich to crunchy or salty, but take away my ability to chew for a few days and WHAM – I want what I can’t have. There is no wrong way to feel sated. There is no incorrect answer when considering what you want and what would feel good, both physically and mentally. Instead of comparing things like nutrients, calories, or points, try considering your preference for texture, aroma, taste, staying power [how much do you feel you need to fuel up?], and even temperature (1). In our ability to answer what we want out of an eating experience, we are more likely to walk away fully satisfied.
Just like most other principals of building a strong intuition, there can be a lot of barriers to having a super gratifying meal. How many times have you slept through your alarm and rushed out of the house with a granola bar when what you really would have loved was to sleepily wake up over a stack of pancakes dripping in syrup? Or were at a party where you munched on cheese and crackers all night when you would have rather had a nice steaming plate of mac ‘n cheese that simply wasn’t there? Or were camping with burgers and dogs for days, but really just wanted a fresh salad? [Or had a dental procedure and couldn’t chew – sorry, still not over it]. Time availability, distractions, social influence, environment, and of course emotions can sometimes get in the way of what we really want. And that’s okay too! It’s bound to happen.
So once you feel comfortable paying more attention to YOU and less attention to cultural diet norms, start asking yourself, “What do I want to eat right now? What would feel best? Crunchy or smooth? Light and crisp, or rich and creamy?” And one last reiteration – finding pleasure in food is OKAY. In fact, it’s important. Our brain reward centers LOVE being triggered, and are happy to remind us to keep at it [hello survival and happiness]. What are ways food is satisfying to you?
P.s. Always practice with self-compassion. This week I’ve been trying to hit the spot the best I can with sneaking some veggies into a gooey quesadilla and eating ice cream every night. Sometimes it’s still not doing the trick – it’s okay to feel frustrated or sad if unsatisfied! It will pass 😊
- Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. The Intuitive eating workbook: Ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2017