Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beyond Calories. Learning To Embrace Food For Pleasure

From my seat in the kitchen I could only see his butt. But I could hear the probing of his snout, which piqued my curiosity. Then his head emerged, his eyes beaming at mine. After catching my glance he guided me with the movement of his head, pointing toward the 25-pound bag of kibble.
Waiting patiently for his favorite biscuits.

What could he want, I wondered. He has food in his bowl. He repeated this gesture talking to me without my comprehending. But then my husband got it (he speaks dog better than I do). He wants the fresh, new dog food, he realized. The  stuff in the bowl was from the end of the last large bag and it’s just not what he wants.

So my husband opened the new bag, a new variety in fact, replacing the previous batch. And he chowed down (my dog, I mean, not my husband).

Yes, even my dog Mica has absorbed the lessons living in this household. Maybe the quality of the older food was sub-par, or perhaps it was the allure of something new. But for some reason, he was triggered to sniff out something more desirable, and make his needs known to us.

Milanos, one of my favorite cookies.
But I prefer the mint variety to the orange!

There’s meeting your needs for fuel, the most basic in the hierarchy of eating needs. But then there’s eating to satisfy on other levels— to have what you really desire, to enjoy the flavor and textures of great tasting food, to avoid limiting food choices to shoulds.

Admittedly, it is challenging at first. 

It requires:

  • Taking a leap of faith, a bit of risk taking. Ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that can really happen?” When you realize that the risk is quite miniscule, you’ll likely find it’s easier.
  • Taking baby steps. Maybe a single component of the meal (or of your day) may change at first. It may be varying the portion of your dinner entrée or finally ordering a favorite sauce—perhaps on the side, to begin with.
  • It may mean choosing to step out only with people who know and understand your struggle, who you know will be supportive.
  • It involves asking for things the way you want them, when eating out. Trust me, you are not the first to assert yourself when dining out! And with the exception of buffets, the food isn’t prepared until you order. So no great hassle to accommodate you.
  • It requires feeling entitled, deserving of the pleasure of eating. This allows you to find your voice to vocalize what you’d like and how you want it.

When my mother comes to visit from out of state we often dine out for a dinner. Time after time, this is how it goes:

Me: “So what do you feel like eating tonight?”
Mom: “Oh, anything. I don’t care. Whatever you guys feel like. I’ll do anything”
Me: “Really? Anything? You’d be equally happy with Thai food as with Indian? Seafood or salad would satisfy as well as steak and fries? Gooey cheesy Mexican will work for you as easily as sushi and miso soup?”

No, it’s not easy being my mom. I long to hear a passion for food, an interest in truly enjoying a meal, not simply a need to ingest food and limit her calories until she’s full. Like you, I need to be patient.

You'll rest better once you start enjoying what you eat.
At this point, perhaps you’ve progressed to listening to your hunger and honoring it, to noting your fullness, and trusting there will always be a chance to eat again—when you should need to. Now consider this next level, beyond simply meeting your needs for fuel. Challenge yourself to step out of your safe place, slowly moving to truly enjoy what you eat. And release yourself of the guilt of not following rigid diet rules, set either by others or by your irrational self.

Because life is too short to diet.


  1. I actually quite seriously wondered the other day whether the fact that I have AN has something to do with a lower capacity to taste. My husband can tell me a thousand different things about the wine we're drinking, and whether or not the coffee is this-that-or-the-other. But I can't. I couldn't tell one glass of wine from the next. And it would have to be a *really* bad cup of coffee for me to notice. And then I was chatting to some women at work the other day and they were talking about putting balsamic on a salad - it wouldn't even occur to me to bother dressing a salad. I just wouldn't notice the flavour.
    How much of this is my eating disorder making sure I don't enjoy my food too much and how much of this is actually physiological I don't know - but it would be interesting to find out.

  2. could actually have an olfactory (i.e. taste) disorder. I’ve read cases of this. It’s pretty rare, but it does happen, and it can actually lead to the person developing AN, because since he/she can’t really taste anything (90% of taste is through smell), eating becomes a displeasurable activity, and the person ends up not caring about food at all and not eating. I’ve read that head trauma and serious illnesses (like West Nile virus) can trigger this disorder at any point in a person’s life.

  3. It is amazing how much more you enjoy food when you give up dieting and how much more effort you are prepared to put into it. I made a big detour last night to get gluten free flour to make pizza base. I could have bought pre-made but I wanted the best. Gluten free pizza bases can be pretty dry unless you make them yourself. I only ate 1/4 of the pizza I made because I was full but each mouthful was fantastic. ps Thanks for your comment on my blog. It was just right on a day when I really needed it. x