The psychology behind eating for pleasure

Emotional eating is the practise of consuming food to satisfy emotional rather than gastrointestinal demands. Sadly, emotional eating doesn't address emotional issues. Picture: Pexels/Adrienn

Emotional eating is the practise of consuming food to satisfy emotional rather than gastrointestinal demands. Sadly, emotional eating doesn't address emotional issues. Picture: Pexels/Adrienn

Published Jan 29, 2023


What is your favourite food? This is a question that almost everyone can answer.

For many people, eating is one of life's greatest joys!

Taking pleasure in food offers important health advantages in addition to making mealtimes delightful. Among other benefits, savouring food can boost digestion, enhance your connection with food, and help you recover from disordered eating.

In some circumstances, having enough "vitamin P" is equally as crucial as the foods on your plate. Explore the delicious nuances of why pleasure matters for food by reading on.

The science of recreational eating has been extensively researched. The results are fascinating and mostly positive. According to biology, people's enjoyment of eating is physiologically processed in both their lips and their brains.

Dopamine is released in the brain in response to pleasure of any type, including enjoyment of food, according to therapist and nutritionist Dr. Aleta Storch of Wise Heart Nutrition and Wellness.

Dopamine, she explains, is sometimes referred to as the "feel good hormone" because it stimulates the brain's reward circuits, which aid in promoting happiness, serenity, motivation and attention.

In fact, an older study from 2011 titled "Reward, Dopamine and the Control of Eating Intake: Implications for Obesity" suggests that people who are obese may have impaired dopamine sensitivity, which causes them to overeat in order to experience enough pleasure from food.

But when our brain chemistry is in order, the pleasure we get from eating may also have a positive impact on our bodies. We really digest and metabolise food more efficiently when we love the meal we are eating and boost dopamine, claims Storch.

Our neurological system enters a rest and digest state when we're calm as a result of enjoying our food, which enables us to thoroughly break down and absorb the nutrients from it.

Eating for enjoyment could encourage healthy eating as well.

Can eating pleasure be a lever for healthy eating? A comprehensive systematic study from 2020, a comprehensive scoping analysis of 119 papers on the relationship between food enjoyment and a healthy diet was conducted to evaluate the relationships between eating pleasure and dietary practises and health. In favourable correlations between eating pleasure and dietary outcomes were reported in 57% of the studies.

For instance, a 2015 study titled "Relationships between nutritional status, sadness, and enjoyment of eating in ageing men and women" connected better nutrition with more enjoyable eating. Other research has emphasised the significance of enjoying nutritious meals to support a satisfying, balanced diet.

It is simply untrue, according to dietician and certified intuitive eating counsellor Dr. Sarah Gold Anzlovar, that "healthy" food must be boring or taste bad.

Satisfaction improves when we consume food we like, which can actually enhance the quality of our diets and lower the likelihood of overeating or binge episodes.

If food were only a source of energy, meals would be quite dull. Eating has a significant impact on many aspects of the human experience, from strengthening relationships with family members to linking us to our cultural history.

In other words, eating provides both physical and emotional nutrition. Here are a few ways that eating may nourish your spirit.

Eating for pleasure vs. emotional eating

It's likely that you've heard that emotional eating is bad. When people use food as a coping mechanism for uncomfortable feelings like stress, rage, or despair, it frequently leads to thoughtless intake and a tense relationship with food.

Having said that, it makes sense if you're hesitant about the concept of indulging in pleasure eating.

Fortunately, the purposes and results of emotional eating and pleasure eating are different.

Anzlovar defines emotional eating as the practise of utilising food to manage both good and negative emotions. When you go out for an ice cream cone in the summer or eat an apple right from the tree at an apple orchard, you are "eating for pleasure," which is the act of selecting a meal to especially appreciate its flavour, texture, and experience.

The emotional attachment you have to your food is another key contrast between these two behaviours.

When people eat emotionally, there is frequently—but not always—a lack of connection or disassociation with the food, according to Anzlovar.

When you eat for pleasure, you often feel a genuine connection to and satisfaction from the meal.

Of all, there's no clear distinction between eating emotionally and eating for pleasure; the two may occasionally cross over. How do you feel afterwards is one approach to identify which you're practising.

You won't experience any guilt or shame if you make an effort to enjoy your food thoughtfully.

The ideal combination of nourishment and enjoyment.

Few things in life can compare to the delight of food on a daily basis. The food we eat satisfies our taste senses, nurtures our bodies, and lifts our moods. Try beginning small to add more pleasure to your meal.

Storch advises: "When you prepare a meal or snack, consider if there is anything you might do to make it even 10% more delightful." It's possible to transform a meal from "meh" to "yes" by heating up a brownie, adding goat cheese to a salad, or adding additional milk to thin out a dish of oats.

Ask yourself this question after your meal: How much joy did your food provide you?

What good sentiments came from having an emotional connection to the food on your plate? Making future meal selections even tastier may be possible with the aid of the mental notes you collect.