The Pleasure Principle: What It Is and How It Can Improve Your Relationship to Food and Your Body Through the Practice of Intuitive Eating
Friday, June 24th, 2011
The Pleasure Principle is simply this: Our bodies are wired to move towards pleasure and avoid pain. We naturally gravitate towards things that taste, smell and feel yummy and delicious. We naturally avoid the opposite. To try to fight the pleasure principle, as so many diets encourage us to do, is to fight one of our most basic instincts. Is it any wonder then that so many diets fail?
What if following and listening to our pleasure was really the secret to it all? What if by listening to our bodies instead of fighting them we started to come into a better balance around our weight and body image?
Impossible you say? Let me invite you to temporarily suspend your disbelief until you read the rest of this article…
Pleasure is the key to the practice of intuitive eating.
If you are practicing intuitive eating (which, in a nutshell, is to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied, and to eat what your body wants), then when you are hungry you ask yourself: “What is the most nutritious and delicious thing I can eat right now?” You need to have your pleasure muscle well toned and flexed in order to be able to answer this question. In fact the more tuned in you are to what will bring you pleasure, the better you will be able to intuit what your body wants and needs.
Left to their own devices, our bodies are naturally going to want to eat what will increase our chances of survival. Our default mode is for strength and health. Of course, if you have been dieting most of your life, some of these natural predispositions of the body might have become skewed, so it’s important to be patient with yourself.
So many of my clients who have spent a lifetime going from one diet to another are terrified at the thought of practicing intuitive eating. “I won’t be able to stop eating chocolate!” wailed one of my clients. Chocolate was her number one forbidden food, so of course once she considered legalizing it, that is where her mind went. There is nothing like scarcity to increase our desire for something.
Although this is a valid fear and one that might even get played out, in my experience, this phase of overdosing on forbidden foods is relatively short-lived. Once your body gets that it can eat what it wants, when it wants, and even as much as it wants, a forbidden food like chocolate starts to lose its grip on you.
In their book When Women Stop Hating their Bodies Hirschmann and Munter tell us:
Always having large quantities of the food you love at hand is critical to the process of legalizing. As a rule, everyone starts this process by doing just that—stocking up. There is no question that the biggest surprise for people in the early stages of legalizing food is that, contrary to popular belief, the more food you have at hand, the less you eat. Scarcity produces anxiety; surplus makes people feel more secure.
Pleasure can also be used as a barometer for when we’re starting to feel satisfied and have had enough. When we first start to eat, we are truly hungry; the food tastes that much better because we have an appetite for it. However, once we start to fill up, our pleasure begins to diminish. This is our sign that we have probably had enough food. If we know that there will be more food and plenty of it when we are hungry again and can really enjoy it, it won’t be so hard for us to stop eating.
If you’ve been trying diets and they haven’t been working, try using the pleasure principle. Our bodies don’t do well with deprivation and punishment; they are so much more responsive to pleasure. Like it or not, our bodies are wired for pleasure. Try working with your body instead of against it for a change.
What I am writing about here is completely counter-cultural to what most women have been spoon-fed since birth (pun intended). It’s certainly not what the dieting industry wants us to believe. They have spent billions of dollars convincing us that our bodies are battlegrounds to be controlled and conquered. Has this approach been working for you?
If you are going to try some of the suggestions I have outlined here, please enlist some support, whether it is individual or group therapy or both, because it is hard to change these deeply encoded messages on our own. The more support you can get, especially in the beginning, the better your chance of success.
Here’s to your pleasure!