Pleasure, Food, Eating, & Obesity


"Pleasure eating triggers body’s reward system and may stimulate overeating." This finding is in a new study that, caught my eye and my imagination this morning after pleasurable tea party in my garden.

We need to appreciate this phenomena if we want to eat well and avoid obesity. Otherwise we'll get used to those rewards, seek them out and, most likely, misinterpret feelings that cue us to eat.

According to the study, if you eat something, like a scone or an  ice-cream cone because the taste is appealing while your body does not need calories for fuel, your body emits chemical reward signals.

That means that you teach your body to reward you for unnecessary eating and eventually, for overeating. For you who follow my writings, you know I talk about kindness, self care, tenderness toward self as vital aspects of eating disorder recovery.  The Palmiero Monteleone, MD, of the University of Naples SUN in Italy study shows us that giving ourselves genuine self care and pleasure is practical.  We need to ignite reward systems within us in response to healthy pleasurable activities based on kindness, love and caring.

This morning I had a wonderful surprise.  Two little girls who were my best friends 13 years ago and moved away, were in town today and wanted to see me. What a treat to see them as young women.  We had tea and scones in my garden this morning, played catch up, shared memories and spent a lot of time beaming at one another.

When they left I had a tray in the kitchen holding a partially filled tea pot, empty cups, empty plates and one untouched cranberry orange scone. These scones are delectable.

I looked the appealing scone knowing that it would still be a taste delight. I thought about eating it. Here are my considerations:

  1. Eat for pleasure? No.  If I ate for the pleasure of the scone the sensations would affect my feelings. I would lose some of the glow of happiness that came from being with these precious girls.
  2. Eat rather than waste?  Nonsense.  My body is not a trash bin.  The scone either goes in the trash or in me.  I don't save money, food or the planet by eating what I don't need.
  3. Eat because I'm hungry?  No.  I'm not hungry.  I will be soon, but that will be for energy needs.  I'll wait and have a nourishing lunch to fuel me for the afternoon.  A scone won't do that. I don't need this scone.

I discarded the scone along with the crumbs and napkins as I cleaned up after our garden tea. I felt a pleasant feeling of pleasure washing the cups as I continued to think and feel about the girls.

The call to eat that scone for pleasure vanished.  It was almost, now that I've read about the study, as if  an inner reward system was  ready to rise up within me when I ate that scone.  But when that reward flooded up all else would drown.  I would not have smiled and played with the images of those faces I love while I washed up the cups.

So..... we have to evaluate our situation in the moment, and we have to know when we need fuel.  Recognizing hunger is part of the challenge.  Recognizing our need for fuel is another.  Now we know we deal with the challenge of recognizing how eating for temporary pleasure is followed by a chemical reward and that reward may block out pleasure and joy we want to linger with.

  1. When do you eat for pleasure?
  2. When does pleasurable eating not related to hunger take you away from valuable experiences?
  3. When do you believe the desire for that chemical reward has anything to do with physical hunger?




0 # Thank you for this very timely blog. Ridmylifex2 2012-05-07 18:49
Thank you for this very timely blog. Riding on the tail of a significant period of starving myself, I have developed an overwhelming desire for all things sugar. I truly feel addicted. When I start I feel I cannot stop. So I guess not starting at all is key here. I have never stopped and asked myself all of the questions you asked yourself today as you pondered the scone.
Eating the sugary substances takes me to a pleasurable place that lowers feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, anger, etc., (whatever feeling is present). If I want something, and hold off eating it because I am trying to be "good", I find myself thinking about it until I give in.
What is it about walking away or not giving in causes me such distress? And how do I get thru this? I truly feel compelled to eat sugary substances. I was never like this before my period of extreme food restriction the past two years. Help!! I am not happy with how I feel physically and the scales are really not being good to me. Again, how do I pass by these substances? I could keep them out of the house, but my girls deserve a little treat now and then. They get so tired of eating "healthy" all the time (as they call my cooking).
Any suggestions?
0 # If you are restricting your body may bepinkjoanna 2012-05-07 20:27
If you are restricting your body may be demanding the minimal in order to ward of starvation. It reminds me of dehydrated cattle on a long dry march stampeding to a river. A lot of them will die in that stampede. The survival imperative at such an extreme state of vulnerability takes over.

I wonder, if you fed yourself well every day for one month, would that sugar craving fall by the wayside?

You ask, "How do I pass by these substances?" Well, how does a dehydrated herd of cattle pass by the river?

The answer to both questions is the same.
0 # not sure. I keep reading this and all Imylifex2 2012-05-07 20:45
not sure. I keep reading this and all I can come up with for the first question "how do I pass by these substances?" be properly nourished so I don't crave these substances, but I don't see how that answers the second question. I feel a little dull here :sad:
Laura R
0 # Tracy - I think you have the first answeLaura R 2012-05-07 21:28
Tracy - I think you have the first answer right and it is the same for the second. A herd of cattle would only pass by a river if they were properly hydrated and didn't need the drink the water.

It sure is hard to figure out what normal eating is sometimes. Since I am slowly trying to transition from meal plan to intuitive eating (with supervision) and sometimes when I ask myself, "am I still hungry" I am quick to think "it seems like I had enough" or "that should have been enough" or "what if I eat more and it's too much" and I end up skimping. I think I am letting my ED is do tricky little restricting things in the name of intuitive eating .Not so good when I'm trying to maintain what I've worked so hard to gain.
0 # Thanks, Laura. I think you are right. Inmylifex2 2012-05-08 07:34
Thanks, Laura. I think you are right. Interesting to hear of the different struggles we have with food. I was restricting big time until about 4 months ago. I am struggling now with the sugary foods. Part of my change in diet is due to medication that increased my appetite. One was for obsessive thoughts with my ED and one was for my mood. I need to stay on it, so I am trying to figure out how to work WITH it. I have gained 20 lbs in the past 5 months. I feel awful. People tell me I look good, but I don't believe it. I have a new reserve today to eat better. Stay away from obvious sugars. I am off gym restriction starting today, so I can go back to the gym (within reason). I need to listen to my body's needs and learn to appreciate that I will feel better in many ways if I do this.
0 # It seems that a great challenge is to lipinkjoanna 2012-05-08 09:43
It seems that a great challenge is to listen to body "needs" and not get them confused with body "signals." Some signals indicate a need.
Some signals indicate a desire for the chemical reward that comes from pleasure eating with no energy needs involved. And some signals may indicate a desperate craving for sugar as an attempt to rescue a dying body.

If you keep up with the exercises in Healing Your Hungry Heart you will create an internal environment for yourself where you do recognize the differences.
0 # Your scone example has been running thrumylifex2 2012-05-08 16:45
Your scone example has been running thru my head today, especially when I find myself heading toward something sugary. I have been trying to listen to my body's needs when I am hungry, stop when I am full. My body is not a trash bin. (I like that one). Remind myself how bad I feel later when I eat mindlessly and in that trance like state I find myself in with excess sugar binges.
Eating mindfully. Today I took my breakfast into a quiet room away from where my daughter was playing. I didn't rush, I appreciated the healthy meal I had prepared. I wanted to start my day off on the right foot. I lit a candle next to my bed (yes, I was in my bedroom eating - but just for today to get to a quiet place)....I only ate half my breakfast because I was full. I felt wasteful but I threw it out anyway. Then I filled several pages of my journal with thoughtful contemplation.
0 # two days without a sugar binge. Two daysmylifex2 2012-05-09 20:36
two days without a sugar binge. Two days without sweets period. I notice that without all the sugar in my body, I am making better food choices overall. I feel less bloated. I have more energy.
0 # Dear Tracy, Be gentle with yourself.pinkjoanna 2012-05-10 07:43
Dear Tracy,

Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself gifts of kindness. This is a sensitive time. Do your best to give yourself many PAMS (pause a minute exercises from Healing Your Hungry Heart), journal when your emotions rise (any emotion).

What you are experiencing is the first part of going through the door you have opened. Stay aware and alert with kind self care exercises always at the ready.
0 # This is an interesting article and I totJan 2012-05-10 18:50
This is an interesting article and I totally agree with that feeling,the high that comes from not indulging in the scone, instead as outing the feelings you have from sharing time with your friends. Eating for pleasure,eating for hunger,...... Right now I am not finding food pleasurable at all,yet am happy!!!! And when I start to eat food recently that makes me unhappy or takes away my good similar to this article in a way. How to reconnect my mind and body knowing that food is essential to maintain these happy feelings. Feels like I have a disconnect........and even though it feels ok to be with this just now, I have to know when its not ok. Maybe just my body readjusting
0 # interesting that you brought this up, Jamylifex2 2012-05-10 19:54
interesting that you brought this up, Jan. I was just re-reading parts of HHH chapter 7 "Challenges To Eating Well". Perhaps this would be a good one for you to review at this time too :-)
0 # Hi Tracy ok thanks I will!!! :) was mediJan 2012-05-11 04:15
Hi Tracy ok thanks I will!!! :-) was meditating on the plane home from work today as to WHAT was causing this right now- The answer i got from asking this question to the universe/my higher self was OVERWHELM....... And that makes sense, I do feel overwhelmed but in a good way- my life and work is so great that my body is overwhelmed with the emotions...i can't seem to break them down they just stay there stuck= maybe am just enjoying them- :-) but after almost one week of allowing this to be there am panicking a little cos i haven't eaten well at all- There is so much confusion goes on at this stage - like we are feeling great and then we forget about eating well and at the back of my mind a little alarm bell is going off saying- take heed or you will start to go backwards again- Joanna do you have advise to how to help with overwhelm - i get this such a lot but it does impact my eating rather a lot then eventually I get exhausted and the not so merry go round starts again - so my antenna warning system is up......
0 # just something to add here- I love the fJan 2012-05-11 04:19
just something to add here- I love the freedom of feeling good without having to associate with my ED - And this is what this is all about- maybe I feel resentful I have to still monitor this whilst experiencing new emotions and situations - yes I do - but the reality is I do still have to monitor my ED especially as it suffered during these times and new phases
0 # I am continuing to eliminate sugar frommylifex2 2012-05-15 21:08
I am continuing to eliminate sugar from my diet as best as I can. Mother's Day I slipped up a little, but I planned for that and it was not an enormous slip. It hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be. When I do feel an urge to eat something that is a trigger food, I do my PAMS..thanks Joanna for your support :-)
0 # crap. had a cookie today. ok. i had two.mylifex2 2012-05-16 19:56
crap. had a cookie today. ok. i had two. super busy and stressed at work. felt like i needed a sugar high to keep moving. I didn't stop and do a PAM...I was irritated with a certain patient who was pulling my last nerve. In my mind i was thinking.."i deserve this cookie, the cookie is good, i need to have a moment of enjoyment in this otherwise crappy day"...not beating myself up.
0 # Quick, Tracy. Your recovery work ripinkjoanna 2012-05-16 20:59
Quick, Tracy.

Your recovery work right now is to drop the ruminations over the cookies and be kind to yourself.

Soothe yourself. Bring understanding to the situation that brought you to the cookie. Think about what might have been a more useful choice.

Then, figure out how to make that choice available to you so when you need it, it's right there. :-)

That's how you build a supportive recovery environment for yourself.

It's like discovering a bench on a walking trail. You come upon it just as your legs are aching and you yearn for comfort. There it is. Someone placed a bench under a shade tree just in the right spot for you.

Let the someone be you. Place what you need in just the right spots for your life.
0 # all makes sense, Joanna. One thing thattracy 2012-05-17 06:36
all makes sense, Joanna. One thing that has changed for me (for the better) is that I allow each day to be new. I didn't beat myself up too long about the cookies, and yes, I need to have a recovery plan for quick retrieval in the future. Today I feel better. I was able to get into some smaller I have put on some weight with my sugar binges, and I guess with cutting back on sugary substances the past week or so have been able to lose a little weight. I am not restricting, so don't think that. I am just trying to eat better.

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