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.

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