Principle 6 – Discover the Satisfaction Factor
It is an unfortunate reality that diet culture has essentially ruined our ability to enjoy food. We have lost the satisfaction factor for the most part, and even when we do gain pleasure from our food it’s often short-lived because guilt soon follows. What the diet, health and wellness industries have forgotten to mention to their vulnerable consumers is the fact that when we engage in a meal which we find pleasurable, we will find it more satisfying – and when we find it satisfying, we will be much more inclined to listen to our body (by eating and stopping relative to hunger/fullness cues).
According to the Intuitive Eating framework, satisfaction is at the heart of the 10 principles. That is, each principle aims to help you find the satisfaction factor in food. By the same token, we can’t possibly find satisfaction with food if we are restricting, judging or stressing. But how do we find satisfaction in food without being bogged down in food rules and guilt? Here are some things to consider and work through:
- Ask yourself what you ACTUALLY want to eat – This sounds like common sense, but this is something which is really hard to do! When our minds are cluttered with food rules (thanks to the food police), myths, and worries around food, it can be almost impossible to tune into what we really want to eat. Have you ever been to a party and seen someone who is “on a diet” or “being good” dodge the foods they really want to eat (e.g. the dessert), and pick at the other food the whole time? They will eat 15 olives and 7 crackers to compensate for the 1 piece of cake they really want, all because they believe that this is the “better” or “healthier” option.
- Honour your preferences – respect what your body is telling you! Listen to it and trust it. If you prefer sweet over savoury for breakfast then listen to this – don’t force yourself to eat eggs if you don’t like them. Listen intuitively to what your body is telling you it likes, because there is likely a very good (physiological) reason for this.
- To get a clearer idea of what you feel like eating, think about:
- Your taste buds – what do you actually prefer? What tastes better to you?
- What words sound appealing to you when describing a food. Buttery? Smooth? Sugary? Smokey? Salty? Rich? Mild?
- What textures do you like? How do they feel on your tongue? Chewy? Smooth? Wet? Dry? Thin? Slippery? Crumbly?
- What smells do you like? Some people are SUPER sensitive to smell, and this can be a real tipping point when it comes to food. Take me for example – I know eggs are wonderful nutritionally, and I don’t mind the flavour, BUT I HAAAAATE the smell of eggs. I can eat them in certain ways (smothered with something to kill the smell), but the second I can smell egg (especially in baked goods), I can’t eat that food. So, what smells do you love? And what smells can’t you stand? Coffee? Fried onion? Meat? Cinnamon? Herbs? Cheese?
- How do you like your food temperature-wise? Really hot? Warm? Or cold? How does this change with the type of food? Does this change with the seasons? An ice-cold smoothie or crisp salad is so satisfying to me in the summer, but there is no way you’ll get me choosing to have these things on a cold, rainy winter’s day!
- How does the appearance of food change your preferences? Do you like foods which are brown and well-cooked, or do you prefer the biscuits which are still a bit pale? Does food placement on the plate matter to you? Does the appearance of lots of food on a plate overwhelm you or comfort you?
- How do you want your food to make you feel? Do you like feeling as though you’ve had a heavy, filling meal? Or do you prefer to feel light and airy after you’ve eaten something? This may also determine how often you like to eat – if you prefer rich, hearty meals you will be less likely to want/need to snack, but if you’re the kind of person who prefers small, light meals, then you may be more inclined to eat multiple smaller meals during the day.
In order to be able to listen to your body’s responses to these questions, you need to be in a state of presence or awareness. In other words, you need to be eating mindfully. Eating slowly and taking the time to be curious during a meal is the most important step to determining what does and doesn’t satisfy you. When we eat with consciousness, it becomes very clear that there is a point in a given meal when the food just isn’t as satisfying any more. It may not taste as good, or it might start to smell weird, or we might start to wonder what we thought was so appealing about it in the first place! This is the body’s cue that we have become satisfied. The pleasure centres in our brain are no longer being stimulated because they no longer need to be. We HAVE to find pleasure in food at the beginning of a meal – otherwise we wouldn’t eat at all (not in the long term anyway!).
The eating environment is an important element to a meal, and is very relevant here when we’re talking about pleasure. Using pretty plates, having nice cutlery, adjusting the lighting, and having pleasant aromas through the house can all make a really big impact on the satisfaction factor during a meal. We don’t eat like robots – we aren’t robots! We bring ALL OF US to every single meal (or snack)… our emotions, distractions, fears, hopes, preferences, dislikes, worries. We don’t eat in a vacuum, and becoming an intuitive eater helps us to recognise and embrace the holistic nature of eating and food.
We must always remember that the way we “do” life is the way we “do” food. So, if we’re stressed and frazzled when we sit down to a meal, this is the sort of meal we’re going to have. It will lack calm and peace, and it will certainly lack pleasure and satisfaction. In the same way, if we’re particularly uptight in other areas of our life, and always seeking to be in control, then we will likely transfer this to the way we relate with food. Food is inherently pleasurable. Our most enjoyable moments in life often revolve around food (think about parties and celebrations, and the joy of eating something completely delicious!). Food is also sensual in nature. The eating experience is intimate. We share meals with the people that mean the most to us. Eating a food we enjoy lights up the same pleasure centres in our brain as sex and other pleasurable activities. We subconsciously work so hard to separate the two, but they are simply inseparable! Sexual trauma is often seen in those with eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours, and this connection makes perfect sense when we consider that eating and sex are the two most pleasurable things humans do. If we experience guilt or shame around our sexual past (for any reason), then we will often transfer this to feelings of guilt and shame in our eating experiences and relationship with food.
I’d like to leave you with a short exercise to do which will help to highlight what you find most pleasurable around food. Make a list of your favourite:
- Places to eat (locations and restaurants)
- People to share a meal with
What is it about these things which enhances the satisfaction factor? How can you incorporate more of this into your life?