I want to share a blog post from health writer Emily Phares titled, “The Food Enjoyment Equation.” (copied below as it is no longer available on her blog) It describes such a simple, but powerful idea about enjoying our food.
To a binge eater, the idea of enjoying food can seem foreign. When I was bulimic, I often feared food because there were so many foods I thought might trigger binge eating, and many more foods that I labeled “too fattening” to eat as a part of my regular diet. I may have taken the advice to “enjoy your food” as justification for continued binge eating, because the binges were extremely pleasurable in the moment.
But as you’ll see in the article I shared, enjoying your food is the opposite of the empty, fruitless, fleeting pleasure of binge eating. Binge eaters experience no true enjoyment, because the act makes you feel so awful – physically and emotionally.
One of the reasons you may fear recovery is because you fear giving up the temporary gratification of binge eating. You may think that once you quit, you’ll have to view food as fuel only and no longer take much pleasure in eating. I believe it’s the quite the contrary: when you give up binge eating, you open yourself up to learning how to truly enjoy your food. You stop overindulging because “tomorrow starts a new diet,” and learn to take real, satisfying pleasure in food in normal portions. You can stop obsessing about weight and calories, and end the guilt that comes after binges; and start enjoying the way you feel after having a good meal.
“The Food Enjoyment Equation” – by Emily Phares
You may wonder how I can espouse a view of no-rules, enjoy-your-food freedom, and subsequently launch into the world of nutrition science to examine optimal diets.
The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
Enjoying your food is of the utmost importance. Nutrition is hugely important as well. But the big-picture view of health includes so many factors, in varying degrees of importance, that it’s not an easily defined black-and-white issue. Add to that that health is a highly individual matter, and it gets more complicated.
My simplified take is this: Enjoy your food. And that means looking at what that actually means. I define the notion of enjoying food as follows:
food enjoyment = how does it taste? + how does it make me feel?
This is my way of accounting for food quality when discussing the principle idea of food enjoyment. Many people would say they “enjoy” regularly eating fast food and candy bars, but if they assessed how they felt afterward, would they say eating low-quality foods on a regular basis actually made them feel good?
Conversely, someone adhering to a strict diet of high-nutrients foods might feel good physically, but are they stressed and anxious all the time? If so, it’s not an enjoyable way of eating.
Balancing these two aspects of enjoyment is key. If you’re in a social situation and being served a type of food you’d prefer to avoid, sometimes it’s more enjoyable to focus on having a nice dinner with friends than to worry about the food that’s being served (barring any serious food allergies, of course).
By the same token, if eating a certain item will make you feel ill, it’s probably worth it to speak up. I tend to think that the healthiest option is the one that maximizes enjoyment by making me feel good mentally (low stress) & physically, and that tastes good.
Nutrition is an important part of this equation because high-quality, whole foods tend to make us feel good. In this way, eating healthy foods that taste good (and there’s usually a strong correlation between the two) is a truly enjoyable way of eating.
A few summers ago I studied abroad in Italy; it was a nutrition program through NYU, and one of my favorite moments was when, during lecture one afternoon, our professor said:
Food should be one of the greatest joys, not a technical breakdown of “Should I or shouldn’t I eat this.”
It highlights one of the most fundamental aspects of eating: That food is meant to be enjoyed, not fretted over.