Find Pleasure and Satisfaction in Food
The next step in intuitive eating is to re-learn to take pleasure in food.
I recommend completing this module over the course of a week, taking some time to review the material a couple of times, and to complete the journal exercises each day.
Start by listening to the talk below. When you're done, scroll down for the notes, journal exercises, and infographics.
Audio: how to Find Pleasure & Satisfaction in Food
Module 7 Notes
When you’ve been stuck in the diet mentality, it’s hard to know what you truly want to eat.
On a diet, the minute a desire pops up, the food police tell you it’s wrong and order you to choose something else. Over time, this policing of desire results in a lack of true connection to your own wants—and a lack of satisfaction in eating.
You may have noticed this in the past, when you tried to make “diet-approved” choices based on your fad diet du jour.
When you substituted a “lite” version of your favorite treat, odds are it wasn’t really what you wanted, and you either had to eat more of it to get the level of satisfaction you sought, or you ended up eating a bunch of other things in search of that satisfaction (including, perhaps, the “forbidden” thing that you’d wanted in the first place!).
Intuitive eaters, in contrast, don’t bother with these kinds of substitutions. When your intuition is in charge, you choose the thing you really want, and you enjoy it without guilt.
The satisfaction you feel as a result is the ultimate reward of intuitive eating. When you eat according to your needs and desires, you’re rewarded with pleasure and satisfaction.
As Tribole and Resch explain (chapter 10 of Intuitive Eating), satisfaction is the driving force of intuitive eating—it’s like the hub of the wheel, and all the other principles are “spokes” that radiate out from it.
Following the principles of intuitive eating leads to satisfaction, and vice versa—when you experience satisfaction, you want to eat in a way that will sustain it.
Think back to Module 5, when we talked about how you don't need self-control to make food choices, you just need attunement to the three core elements of your intuition (your inner caretaker, non-judgmental awareness, and healthy boundaries). Each of these elements is influenced by satisfaction:
- Your non-judgmental awareness notices when satisfaction is present or absent.
- Your inner caretaker is on the lookout for satisfaction and wants to provide it to you whenever possible.
- And your healthy boundaries allow you to say yes to satisfying experiences and say no to unsatisfying ones.
The following journal exercises will help you tune in to your sense of pleasure and satisfaction when eating.
Journal Exercise 1: Experiencing Pleasure
When you’ve been used to fighting against your desires for food, tuning in to them can take practice. Try to do this exercise at least once a week to get used to experiencing pleasure in food.
- Pick a time when you’re slightly to moderately hungry (not when you need to eat immediately). Close your eyes and take several deep breaths to center yourself. (If you’re feeling stressed out or down on yourself, begin with the meditation on non-judgmental awareness from Module 5.)
- Then begin to gently ask yourself what foods you truly want, and what you would eat right now if money/time/convenience were no obstacle.
- Notice if the food police jump in to suggest a substitution, and gently dismiss them; try to come back to your first instinct. Continue to ask yourself what you want, from a place of self-compassion and nonjudgmental awareness, waving away the food police each time they show up.
- Write down all the true desires that come to mind in this way, and repeat the process throughout the week to add to the list.
- Once you’ve got a few items on the list, pick one to start with. (You might choose one that's less difficult or more readily available to start.) Purchase or prepare the item.
- Make some time to eat without distractions. You might also try setting the table nicely, lighting candles, using the fancy china, or anything else to help make the meal or snack feel special and pleasurable.
- Before you take a bite of the food, take a moment to thank yourself for offering yourself this kindness, and to feel gratitude for having access to pleasurable food.
- Notice if the food has an aroma, and if your body responds to it. Notice the colors and shapes of the food on the plate. Sense any excitement, anticipation, or other feelings that may arise as you prepare to eat.
- Take a bite of the food. Notice what hits your palate first—perhaps it's a crunchy texture, or a tangy note of lemon or vinegar, or a spicy or salty flavor.
- As you chew that bite, notice how the flavors and textures change—perhaps the texture becomes soft and creamy, or the tangy top note gives way to a rich, smoky flavor, or a sweetness emerges. See if you notice any subtle flavors from herbs or spices.
- As you swallow the bite, again notice if there are any changes in the flavor or texture. Rest for a moment to savor the flavor before taking your next bite, and reflect on how pleasurable the experience was compared to your expectations.
- Continue taking bites in this way, paying attention to all of your senses and how your experience changes throughout each bite.
- Notice if you reach a point where the food no longer tastes as exciting, and if you have any emotional reactions to that.
Journal Exercise 2: Awareness of Satisfaction
At each meal or snack, rate your satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not at all satisfied and 10 being completely satisfied).
This may be difficult at first, so give yourself some compassion and time.
It can feel very foreign to try to assign a number to a feeling, but ultimately it will help you become aware of how satisfaction feels in your body (and then you won't need the numbers anymore).
Note: If you find this exercise to be triggering (for example, if you've recovered from an eating disorder that involved obsessive "logging" of your food), feel free to skip it. You can also try simply checking in with your satisfaction levels after each meal or snack, rather than writing things down. The goal is just to bring awareness to your satisfaction levels, and to use that information to help you make more satisfying choices--NOT to track what you ate in detail.
Use the infographic here to help you translate the levels into words (right-click on the image to download).
Remember there are no wrong answers to any of the following questions; this is about exploring your unique experience of satisfaction.
- How does each level of satisfaction feel in your body? Do you notice any sensations at the higher levels that weren't there at the lower levels?
- Do you notice any differences in your level of satisfaction after being excessively hungry (8-10 on the scale) versus after being moderately hungry?
- Do you notice any differences in your level of satisfaction at different levels of fullness?
- Do you notice any other patterns in your satisfaction levels?
Continue this exercise throughout the week, as often as you are able.
Journal Exercise 3: Putting It All Together
Once you've gotten comfortable noticing satisfaction, start tracking your overall eating patterns, using everything we've learned thus far.
Download this handy PDF to track your hunger, fullness, and satisfaction along with your meal/snack timing, food choices, and thoughts/feelings. (You can also click the image below to download.) With nonjudgmental awareness, explore whether meal/snack timing, food choice, and thoughts/feelings influence your levels of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.
Again, if you find this exercise to be triggering, absolutely feel free to skip it. Some people find it helpful to see how their food choices affect their fullness and satisfaction levels, while others can get bogged down in the details of what they ate and fall right back into the disordered-eating/dieting mindset. Use your intuition—particularly your nonjudgmental awareness and your inner caretaker—to determine what's right for you with this exercise, and with all the activities in the course!
If you are going to be using the tracker, try it for a few days first, and then continue with it for the next few weeks if you find it helpful. I don't recommend this tracker for long-term use, because ultimately the goal is to help you make food decisions purely based on your intuition, but tracking your patterns for a few weeks can give you valuable information that your inner caretaker can use to help you feel good and satisfied. Just be sure to approach this exercise with plenty of nonjudgmental awareness and self-compassion!
Use the chart simply to help you notice your own unique patterns—there are no right or wrong answers, just information that can help you get to know your own body better.
Then, in your journal, reflect on any patterns you found:
- Did you notice, for example, that you had a hard time finding satisfaction if you came to the table ravenous?
- Did you experience that hunger became all-consuming and fullness and satisfaction were harder to notice if too much time went by between eating occasions? How often might you need to eat in order to be satisfied? (For most people it's roughly every 3-4 hours, but see what you notice in your own body.)
- Did you find that particular foods were more or less satisfying, or did it vary day to day?
- How did things like flavor, texture, richness, saltiness, and fat content influence your levels of satisfaction?
- Did any negative thoughts and feelings arise when you tried eating what you truly wanted? What did you do to process those feelings?
Please provide your feedback to help us improve this module.