Are You Eating for Pleasure or Your Emotions?

Did you know 71 percent of Americans are more health-conscious than ever? Surveys show that US citizens are trying to live healthier lives. In particular, when it comes to eating, people are now prioritizing nutrition and weight management. Although this turnaround is excellent news for America (which people, including its populace, have been calling “Fat Land” for decades), we are far from striking a balance. Today, an aspect many health-conscious eaters are overlooking is vitamin P – the pleasure factor in eating.


Benefits of Eating for Pleasure

Food is not just fuel for our bodies; it is a source of enjoyment.

Pleasure of any kind, including the glee we feel from eating our favorite food, triggers dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine, the “feel-good hormone,” stimulates the brain’s reward pathways, enabling happiness, calmness, motivation, and even focus.

Interestingly, research suggests that obese individuals may have disrupted dopamine sensitivity, causing them to overeat to experience pleasure from food. Meanwhile, when brain chemistry is functioning optimally, deriving enjoyment from food can result in physical benefits.

According to Dr. Aleta Storch, therapist and dietitian, when we enjoy food and our bodies release feel-good hormones, we digest and metabolize food better. “In response to having a pleasurable eating experience, our nervous system goes into rest and digest mode, which allows us to fully break down and utilize the nutrients from the foods we eat,” Storch explained on Healthline.



Eating for Pleasure vs. Emotional Eating

Eating for pleasure is choosing to consume something for the taste and experience it provides. For instance, on a hot summer day, you may want to treat yourself to a refreshing popsicle or a glass of thirst-quenching lemonade. If you go strawberry picking all day, rewarding yourself with a few berries and even dipping them in melted chocolate may also count as eating for pleasure. 

On the other hand, emotional eating is when you use food as a coping mechanism for negative and positive emotions. In many cases, emotional eaters also consume more than they need. For example, if you had a long and stressful day, ordering and eating junk food fit for a family may count as emotional eating. 

However, there is no foolproof distinction between eating for pleasure and emotional eating. In some scenarios, the two will overlap.

You may be able to determine which eating practice you are following by answering these questions with honesty:

  • How much did you eat?
  • How did you feel after the meal or snack?

If you feel guilty, regretful, ashamed, or unsatisfied despite eating a significant amount of food, you might be eating to cope with your feelings rather than for pleasure. Keep in mind that binge-eating can also be a form of eating disorder. If you find yourself overeating constantly and never feeling satiated, consider talking to a therapist, counselor, or dietitian who specializes in disordered eating patterns.


Eat for Pleasure and Health

When it comes to eating for enjoyment and health, it’s not an either-or situation. Nutritious food that releases dopamine does not have to be bland or boring. From delicious falafel and hummus to salmon tacos and strawberry parfait, the world is your pickle when it comes to food that combines pleasure and health.