We reach for food when we’re not hungry in order to detach from our emotions. The problem is that in doing so we cut ourselves off from all our emotions, even the enjoyable ones.
The struggle to understand and acknowledge what you’re feeling is an essential part of resolving your issues with food, so working out what brings you pleasure can be a lovely way to start.
After all, pleasure is a feeling. It’s “the activity of enjoying yourself, especially rather than working or doing what you have a duty to do” (www.collinsdictionary.com).
People whose overeating is emotion-driven often spurn the idea of pleasure as something self-indulgent and wrong. Often you receive messages in childhood that fun is frivolous and unnecessary, that work is what really matters, that achieving or helping others is the reason you’re here. Consequently, if you consider doing something you enjoy, there can be a negative, critical voice in your head calling you “selfish”.
You can also believe that because you’re overweight you’re simply not allowed to enjoy yourself, have fun, relax or engage in any pleasurable activity that’s just for you. Those are the preserve of the “slim” and “attractive”. Pleasure is yet another thing you deny yourself until you’re “thin enough” to deserve it, like nice clothes, a fulfilling job or a loving relationship.
Pleasure isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity. We need it to balance the pressures, responsibilities and challenges of our daily lives. Performing pleasurable activities is an important part of looking after ourselves emotionally, to give ourselves a break, to take some time just for us. Spontaneity and play are not only essential emotional needs when we’re children but also as adults.
But it can often feel like our time is not our own. We frequently keep ourselves busy, busy, busy – endless “to do” lists and making sure everyone else is OK. The message is “when I’ve completed all my duties, then I’m allowed to have fun”. The difficulty is that the list of tasks is never-ending so the fun never comes.
And all work and no play makes us head to the fridge.
If you rarely do things that you find enjoyable then food can become your only “pleasure”. Secretly bolting down whatever you can get your hands on in the kitchen or mindlessly eating fast food in your car becomes your only relief from day-to-day life.
When I was working through my issues with food, I realised I spent most of my time telling myself what I should be doing, rather than asking myself how I would like to spend my time. I became aware that, while there was a part of me that was happy to accept my daily toil, there was another part of me saying “hey lady, where’s the fun stuff?” The more I ignored that part of me, the more I would reach for food to help me detach from my feelings and deny my needs. So, I decided to make a list of what I find truly enjoyable, an activity that was pleasurable in itself.
Pleasure is idiosyncratic – what you consider fun others may consider lame but it doesn’t matter. I’m a music junkie, so downloading a new tune or trawling a record shop for some old vinyl brings me enormous pleasure, but it may not hit the spot for you.
It’s about really tuning into yourself, working out what delights you and giving yourself full permission to go ahead and enjoy yourself, despite what the negative voice in your head says. It doesn’t have to involve other people, cost money or be time-consuming. It can be as simple as reading a couple of chapters of a book you love, baking a batch of muffins or rediscovering a childhood love of drawing.
Just because you’re overweight doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to do things that make you feel good, enrich your life and bring you a sense of wellbeing. If you want to resolve your issues with food, finding out what brings you pleasure is an essential part of the process.
So where would you like to start?