Heather Haledjian, LCSW-C
The Value of Joy in Eating
We all know we need to eat to survive. That’s a scientific fact. Food provides needed nutrients for our bodies to maintain optimal functioning. We strive to find the best foods to eat and even label some “super foods”. There are messages everywhere about what to eat, when, how much and for what reasons. There are the never-ending tips and tricks for weight loss or weight management and fad diets of the time. It can be quite overwhelming. Before you know it, food becomes the enemy or the thing to be feared and controlled.
In my work treating eating disorders and disordered eating, I have noticed the absence of a certain concept when discussing food intake and eating patterns: the joy involved in eating. Of course, if someone is seeking help for an eating disorder or related problem, they are likely at the point of NOT finding joy in eating or perhaps enjoying food at times, but with subsequent intense guilt and shame. This guilt and shame only leads to a further cycle of controlling food, perceived loss of control over food, and compensatory behaviors, and so forth and so on. Rinse and repeat. You get the picture!
A key component in eating disorder recovery is developing flexibility around food—not only in the variety of foods consumed and situations involving eating, but also, just as importantly, in mindset. The mindset that sustains recovery is one in which someone can develop a broader view of food to include it’s value in nutrients and energy, as well as pleasure and joy. This joy naturally existed in our earliest experiences with eating, as an infant and throughout childhood. We experienced food fully, with all of our senses and without second guesses. As we move through life, a complex web of messages, experiences and sometimes core beliefs gradually erodes this joy.
Eating food one enjoys contributes to their quality of life. There is value in that—period. When one can recognize that and honor this aspect of eating, there is a reduction in guilt and shame. With less guilt and shame, there is a decreased compulsion to try to control food or compensate. Over time, an “all foods fit” mindset will shift the power dynamic between a person and the food they eat. Social events involving food and eating will become less stressful, allowing one to enjoy the occasion, without being held hostage mentally with swirling thoughts involving words like “should” and “should not”. Allowing yourself to experience joy in eating,without the ensuing guilt and ruminating thoughts, often has surprising but welcome side effects of freeing up brain space to think about other, more meaningful things in life, being more present and engaged with others, and unlocking creativity.
The recovery-focused mindset views food as meeting a variety of needs and contributing to a high quality of life in multiple ways. Ways to increase the joy in eating may include taking care in preparing your daily meals, trying new recipes or restaurants, sharing a meal with loved ones, having your favorite meal, or simply attuning to your body and honoring a craving for a certain food you may be having. And that’s it. No need for self-judgment, guilt or shame. Simple, but not always easy. Still worth it. If you'd like to work on your relationship with food, including finding the joy again, please contact me to discuss how I can help.