In our diet-obsessed society we’ve been taught to view food as a necessary evil, a nuisance, the thing to blame for the scale not budging, the thing we can’t have. The forbidden fruit. Or we’ve been taught to view food in a more neutral light: as fuel. Strictly as a source of nutrients, vitamins, protein, fiber. Fuel for our bodies to function. Fuel for our brains to create. But nothing more.
Over time, this has led to an ingrained tendency toward restriction, deprivation, fear. And guilt. A heaping pile of guilt. We feel guilty for consuming something, anything with sugar. We feel guilty for consuming foods with “empty calories.” We feel guilty for eating bagels and bread and cream cheese and butter. We’ve categorized foods into “good” and “bad,” and restricted ourselves to eating the good foods. Because eating the good foods means we’re good, too. We hyperfocus on labels, choosing low-fat, no-fat, low-carb, gluten-free, sugar-free foods.
Over time, we’ve become afraid to find pleasure in our food. In all types of foods. We’ve become so extreme, rigid and fearful that we’ve forgotten about the joy of eating. The delight. The wonder. The mouth-watering satisfaction.
Instead we consume ourselves with questions and concerns: Doesn’t that have too much sugar? How many calories is that? What about the carbs? Can I eat dessert more than once a week? Every day? Is that fattening? How fattening? How many points is it?
I wonder what would happen if we gave ourselves permission to enjoy all foods—apples, apple pie, ice cream, strawberries, steak and Skittles. I wonder what would happen if we let ourselves savor eating as an experience. Because it’s OK and wonderful to love food, to see cooking as a creative process, to crave and eat dessert, to love pizza and feast on fries. It’s OK to get excited about a new restaurant, to look forward to having a piece of cake.
After all, food is a buffet for our senses. Potent aromas. Different textures and even sounds. Soothing temperatures (the heat of chicken noodle soup warming our weary bodies or troubled stomachs; the refreshing coolness of watermelon quenching our thirst and settling our sweat-soaked skin). Multi-layered flavors. We first might sense sweetness, followed by a zesty array of spices. We might simultaneously notice a crunch and creaminess in one bite.
Eating is an experience. A fun, pleasurable experience. An experience we can celebrate. I know that for many of us eating is complicated and filled with guilt and shame and a slew of different emotions and memories. But maybe we can start savoring by making a favorite meal or getting take-out from a favorite restaurant—and letting our senses sink into the moment, bite by yummy bite. Because we are meant to enjoy our food. We are meant to taste it fully. With our eyes and ears. With our noses and mouths. Each morsel a wonder to our 10,000 taste buds.
What does eating for pleasure look like for you? What are your favorite foods? Do you enjoy what you’re currently eating?