What comes to mind when you think about PLEASURE?
Most of us get a little nervous around pleasure. We don’t really trust it. It feels dangerous or layered with conditions. Many people who struggle with disordered eating often have a disrupted relationship with pleasure and desire.
Pleasure is often found from external sources and our ability to access pleasure may be limited by access and comfort with the body. In our capitalistic busy on-the-go hustle society, it’s often difficult to slow down enough to tune into our bodies and our pleasure.
Feeling safe may be another barrier to the embodiment of pleasure. We must feel safe in order to feel and know our pleasure. If we feel unsafe whether that’s real or imagined, it makes sense that we would want to focus on survival and escape over feeling good. Life is so unpredictable that there’s no guarantee for our absolute safety, however, relative safety is something we can cultivate.
Who or what in your life invites a sense of safety?
Finding our pleasure and getting in touch with our likes and desires is an important step in healing our relationship to food and our bodies. When we can name what we really want to do, to eat, to spend time with, to wear, etc, this allows us to access our truth in other areas of our lives.
Over time, it becomes easier to discern what we really want and what truly satisfies us beyond the simplicity of fullness. We begin to get permission to see what it is we truly desire to nourish all areas of our lives.
According to relationship coach Dawn Serra, “We live in a society that simultaneously vilifies pleasure while celebrating performative versions of pleasure. Pleasure is not something you have to earn. It’s what you were built for.”
Pleasure is something that is unique to you. You and only you are responsible for your own pleasure. Only you know what it’s like to experience pleasure in your body.
Pleasure is experienced in the present moment and with our body and our senses.
To explore your own desires and pleasures, begin to bring a gentle awareness to your senses.
Can you name a color or two in the room?
What can you smell?
What sounds do you hear?
“Pleasure is the ultimate expression of autonomy and agency. To know pleasure is to inhabit your body and to experience it as only you can. Pleasure is where joy, satisfaction, and presence collide.
It is the ultimate manifestation of choosing for yourself, on your terms, and it is deeply vulnerable and powerful. Pleasure is boundary work, worthiness work, embodiment work, and healing work. No wonder it feels so complicated.” Wise words from Dawn Serra.
We learn about pleasure from our families, the dominant culture and the ways others have responded to our needs and experiences.
We all have inherited stories around pleasure, joy and self-expression.
What are some of the messages you inherited?
How do you feel about your relationship to pleasure?
How do you feel about your relationship to sex and the erotic?
How was your pleasure treated by the adults around you when you were a child?
What messages did you receive about sexual desire as a teenager? What was encouraged and what was cautioned against? What unspoken rules were different for you than for kids of a different gender?
What brings you pleasure in your life?
What has brought pleasure to you in the past?
Pleasure has often been associated with too much or not enough and shame and guilt are often close behind. Think about how often the media reinforces the messages around “guilty pleasures with foods/eating.”
We feel pleasure is something we have to earn. We may even be convinced that too much pleasure from food is the problem.
Folks who struggle with food and their bodies tend to think pleasure with food is the problem. They are convinced that having too much pleasure is the cause of their eating and weight “problem.”
Maybe they binge on cakes, cookies, ice cream with so much shame for their unnamed desires and unmet intrinsic needs. Many of my clients will tell me: “My problem is I love these foods too much!” They believe taking pleasure with eating is dangerous, and they tell themselves, “I cannot be trusted to really enjoy my food, or else, I’ll lose control.”
The Truth about Overeating and Pleasure.
It is when pleasure ends that overeating begins.
Imagine eating a buttery croissant fresh from the oven.
The first several bites taste amazing (especially if you are hungry when you start) but then, at some point you may begin to notice that the experience becomes less pleasurable.
Notice how connected or disconnected you are in these moments when you eat something. Notice the connection to your body, to the taste of the food. Is the food bringing you pleasure? Can you taste the food? Do you like it? If the food is no longer tasting good, then get curious about the desire to keep eating.
If you find yourself overeating on the croissant or any food, you’ll come to discover how very unpleasurable this experience actually is. And at times, if can even be quite painful for some. Instead of being hard on yourself, get curious about how it feels and what you might really need to nourish yourself.
Pleasure is a biological requirement. Contrary to what society would have us believe, pleasure, like breathing is not a luxury but a non-negotiable need.
Pleasure in its essence is a guide towards freedom, balance and good health. The reasons things feel good is that there is an evolutionary reason to seek them out. Our species survival depends on this. As biological creatures we tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Research in this area has found that when we eat with pleasure, we help our metabolism which makes digestion more efficient and assists with allowing our bodies to relax. Relaxation activates the parasympathetic nervous system that counters the fight or flight stress response.
When we connect to pleasure, our body chemistry changes.
The simple act of eating pleasurable foods with mindful awareness releases “feel-good” biochemicals such as: endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Endorphins stimulate the metabolism. This fact alone indicates that from an evolutionary view, eating is meant to be inherently pleasurable.
These feel- good chemicals overpower the stress hormone cortisol. When this happens, we feel good inside of our bodies and this allows shame and guilt to lose their grip on our psyches. These feel good chemicals help us to feel more confidence and joy in our lives.
Feeling guilty when we eat releases the stress hormone cortisol, which does the opposite on our systems. It inhibits digestion, metabolism and other body functions. It promotes inflammation and causes our bodies to not feel safe. Pleasure in the absence of shame and guilt heals.
What would it be like to let go of feeling guilty when it comes to eating?
Remember, you don’t need to earn pleasure; it’s your birthright and you get to reclaim it.
Reclaiming pleasure is an act of resistance in a culture that has made indulgence a “dirty word.”
What Brings you Pleasure?
Pleasure is found through embodiment practices. It’s found through our senses and only YOU know what brings YOU pleasure.
Here are some ways to reclaim your pleasure.
- Put on your favorite song and dance.
- Meditate for a few minutes in silence.
- Light a candle that smells delicious.
- Aromatherapy diffuser in your room.
- Make yourself a cup of coffee/tea; sit down to enjoy without rushing.
- Eat lunch without distractions so you can be fully present with all the flavors.
- Fresh flowers on your kitchen table.
- Sleep in and get enough sleep.
- Cancel plans in favor of self-care.
- Leaving plenty of transition time between activities.
- Wear clothes that you feel comfortable/ great in.
- Gentle yoga stretches during the day to break up computer time.
- Self-massage and self-pleasure.
- Take baths with rose petals and candles.
- Fill your space with textures you love to feel/touch.
- Snuggle with your favorite pet or child.
- Wear sexy lingerie.
- Move your body in ways that are fun and feel good.
- Read books that inspire or just for fun.
- Drink enough water: add cucumber or fresh mint to water.
- Spend time with crafts or other creative art projects.
- Get or give manicures or pedicures.
- Spend all day in your favorite soft pajamas.
- Spend unscheduled time with your beloved or a good nourishing friend.
- Set daily intentions to connect to pleasure every morning.
- Whatever makes you feel good!
Diversify pleasure in your life.
If you are depriving yourself of pleasure with food, chances are you are also might be depriving yourself of pleasure in other areas of your life.
Get curious about if you are missing or needing more touch, movement, sensual and or sexual expression in your life.
If too much of your body’s pleasure quota is invested in food, then the pleasure you seek in food becomes exaggerated and you may feel more urges to eat when not hungry as the pull towards food is the main source of pleasure. You might have more cravings for intensely sweet, savory, or greasy foods, or want to drink too much alcohol in an attempt to fill your pleasure quota.
When you have access to a variety of pleasure sources, you’ll be able to find nourishment in other areas of your life beyond just food and eating.
Tell me below, what are some of your favorite pleasure practices?
References: Pussy: A Reclamation by R. Thomashauer & Pleasurable Weight Loss by J. La Flamme, Dawn Serra relationship coach and Hilary and Dana of Be Nourished The School for Unlearning.