When I lived in Paris, I never saw a French woman sneak into a patisserie or assume a guilty hunch over their dessert. Yet it's true that the French are a lighter lot than we Americans. Entire books have been written pondering this paradox, but today I want to focus on one key aspect: pleasure. The French know how to enjoy their food and this week, with the celebration of Bastille Day, is a great time for us to do so too.
Learning how to enjoy our food is about more than just happy thoughts. One initial study showed that tuning in to our food can lessen the likelihood of binge eating and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Another study of brain activity revealed that the anticipation of eating is what triggers a pleasure response in obese people, rather than the actual food itself. The message in both of these findings? When we learn to take pleasure from each and every bite, it will help us break harmful eating patterns and establish healthier ones.
Not sure how? Try these five steps:
Step 1: Recognize that no food is off-limits. Do you see French women skipping over fruit tarts in favor of something “lighter?” Low-fat Oreos probably aren't going to bring you as much pleasure as a slice of chocolate cake will.
Step 2: Wait to eat until you're hungry; wait to eat a treat until you really crave it.
Step 3: Eat slowly and pay attention with as many of your senses as you can while you gauge how much pleasure you're getting from each bite.
Step 4: When you realize that the flavor has dulled or that you're not really thinking about the food in front of you anymore but about a pile of clothes you need to take to the dry cleaners, or an e-mail you need to send, or what you're going to make for tomorrow's dinner, stop. Put your fork down and push the plate away.
Step 5: Notice how you feel and note how many bites you've actually taken–probably less than ten. There. You've proven to yourself that you can enjoy your favorite foods without feeling guilty or compromising your weight or health.
This week, practice these steps. Soon you'll be oh-so-Francais by enjoying food . . . without overindulging.
Happy Quatorze Juillet!