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Why We Eat: Is it OK to Eat for Pleasure?

Some people joke that they live to eat, and other people say they eat to live. In this lies a false dichotomy that foods are either eaten out of pleasure or eaten to stay alive. In truth, we all can do both. Eating can remain an activity you look forward to--living to eat, and you can, at the same time, be eating foods for your health--eating to live.


person holding a cookie with a smiley face

Some foods exist primarily for pleasure and enjoyment. These may foods have fewer vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients. They may also have more sugar, saturated fat, or salt. On objective measures, these foods rank low on nutrition quality. Many of these foods are highly palatable and craved foods. Some examples of these foods may be candy, pastries, and snack food. Of course, no food is completely devoid of nutrition. Caloric nutrients, if that is all the food were to contain, are still valuable. Still, most people don't choose these foods for their nutrition quality. These are foods that are chosen with the completely legitimate intent of pleasure and enjoyment.

We usually view the other side of the dichotomy as healthy foods. These are foods that have more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients and less salt, sugar, or saturated fat. Foods are also put into this category because they are low in calories, though in truth, low in calories is not a synonym for healthy. Additionally, many would argue that these foods will never taste as good as the sweets and treats. Examples of these foods may be vegetables, whole grains, and fish.


I would like to argue that we can move away from the dichotomy view of food being either tasty or healthy. What if foods that have higher nutrition quality could also be enjoyable and pleasurable? Of course, we have to recognize that biologically, we are primed to crave sugary, salty, and high fat foods. So it is likely that these healthier foods are not going to become the object of a crave. That still leaves room for them to be enjoyed when eaten.


It is also important to remember that increased nutrition quality does not necessarily correlate with decreased palatability. I often hear the phrase, "it tastes healthy." That usually means that a food does not taste good. Remember, you don't get extra nutrition credit for foods that taste bad! There should be enough healthy foods that you also like, and you can just choose from those.


On the other hand, it is also crucial to recognize that choosing foods for the sole intent of pleasure and enjoyment is important too! And when you do choose these foods, you should give yourself the time to sit down and slow down so you can get the enjoyment from these foods that they were meant for.


I expect to hear the argument of "I don't like any healthy foods!" Don't worry, you are not doomed. There is potential work to be done in exploring new foods and flavors with the goal of increasing the list of foods you like. This does take an interest, desire, and openness to try new foods, but as long as you have that prerequisite mindset, your likelihood of success in that work is high.


At the end of the day, food, whether it is healthy or not, should be enjoyed. Eating should always be an enjoyable and pleasurable experience, whether you are eating Boston bibb lettuce or Boston cream pie, walnuts or donuts, or oatmeal or oatmeal cookies.

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