Pleasure Eating

At the start of a new decade, bestselling author Mireille Guiliano explains how to make food your friend

It’s “New Year, New You” time again — which means that millions and millions of American women, as well as their compatriots in many developed nations, are momentarily resolved to lose weight and start diets. But they will ultimately fail.

According to a recent USA Today survey, 87% of respondents have or will make a resolution as 2011 begins, and 73% cite weight loss as their number one resolution. Here’s my prediction, which is based on the belief that past performance is a good predictor of future performance: These women are going to lose some weight in January and perhaps February—say 5 or 10, perhaps even 12 pounds—but next December they are going to be back to within 5 pounds (plus or minus) of their current weight. Tis the season of yo-yo diets.

It’s also the season when I like to use such words as equilibrium, seasonality, pleasure, moderation, quality and sensitivity. When combined, those words represent the philosophy of a healthy life, full of pleasure and contentment. Eating well, with cultivated respect for flavor, freshness and variety, attuned to the rhythms of the year, as well as understanding the value of quality over quantity, is crucial in achieving one’s personal equilibrium, physically and mentally. Throw in a little movement, like taking the stairs, and you have a sustainable lifestyle that sheds pounds then fixes a constant weight. It is a non-diet and a reset healthy lifestyle.

As I and others see it, women in America (as well as those in many other developed countries in today’s global economy) increasingly face career pressures, personal stress, and often just have too much to do in too little time. Food is often perceived as a quick fix that helps deal with daily problems — or rather, allows forgetting them for a while. The culture of excess and instant gratification, constantly fueled by relentless stream of often deceptive ads, makes it easier than ever to reach for industrially produced, cheap food that is available in mega-portions, and is reliant on high content of fat, sugar, and salt for taste.

All this creates an environment conductive to habitually extreme behaviors, such as overeating followed by bouts of guilt and, finally, remorse in the form of some sort of “miracle” diet which usually promises a lot, delivers very little or fails completely in the long run. Yet, in the vein of “no pain, no gain,” a false sense of achievement through hard work and deprivation reinforces the cycle. Thus, a vicious circle is born, and staying slim becomes a constant battle, impossible to win.

The French women who don’t get fat know the secret of pleasure. Pleasure has proved to be the most powerful and lasting motivation, and if we can harness it, we can stay slim or lose weight and never feel deprived. All we need is to learn a sense of proportion,  an appreciation of taste, and moderation. Practicing moderation, pacing oneself by not overdoing one’s food, drink, work or exercise, and cultivating a positive outlook, ongoing exploration, and self-discovery, are all important elements of the art of joyful living. And if you over-indulge on a special occasion, so what?  Balance your intake over a few days.

Learn to view eating as one of life’s pleasures that is meant to be relished, not overindulged in. I am pointing to a state of mind and lifestyle that can be developed and practiced almost anywhere, by anyone! And who doesn’t like a diet that includes wine and chocolate? Bonne Année.

13 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lila says:

    True.  The only diet tip anyone needs to know is:  use more calories than you take in, and you will lose weight.  Ultimately, it really does not matter what the calories consist of, it only matters that you balance your calorie use with your calorie input.
    And Mireille is right about the calorie-burning value of taking the stairs… or parking farther out in the parking lot… I am always amazed at how some folks will wait 10 or 15 minutes for an elevator, when they only want to ride up one floor; or how they will circle the parking lot waiting for a space to open up close to the store, when the lot is nearly empty at the far end.  It shows an anti-effort mindset, and is a huge waste of time to boot.
    The other day I was riding the DC Metro and looking around, it struck me that I did not see this supposed one-third of American adults who are obese.  I started wondering if the statistics were wrong, but then it struck me:  public transportation actually involves a good bit of walking to get to the station, to change trains, etc.  It would be nice to see more emphasis in developing public transportation in this country, instead of endlessly expanding our roads, and it might also help with the problem of our growing waistlines.

  2. avatar Maggie W says:

    I am a National Geo fan. Last night, they ran a “ Taboo” series. One was about fat people. Throughout the program, the people interviewed were not referred to as over weight but as fat or obese. And they were . We are surrounded by food. Grocery stores and fast food places on every corner. Vending machines . Sidewalk vendors. Food trucks. Food ads in abundance. The camera followed people in several cities . Many were grossly overweight and munching as they walked along. So many were young adults… heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen at some point in their futures. Food experts and nutritionists interviewed are alarmed but have no answers for this epic problem that extends beyond our shores. Emotional eating. Mindless eating. Binge eating. I applaud Michelle Obama’s message about better nutrition. I wish more people would pick up her megaphone and support that initiative.

  3. avatar Linda Myers says:

    Personally, there are very few foods I would list as exciting, food is thought of more as a supplement in staying alive and food as a friend is okay. It is when it is everything to people, then it is a problem. I see so many 40-50 pound toddlers who are not even old enough yet for pre-K, that does bother me. The damage being done internally and to the bone system in little ones who have very little control over what they are being offered is abusive in itself.

    • avatar vinkariz says:

      Lila you make it sound so easy…it’s not. For me, after years of yo yo dieting and my age etc. it’s not a matter of calories vs. activity. It seems nothing I do works anymore…with lots of trying….low calorie and much much exercise. Hormones and metabolism play a big role. My husband, daughter and I went on the same plan. He lost 80 lbs. my daughter lost 40lbs and I lost 15lbs…most of which was lost fairly quickly and then NOTHING. So it’s not simple and it’s not a matter of finding joy in food with moderation. I wish!

      • avatar Linda Myers says:

        I have some suggestions for you in working with your energy centers rather than just focusing on the diet if you are interested.

        • avatar kermie says:

          Linda–I am interested in what you have to say.

          I am a pescetarian–a vegetarian who still eats fish.  I eat no poultry or red meat.  I eat a lot of raw vegetables and fruits because I truly enjoy them.  I seldom eat any processed foods or dairy.  I exercise by walking–a lot.  I eat no sweets or fried foods, and I never feel deprived.  Unlike friends my age, I do not have cholesterol issues (knocking wood).
          And yet, because of perimenopausal hormones, I am finding it nearly impossible to shake off excess weight that would have come off so easily just ten years ago.
          Are you talking about Chakras when you talk about energy centers?  I have to admit I don’t know much about that.

          • avatar Linda Myers says:

            If you click through my avatar, and leave your contact info in the feedback box I would be glad to write to you. I do know how to work with energy systems, though I am not sure WOW would want the information posted here. 🙂

  4. avatar Briana Baran says:

    As of this past December, my cardiologist informed me that I must lose 100 pounds. My blood pressure is excellent, my cholesterol is good, my heart in much better condition than that of most 51 year old humans. But he still gave me my marching orders: lose it.
    I have been struggling with my weight all of my adult life. My childhood and teen years were spent with a mother who insisted that I was both fat and unattractive, and who sabotaged through guilt, manipulation of my emotions, cruel criticism and taunts every effort I made to diet. The sad fact was that I was not fat…my weight was perfect, if not low, for my bone structure and muscle density. But my build is Mediterranean, and by bust and butt and thighs are naturally large, and my lower legs and waist are tiny, and I build and carry a lot of muscle. I’ll never look like an American dream girl. My mother used to tell me that I looked like I “just got off the boat”.
    I first gained weight when I stopped smoking, about 40 stubborn pounds. I was just starting to finally unload it when I became pregnant with my older son. I only gained 23 pounds during my pregnancy (and he was 9lbs. 12 oz. of that) and exercised by walking whenever I could. I lost a lot afterward. Six years later, I only gained 20 pounds when I carried my younger son. Then things went pear-shaped, as they say.
    I am clinically depressed, bi-polar I, have OCD and a severe anxiety disorder, and am schizophrenic. I also have no thyroid function at all (it was destroyed by an infection). After the birth of my son, I went from post-natal depression to a full-blown, suicidal break. I ended up taking the prescription anti-psychotic Zyprexa. I gained 80 pounds in less than a year. Zyprexa raises blood sugar, and lowers energy…and is a mood-stabilizer. In higher doses, it is mind-numbing. I knew that I was getting fat…but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I walked constantly…but the elevated blood sugar levels negated the effects completely. And we ate out constantly, because I was too enervated to cook.
    What a sob story, eh? That was almost 14 years ago. Since then, I’ve been yo-yo woman. I’ve been through 26 variations of dosages and different medications, and I am finally stable. I am peri-menopausal (I suppose that means that I only want to wreck havoc with a chainsaw part-time). My high weight was 285…which was loathsome and debilitating…and my low 180. I have tried diets…and think that they are self-defeating. I have done Weight Watchers…which is an excellent system. I am not a group person. I did meetings for nine months…and as long as I had a friend with me, I could manage. When she quit, I became acutely uncomfortable. I was appalled by what some of the people claimed to eat…if I ate like that, I would be one of those grotesquely obese people who cannot ever leave their beds. I don’t snack, I don’t like sweets, I don’t eat fast food or junk food or after 8:00 pm…I don’t binge or emotionally eat, I don’t drink any alcohol, or like fried food…so what was wrong?
    Portion control and exercise. If I don’t exercise, hard, I don’t lose at all. So, Gentle Readers, I am back at it. I am doing the portion control bit, and it is working well. I have cut way down on salt, my greatest vice. And I am going to the Y, and getting in the pool, and doing high-intensity water aerobics. I break a sweat, even when the outside temperature is in the 30’s and it’s not much warmer inside. My doctor told me no weights until I reach at least the halfway mark…because I do build muscle both quickly and surprisingly heavily (I used to body build…sans chemical enhancement), and he doesn’t want muscle mass weight tricking me into thinking that I’m not losing fat.
    I am cooking. I’m a pretty good innovative home cook. I am much more active.
    I am fat, and I am scared. I have body dysmorphia. Will I look awful when I am smaller? Will I still be appealing to my lovely, supportive and very patient and caring husband? Will I be grotesque, and horrible, and will I play my usual hand and self-sabotage? I don’t believe in Fat Acceptance, because there isn’t anything beautiful and natural about morbid obesity that doesn’t allow you to walk correctly, or breathe, or leave your home. I’m not plump, or over-weight, I’m fat. I have got to do this, and I’ve made my decision to do it right, once and forever, for my health and the people that I love. No more dissembling, no more excuses.
    Wish me strength and patience with my all-too fallible self on this journey.

    • avatar babayaga says:

      I am amazed at your honesty and bravery.  Please let us know how you are doing.  Yours is a story worth investing in!

  5. avatar elaine s says:


    What an honest post.  Sounds like you are doing everything right.  I really admire your effort and wish you the very best! 

    I am struggling too.  I quit smoking 11 yeas ago, hit menopause, and developed an under active thyroid, and although I take medication for it, my weight hasn’t been helped.  I am eating right but must start exercising, although COPD and arthritis make that undesirable!

    Anyway, good for you and I do wish you continued success.

  6. avatar GerriLuce says:

    Upon reading this post and all the comments, I felt the need to chime in with the flip side of the coin.  I grew up with all the women on my mother’s side of the family struggling with their weight, ranging from overweight to morbid obesity and that is just one of the factors that drove me to develop anorexia at the rather late age of 26.  At a height of 5’6″ I dropped to 92 lbs. In case anyone thinks that they would like to “catch” anorexia for a couple of months and lose a little weight and resume their normal lives, anorexia has destroyed my adult life.  I will turn 50 next month and after being diagnosed with “ana,” I was subsequently diagnosed with major depression and borderline personality disorder.  I destroyed my career, made three suicide attempts, have endured over twenty psychiatric hospitalizations (five of them on eating disorder units).  During my third eating disorder hospitalization, my mother saw me emaciated yet again, tethered to a feeding tube which ran up my nose and down into my stomach and went home and attempted to kill herself.  (She passed away from cancer in 2002.)  Anorexia is the most deadly of all psychiatric illnesses.  As I write this I am struggling with yet another relapse, restricting my calories to 600 to 700 a day, spending last Friday night in the ER dehydrated due to overuse of diuretics.  Someone who should have known better told me, “You have thin limbs but you are thick in the middle.” Well, I’ll show her who is thick in the middle!  It is a crazy tortuous existence that has wreaked havoc on my life and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    If anyone is interested, an excellent book was just published from a mother’s point of view about her family’s struggle with their 14 year old daughter’s anorexia.  It is called “brave girl eating” by Harriet Brown.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Gerri: I empathize with your issues, but I have a bit of difficulty understanding why you felt compelled to “chime in”, as you say. Anorexia is one of the most researched and well-documented forms of psychiatric illness in the country. There have been dozens of excellent documentaries, and hundreds of articles in hard copy and on the Internet and World Wide Web regarding anorexia and bulemia. Not only that, but anorexia has been recognized as an eating disorder and mental illness for decades, and has gained such serious international attention that even the modeling industry has been (positively) affected, with some nations demanding standards of healthy muscle/fat/bone ratio and assertions of healthy eating habits and a lack of eating disorders in working models. Everyone who has any awareness of female body issues knows about anorexia, which I now has been revealed to be affecting a high percentage of teenagers and young men. WoW has posted a number of very good articles in the past on the subject. No one here is ignorant, unaware or being disrespectful of your condition.
      Your post is extremely negative, and I must wonder at its true purpose, especially given the following extremely cruel and inappropriate statement, “In case anyone thinks that they would like to “catch” anorexia for a couple of months and lose a little weight and resume their normal lives, anorexia has destroyed my adult life.”. Excuse me, but do I sound as if I have a “normal life”? Please, reread my comment…I am working hard, with a positive attitude and full accountability against long odds. I would never consider “attempting to catch anorexia”…it’s a mental disease, and they are not contagious. I know, I have a few. I did once go through a period of binge and purge activity…largely unsuccessful (though very heartfelt…and I wasn’t even fat at the time) because I simply can’t vomit. This thread is about a specific topic…obesity and how one gets fat, and how to regain one’s health…physical and otherwise. Why you felt you had to go the route of completely diverting from subject…and apparently with the purpose of sniping at those of us who are fat, as if we were to blame for your anorexia, as well as doing a sort of negative you-can’t-top-this celebration of your illness baffles me completely.
      This particular statement I found very chilling: “Someone who should have known better told me, “You have thin limbs but you are thick in the middle.” Well, I’ll show her who is thick in the middle!”. You clearly have not benefited in any way from your many hospitalizations or knowledge of your diagnoses. You are still blaming everyone else for your illness. Your relatives, someone who “should have known better”…even us, who suspect think, for some moronic reason, that anorexia is an answer to our obesity, we’re all at fault. A clue may be in this…borderline personality disorder. I am very well acquainted with this sort of disorder, as my oldest son has NPD. You need help. Period, end of story.

  7. avatar realist101 says:

    I now feel compelled to ‘chime in’ – what a shame that Briana feels the need to say that anorexia is not a worthy topic on this post. Mireille’s article is about ‘pleasure eating’ – this relates to people who find eating to be impossible just as much as it does for those who eat too much. It seems that some people on this blog have used it as an outlet to tell their own unfortunate stories and may not like it when others bring attention to theirs. We can all embrace the message that eating (in moderation of course!) is one of life’s great pleasures.
    Living life in balance while taking immense pleasure in all foods seems to have kept the weight off in my family over the years. Mireille, you speak amazing words of wisdom and I love your writing!