What Drives Food Choices: Pleasure

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Implementing changes to someone’s nutritional intake requires more than just putting a new plan in front of them. I like to consider four key driving forces that help guide or nutritional choices. These are all important considerations for a professional looking to implement progressive and sustainable changes to a client's eating pattern.

Key driving forces of food intake.

None are more important than the other and their order can vary greatly between individuals. Let’s say someone is preparing for a bodybuilding show, then nutrition quality will be number one. However, someone who is short on time might prefer convenience above all else. No matter what, each will play somewhat of a factor in influencing the food a person chooses to consume.

Over the next four weeks, I will be breaking down one of these down into bite-sized chunks (pun intended) and explain them in greater detail on the Integrated Fitness & Nutrition Blog.

 

Pleasure and food.

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Pleasure is the enjoyment and emotional reaction to eating food. Foods that cause a pleasurable response within an individual are more likely to be eaten frequently and in certain settings. To me, pleasure is a key contributor to the success of any nutritional intervention - remove it, and the plan will eventually fail. 

At the most-extreme level, this consideration is vital for individuals who may have food as their primary source of pleasure in their life. If someone is at the point where their weight is limiting their social and relationship endeavours, they don’t enjoy work and prefer to stay home – food can become one of their primary sources of enjoyment.

Not all clients are at the stage of food being their primary pleasure. However, many people (if not all) find pleasure in food. If a nutrition plan eliminates this source of pleasure immediately to achieve radical weight loss, the client will lose something that is important to them. Some people might even know this in advance, and that’s why they never seek help, because they will lose their pleasure.

The solution for any client is to develop a plan that maintains pleasure while working towards the client's goals. For some people, this might mean literally eating the same foods they have been consuming early on, but just in smaller quantities and less frequently. Alternatively, a client can be encouraged to take up or renew an activity that provides them pleasure, providing it is not smoking!

 

But doesn’t exercise releases endorphins and will therefore provide pleasure?

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Yes, and eventually exercise will become a pleasurable activity for the client. However, early on these endorphins  will be outweighed by some discomfort from new training, learning a new skill and progressively building confidence. Let's face it - no one likes not being good at something (but this will change rapidly). 

So now the client who has had their pleasurable foods removed now has to endure some physical discomfort in addition to this... what kind of emotions do you think this will develop?

Resentment. Boredom. Lack of motivation.

The key therein lies with the maintenance of the overall pleasure in the client’s life during the initial phases of weight loss. This means it can be valuable to keep many of the clients current foods in their nutrition plan, but focus on reducing overall volume and frequency of consumption, while introducing more nutritious food sources.

As the client moves along in their journey, they discover there are numerous non-food related sources of pleasure that come from successfully implementing a new nutrition program. The most important of all is Body Recomposition and moving towards their goal.

At Integrated Fitness & Nutrition, we say that ‘progression is motivation' and I truly believe this. Once the client is up and running and the results begin to come, their motivation increases, because they can see tangible results from their work and the plan they are following. They are then likely to continue sticking to the plan, because they understand the benefits of their work!

FAD diets: no pleasurable food, but pleasurable results...

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Just like exercise doesn’t provide pleasure initially on a new program, noticeable physique changes can take a while to develop.

One of the reasons for the popularity of fad diets (whether the creators know this or not) is the fact that because energy restriction is so drastic, you can get noticeable results very quickly. These weight-loss results then provide the pleasure to keep the client on the program. They also negate some of the need for pleasure from food initially; because people are happy with the weight loss that they don’t mind they are not enjoying eating.

The problem is, once the body adapts and the weight loss halts, they are back to square one. Now they are no longer gaining pleasure from weight loss (because it has stopped) and they are not gaining any pleasure from food. Combine this with excessive long and tedious training sessions, and we all know what will happen... this is usually the time they quit the program and find pleasure from food again – which can lead to gaining more weight than they have lost (aka. dieting rebound).

 

Maintain pleasure to maintain progress.

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Pleasure must be maintained to achieve success. If you eliminate it from one place (such as food) then it needs to be replaced somewhere else. This is why it’s not uncommon for someone giving up smoking, from which they derive pleasure, to start drinking excessive amounts of coffee or something else to maintain the pleasure.

For this reason, maintaining foods that provide pleasure (in responsible quantities) can be highly beneficial in the initial stages of a nutrition plan. Once other factors such as exercise, body composition and satisfaction become sources of pleasure, then it is a good time to make larger changes to the foods that have previously provided pleasure.

Look out for next week’s article on nutritional quality and how it can determine what you eat.