I want to talk about adding pleasure to your life. Famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud coined the term “pleasure principle” when writing about how humans seek pleasure in order to avoid pain. It starts, he said, in infancy when we seek the instant gratification of food as comfort. This is an oversimplification of his ideas, but I want to relate it to how we overeat and diet in today’s world.

Eating for Comfort

Have you ever found yourself eating a pint of ice-cream or a bag of chips while watching television? Were you hungry for food, or were you bored or feeling sorry for yourself? Was is really the snacks that you sought or were you looking for some level of comfort? Often we find ourselves mindlessly seeking pleasure in snack foods in order to avoid pain — the pain of loneliness, the fear of failure, the feeling of “why bother” we’re fat already, there is no hope for us.

As Freud famously said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” And of course, sometimes a snack is just a snack. But snacking can also become a habit or a way to fill a void in our lives.

If you find yourself taking in extra calories, try adding pleasure to your life in other ways. It will help curb your appetite for immediate gratification. Ask yourself if you are really hungry, and go one step further and ask yourself, “hungry for what?” Are you eating because it is your only source of comfort and pleasure? Are you eating to fill a void?

My Experience With the Pleasure Principle

I spent many years as a workaholic, putting in endless hours at the office in order to get ahead. I ate lunch at my desk every day. I got home late and ate dinner only a couple of hours before bedtime. It paid off in promotions and raises, but the rest of my life lacked pleasure. So I found pleasure in food. It was the only thing I had time for. Instead of spending time with friends or with a partner, I spent time eating fattening dinners too late at night. There was no time left in my day for exercise or play, I only had time for work and a quick meal. The only way I got any pleasure was through food.

I tried to recall a time when my weight wasn’t a problem and sought to understand what worked for me then. I remembered when I was living in New York City in my twenties, my life was so full that I lost weight naturally. I was working in Manhattan, I was a member of a theatre company, I was the company’s props mistress and spent time searching for the perfect props for our plays, I was acting in those plays, I was hanging out with wildly creative people, I was taking ballet classes and singing lessons, I was learning to paint. My life was so full of pleasure and creativity and good company that I didn’t think about food at all. I ate food, of course, but it wasn’t my only source of pleasure. Food had a different role in my life. I loved to eat but I didn’t need to eat. I had a healthy relationship with food. It wasn’t my substitute for living.

With this in mind I started to lean in to my life, instead of leaning in to the corporate boardroom table. I sought pleasure outside of the office. I recaptured the creative side of my personality. I left work at a decent hour. I made time for myself and the activities I enjoy. I made time for friends and began to have less of a desire to fill my world with food.  Before I only had work accomplishments and the temporary pleasure I derived from eating. Now I find time for non-edible pleasures. I find time for life.

Food’s Role

We often celebrate with food. We have cake on our birthdays, we have big steaks or lobsters on our anniversaries, we reward our accomplishments with chocolates. What if you celebrated with a manicure, a massage, or a bubble bath?

When you are bored, try reaching for a book instead of a bag of chips. Or call a friend to say hello or hang out. At the office, take your lunch break outside at a picnic table, not rushed at your desk while digging through your email. Or schedule an afternoon walking break with coworkers.

I’m not suggesting you give up the pleasures of the table, eating is a part of life. I love good food. I love being in the company of friends while dining out. I love to explore new restaurants and types of cuisine. I love to cook. But I’ve learned to dine al fresco instead of al desko. I get out and enjoy life, instead of slurping back some pasta on my couch while watching TV alone.

Seek pleasures outside of food. Fill your life with pleasurable activities, so that food is not your only comfort. When you indulge yourself in other ways, you’ll reach for food less often. That is how you make a lifestyle change. That is how you lose weight.