As women, it has almost become a cliché that we take care of the rest of the world but don’t do a great job taking care of ourselves.

We’re so busy looking after everyone else that we often place ourselves at the bottom of the list. Then we sense hunger, and we assume it’s for food because so many of us have used food to meet a myriad of our needs.

As a weight coach for foodies, I work with a lot of women who believe they’re very hungry. The thing they don’t realize is that often what they’re hungry for isn’t food. It’s pleasure.

What Are You Hungry for?

You see, food only really helps us with our body’s need for fuel. It takes care of our hunger and nutritional needs.

We may think it helps us through difficult emotional times, but it really doesn’t. Eating to avoid negative feelings only works for a very short time – while the food is in your mouth and while those happy hormones spike.

After that’s gone, you realize you’ve eaten a bunch of food that your body didn’t need and will store as fat. And whatever was causing those negative feelings is still there. You haven’t addressed it.

Sometimes, there’s something big lurking in the background that needs our attention. Can you pinpoint what it is? Quite often, we just need a little pleasure.

Regardless of whether you’re retired, still working, or you just started a new business, chances are that you’ve got a lot of balls in the air. You need to take proper care for yourself!

It’s All About Balance

It’s important to have a mix of self-discipline, work and achievement, and pleasure in your life. We all need a balance of those things.

One of the reasons so many people are overweight and have difficulty dropping those extra pounds for good is that they allow food to be too big a source of pleasure in their life. For some people, food is their main source of pleasure. Consequently, they rely on food and don’t develop other pleasure sources.

Let’s face it, food is easy. It’s readily available, there are infinite varieties, and eating is socially acceptable. You probably learned from a young age to use food as a reward. Many women develop a habit of using food to feel good way too much of the time.

Emotional eating plays a role in our search for pleasure. Maybe your mood isn’t good, so you eat to avoid feeling your emotions.

Instead of figuring out why you feel low or scared or whatever, you may keep eating in search of immediate pleasure. In doing this, you place your need for immediate gratification ahead of what you may really want, which is good health and maybe a lighter body.

The problem is that you can never truly be satisfied with what you really don’t need. And if you’re feeling negative emotions, food isn’t what you need.

Pleasure of Eating vs. Pleasure in Life

What emotional eaters and food-is-pleasure people don’t realize is that there is a big difference between overeating for temporary pleasure and experiencing the lasting well-being of health and a naturally healthy weight.

The pleasure of eating is so temporary. When you eat too much, you gain weight. That can lead to low self-esteem, which perpetuates the need for more comfort, and for many people, more overeating.

Some of us purposely deny ourselves pleasure. This creates a denial-binge cycle. It works like this: We deny ourselves pleasure because we think we don’t deserve it. That restricts our access to the positive emotions we get from doing pleasurable things.

When we restrict our access to pleasure, we deplete our emotional reserves and willpower. That often results in overindulging later – whether it’s food, shopping, drinking, or whatever. When you allow yourself pleasurable experiences, you’ll likely feel that you’re more deserving.

I know women who have carried low self-esteem with them into their senior years, and they deny themselves the simplest pleasures, like a bottle of nice body lotion, even though they can afford it.

They feel they aren’t worthy of doing nice things for themselves. That makes them feel worse about themselves. Low self-esteem is often the cause of depression.

Find Your Own Source of Pleasure

One way to give yourself more pleasure without spending a lot of money is to think of what feels luxurious and nurturing to you. Think of things that are free or inexpensive, and maybe a few things that aren’t.

For me, it can be taking a break and flipping through a magazine or sitting on my deck in the sun and watching the birds. I love having candles on my desk on dreary days. I love walking down the street to get an occasional latte at the coffee shop.

I live near the ocean and looking out on the water is so soothing. Playing around on my bass without having to practice anything in particular is another fun thing that doesn’t cost any money (if you’ve already got a musical instrument, that is!)

To start substituting other pleasures for food, create your own list of these simple pleasures. Keep it handy – on your smart phone or someplace easily accessible.

Think about how you can link these simple pleasures to times that are stressful for you.

I work hard, and I link that to taking a break and going out for a walk and listening to a podcast, especially since I live on the beautiful coast of Maine. Just listening to nature and smelling the smells while I walk is relaxing and invigorating at the same time.

When we choose to skimp on self-care for whatever reason, we make the situation worse. This creates what psychologist Alice Boyes calls a Cycle of Diminishing Self Care. She says the negative effects of stress don’t come from stress itself, they come from skimping on self-care. That’s what causes problems.

Here’ what I mean. I take a 100-minute yoga class every week on Thursday mornings with a wonderful Iyengar-certified teacher with whom I’ve studied for years.

Often, I have so many balls in the air that I think about skipping my class to save the two hours it takes out of my day. Then I think about how great it makes me feel, and how important it is to my overall health and well-being. It actually gives me more energy.

Take a few minutes today and think about ways to add simple, free, or inexpensive pleasures to your life. You are not only worthy of these things, they are an essential part of a balanced life.

If you want to learn how to stop emotional eating so that you shed your excess weight, ditch dieting forever, and have a peaceful relationship with food, check out my eCourse, “30 Days to End Emotional Eating Forever.”

What factors stop you from accessing these simple pleasures? What can you do to prevent that from happening? Do you fill the void of pleasure with eating? Please share your story in the comments below.

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