How much pleasure do you take in your food? Think about that for a moment. How much of what you eat do you truly savour?
New research suggests we'd do well to focus more on all our senses when it comes to eating. It could help us make healthier choices.
An article recently published in the Journal of Marketing Research reports people choose smaller portions of chocolate cake when they are asked to vividly imagine the multi-sensory pleasure (taste, smell, texture) of similar desserts before they eat it.
The researchers found we're also influenced by descriptive language - something skilful menu writers have long known. This can lead to a triple win: we're happier, but also willing to spend more for less food.
For example, in one experiment, the researchers imitated high-end restaurants by describing a regular chocolate cake as smelling of "roasted coffee", with "aromas of honey and vanilla" with an "aftertaste of blackberry". This vivid description made 190 Americans choose a smaller portion compared to a control condition where the cake was simply described as "chocolate cake".
This makes total sense to me.
When we tune in to our senses - slowing down, eating mindfully, paying attention to flavour, aroma, texture - we are naturally going to get a lot more pleasure from our food.
It follows that we will feel more satisfied and probably will eat less.
With food, pleasure is apparently inversely related to size.
The authors of this article note: "[Pleasure] is at its maximum in the first few bites of the food.
"Each additional bite becomes then less enjoyable and it is the last bite which determines the overall impression of how much we enjoyed the food.
"When people choose portions based on value for money, or the fear of being hungry, they end up choosing one of today's supersized portions, which are just not that enjoyable to eat toward the end."
I believe pleasure is a crucial element of eating for health. We are naturally pleasure-seeking creatures.
We seldom choose food based solely on its nutritional properties.
The people who do this are few and far between and, frankly, they're not people I want to hang out with. I want my food to be fun.
So I'm totally on board with this idea of focusing on sensory pleasure.
The idea pleasure must be sacrificed in order to be healthy makes no sense.
Denial and deprivation make no sense.
What does make sense is that food that makes me happy is naturally going to be good for me.
The key is tuning in to what really makes me happy in every way.
It doesn't mean chocolate cake every day. If I ate that way I'd feel sluggish and slow before long.
I wouldn't be happy.
So along with the chocolate cake I need food that makes my body happy, food that makes me feel good and vital and energetic.
And we all know what that is, I think.
Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide.