Pressure vs Pleasure.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the pressure we all too often put ourselves under to better ourselves.

Whether it be to lose weight, get fit, give up drinking, stop smoking, save money or [insert your own example here] … too many of us put so much pressure on ourselves that it nearly always leads to self-destruction when we can’t achieve these things we tell ourselves we ‘should’ be doing.

Pressure vs pleasure

It’s also interesting that we often deny ourselves pleasure, particularly when it comes to food and exercise. ‘I mustn’t eat that delicious chocolate cake; it’ll make me fat’ or ‘I must do the exercise that burns the most amount of calories even though I hate it’. Sound familiar?

I’m experimenting with pleasure in my life at the moment, and just trying to ‘be’. Not trying to change anything – not setting some arbitrary goal which no-one but me cares whether or not I achieve. It’s an interesting and challenging way to live life, especially as someone who has always had a goal of trying to change myself by losing weight for over twenty years.

The fascinating thing is that when you let go of a goal such as losing weight, it’s ironically like a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders.

The liberation of letting go of dieting in the hope of having a ‘perfect’ body is indescribable, and the amount of time you can then find in the day for thinking about or doing other things is like being given a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

I’ve talked in my previous blog – Top Dieting Secrets about the effect the stress response (sympathetic nervous system dominance or ‘fight or flight’ response) can have on our bodies due to excess cortisol and insulin which is produced and can cause us to gain or maintain weight. The opposite – relaxation response (otherwise known as parasympathetic nervous system dominance or ‘rest and digest’ response) is the optimum condition for our body to be in to burn calories and thereby the best possible state for us to lose weight.

So, these goals, stresses and pressures we often place on ourselves can actually create stress in our bodies. In other words, the pressure and stress some of us place on ourselves to lose weight can have quite the opposite effect.

I’ve decided to swap pressure for pleasure these days; particularly when it comes to food and dieting and would like to share a few tips for achieving this:

Eat food you like.

This sounds like common sense, surely? But how many people are eating food they really don’t like just because it’s ‘good’ or ‘not bad’ for them? That’s all very well but if it tastes horrible and you’re not enjoying it, there’s really not much point. Your body is much more likely to be responding with the stress response if you don’t like it, flooding your system with cortisol and insulin and excreting essential nutrients.

Make a list of all the foods you like regardless of their nutritional content. Give yourself permission to eat some of the things you’ve been denying yourself for years. But eat them slowly and sensually and savour every mouthful. I’m not suggesting you eat chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner! But a little of something you fancy really does do you good…

Do exercise/movement you enjoy.

Again, common sense? Yes, but if I had a pound for every time someone told me they hate going to the gym but must go because they’ve eaten too much that day, I’d be a millionaire. Doing exercise we hate can cause our bodies to go into the stress response, and we know what that means! Have a think about what exercise you would do for pleasure, regardless of the number of calories it burns. That might mean dancing round the kitchen to cheesy 80s classics in your pyjamas, or taking a yoga class. Whatever works for you is much more likely to give you the desired effect than punishing yourself with exercise you hate.

Do things that give you pleasure.

Start by writing an inventory of all the things that give you pleasure in life, and start introducing (or re-introducing) some of them into your life gradually.

You’re quite likely to be thinking I’m stating the obvious in these tips. But as I have found, sometimes it needs the obvious to be put right under our noses to realise just how little pleasure we have in our lives because of the pressures we are either placing on ourselves, or are placed on us involuntarily. What is life for if we don’t allow ourselves any pleasure?

A few questions to ask yourself:

How much pleasure do I have in my life? What have I sacrificed for the sake of losing weight or having the ‘perfect’ body? Does trying to lose weight give me pleasure or does it cause me huge amounts of stress and anxiety? What do I enjoy doing in my life? Where could I introduce more pleasure? What exercise/movement would I choose to do if the amount of calories it burnt was not an issue?

Who would have thought that a health professional would prescribe pleasure? Losing weight and getting fit is all about pain, surely?! Quite the opposite. If you desperately feel like you need a new goal or something to aim towards, why not think of setting a pleasurable goal? One that will allow you to have fun, and enjoy life. Not one that will cause you stress and anxiety and keep you locked up in a diet prison for eternity. And you never know, without even trying you may end up having some desirable side effects such as losing weight…

If you’d like to find out more, I will be taking on new clients in September and am offering a special autumnal deal of 20% off my eating psychology coaching services exclusively for readers of GreenwichMums. Please get in touch if you would like to take advantage of this offer and work towards a more nourishing relationship with food and your body.

About Helen Hendry

Helen Hendry is a qualified Psychology of Eating Coach and Personal Trainer. Helen is passionate about supporting people to have a more positive relationship with food and their bodies through personalised movement and eating psychology coaching. For more information, check her website

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