Pursuing Pleasure

Don’t ask me to give up my Dr. Pepper and ice cream!!!”

I was lecturing myself again. Something inside me was nudging me towards eating a healthier diet but I dug my heals in. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I made some positive changes in my diet that it might help me feel better but I wasn’t ready to give up what felt like the only pleasure in my life.

I was in pain all the time and I thought nothing felt good…except eating comfort foods. Yes, Dr. Pepper and ice cream were two of my favorite go-to’s.

My desire for comfort, even at the expense of my health, held out until I was confronted with the possibility that the aching pain in my knees and elbows would steal the last remaining pleasure I felt in moving my body. The movement that used to give me pleasure, yoga, rollerblading, hiking, and riding my motorcycle, was slowly morphing into even more pain. The day I realized that I was telling myself a lie, that there was more pleasure to be had than the pleasure I felt when eating comfort food, was the day I shifted from being interested in health to being committed to my health.

The transition wasn’t instantaneous but the choice to put my health first was the catalyst for big changes. In the coming years I gave up the 47 foods I was sensitive to and eventually adopted the Autoimmune Protocol to arrest the progress of the Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

When I first tried to change my diet I found myself rebounding and binging because I didn’t have any other ways to comfort myself in my toolbox. Eventually I recognized that something had to change, I couldn’t keep hanging on the cliff of dietary restriction by my fingernails. Knowing the consequences for eating those foods didn’t stop my cravings for them and for the pleasure they (oh so temporarily!) provided so I had to come up with a different strategy. I realized that if I wanted to stop eating the foods that made my joints ache and triggered my anxiety I would need to spend time finding sources of pleasure other than the culinary kind.

I went through a lot of trial and error while learning to find more pleasure but I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes. Here are my five tips for finding more pleasure in your life:

1. Reinvent-Look back at your childhood and teen years and make a list of all the things you liked to do, then transform those ideas into adult activities. For example, as a child I could spend hours roller skating on the sidewalks in my adjustable roller skates (does anyone else remember those?). As an adult, the thrill of rollerblading down a long hill reinvents that joy and leaves me breathless and happy. At summer camp I loved doing ceramics, using my creativity to paint little figurines that I would then take home and let sit on my shelf for years (in fact I still have them…). Today I can take that passion for artistry and beauty and funnel it into the pleasure of creating hand-thrown pottery.

2. Experiment-Be mindful as you go about your days and look for things you might like to try or that you find interesting. For example, I never considered sky diving as a child but it sure sounds exhilarating now. I also love watching dancing movies (hip hop or ballroom, it doesn’t matter) so I decided to take some salsa lessons. Come to find out, letting go and releasing my body to the joy of movement is a huge source of pleasure.

3. Pay Attention-Once you’ve found activities that you enjoy start being mindful of the experience. Don’t multitask!! When you multitask your attention is divided and you miss out on half of the pleasure. Pay attention to what exactly gives you pleasure and focus solely on that experience. We can be so distracted by our lives and electronics that we miss the simple pleasures inherent in our lives. This could be the scent of coffee brewing, sharing a laugh with a friend, or the soft comfort of your favorite blanket at the end of a trying day.

4. Savor-Use your five senses to soak up the experience. What did you see, taste, feel, hear, and smell when you were experiencing something pleasurable? We focus so much on taste (aka comfort food) that we often miss out on the amazing experiences available to us through our other senses. In the morning I can stress over my schedule or I can take one minute to breathe in the scent of my brewing peppermint tea, soak in the warmth of the mug, enjoy the sight of the morning clouds, savor the first sips of tea, and listen to the sound of my heater (heat is definitely not to be taken for granted!). Take a moment to pause in the middle of your pleasure and mentally record the full body experience.

5. Reminisce-On those tough days take out your memories, hit pause on the treadmill of life, and let yourself be carried back to those good times.

This exercise is definitely helpful, but it’s not easy. This week the physical and emotional pain converged into a perfect storm and I got sucked into the lie that comfort food will provide me with comfort. I fell back into old habits and I was far from perfect (really, who is ever perfect?!). In fact, faced with the pain, I decided to jump off the health wagon. After three days I realized that the “comfort foods” I was eating weren’t actually bringing me any comfort, instead they were bringing me more pain.

From previous experience I know intentionally pursuing pleasure will help me to stay on the yellow brick road but in my weak moments the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys pull me off track (I’m not sure where this metaphor came from but I’m going with it) and make me want to hibernate, sleep the day away and eat my weight in ice cream. That’s why I’m going to use one of my magic tricks to help me get back on track.

What’s the magic trick you ask? It’s accountability! Over the next month I’m going to practice intentionally pursuing pleasure at least once a day. To keep me accountable I’m pledging to write a blog where I share my 30 attempts at pursuing pleasure and how it has impacted me. I would love it if you would take this journey with me. Who’s in?

As always, if this post resonates with you, please share! Have you intentionally pursued pleasure in the past? If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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