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The Pleasure Principle

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So if we’re really pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding creatures, what stops us from hauling a chair up to the freezer and spending our days digging in to a quart of cookie dough ice cream? Ah. That’s where the mental and emotional side of pleasure comes in. Too much pleasure of any kind—sex, alcohol, idle days, ice cream, cheese doodles—leads to mental and emotional pain in the form of guilt, remorse and regret.  And remember, we are built to Seek Pleasure and Avoid Pain.

This is where the corollary of the Pleasure Principle comes in: the Reality Principle. We are compelled to defer pleasure as a necessity of functioning in our environment.  In other words, if you can put off momentary thrills, you’ll net greater pleasure in the long run. The stair master hurts while you’re doing it, and you’d rather be anywhere but under the fluorescent lights in your cubicle at work, but the long-term payoff—making lots of money and looking fabulous in shorts–seems worth it. And if you can just stick to the grapefruit-and-celery-stalks diet for long enough, the story goes, you’ll experience a quantity of pleasure sufficient to override the momentary pain of avoiding food.

So we slog through our days, exercise our bodies in often-punishing regimens, and starve ourselves in pursuit of tight abs, trim bottoms and longer lives. Thus deprived, our bodies, which Seek Pleasure and Avoid Pain, scream out for some kind of intensely gratifying experience. What’s legal, inexpensive, easily available (at least in our culture) and immediately satisfying? You guessed it.

We know pleasure is essential to life; you gotta have it. But where else can you get it, besides food?

Next: 4 ways to find pleasure

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Lisa Turner

Lisa is a chef and nutritionist with more than 30 years of professional experience and formal training in food, nutrition and product development. She’s written five books on food and nutrition and is the creator of The Healthy Gourmet iPhone app, and has been a featured blogger for many national sites, including Huffington Post and Whole Foods Market. Lisa is a faculty instructor at Bauman College of Culinary Arts and also teaches food and nutrition classes and workshops to individuals and corporations. She's a black belt in Ninjutsu, an active volunteer in the Boulder Valley school lunch system, and an avid wild food forager.


+ add your own
4:53AM PDT on Oct 25, 2013

Now I'm wondering what cheese doodles are.

1:51PM PST on Dec 2, 2011


11:07AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011


6:29AM PDT on Sep 15, 2010


4:11PM PDT on Sep 10, 2010

Thanks for the info.

11:47PM PDT on Sep 8, 2010

Great info.

11:03PM PDT on Sep 7, 2010

I agree fully with Jonathan's comment. I would also add eating while being distracted with something else (work, demanding conversation, stressful thoughts). You eat a piece of chocolate and don't register the expected pleasure, so you have another piece and the next thing you know - the whole bar is gone.

9:14PM PDT on Sep 7, 2010


7:03PM PDT on Sep 7, 2010

The tips are helpful, but I feel maybe Freud should get a nod given that he was the one who coined the terms "pleasure principle" and "reality principle" - as you described them.

2:21PM PDT on Sep 7, 2010

I suspect that much of the issues with overeating are not coming from the pleasure principle.

Instead, I think that the inability to register pleasure or pain may lead to overeating, because of a loss of connection with your own body, due to medication, toxins in your system, or illness.

If you hit satiation point with food, under normal circumstances, eating becomes actually unpleasent or painful, and can even induce nausea and vomiting, if continued beyond the capacity of the stomach.

If you cannot register that you are full, and do not feel the pain of overindulgence, you may be experiencing a numbing effect.

This numbing may be due to illness, or toxicity of the body from too much processed foods, and additives and artificial sweeteners, or medication that is disconnecting you from the body feedback that you need to feel your body.

Like the person who has lost nerve sensitivity, and damages his feet from walking on a foot sore, the overeater may just not be able to feel satiation, and overfilling, which is unpleasent or painful to regular people.

I avoid aspertame and sucrulose whenever possible, due to the fact that they seem to block my ability to sense body signals of satiation.

I also try to limit my food intake when I am sick, or running a fever, or using pain killers, since I cannot register my satiation as well, and can overeat in those situations.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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