Are You Getting Enough Vitamin P?

Nutritional psychologist Marc David, MA, says we don’t have enough vitamin P — pleasure, that is — in our diets. And he’s not just talking about recreational enjoyment. The level of enjoyment we experience in eating our food has very real biochemical consequences that directly affect our metabolism and digestion, says David, founder of The Institute for the Psychology of Eating and the author of The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy and Weight Loss (Healing Arts Press, 2005). “Half of nutrition is what you eat,” he explains, “but the other half is how you eat.” In this, the first of a five-part series of interviews with David, we asked him to elaborate on the role that pleasure and appreciation play in creating a healthy relationship with food.

Why is eating for pleasure so important?
We are all programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s the most primitive part of the human nervous system. So, when you eat, you are seeking the pleasure of food, and you are avoiding the pain of hunger. But here’s the trick: You can’t receive pleasure unless you are aware that you are engaging in it. So, if you’re eating food and you’re not paying attention — if you’re watching TV, talking too much, rushing or reading — you will potentially miss the experience of pleasure. And, if you do not get the pleasure that you seek, the brain often interprets that missed experience of pleasure as hunger. You’ll want more food, so then you’ll be wondering: Do I have a willpower problem? But there’s no willpower problem — the problem is we are not entirely there when we eat. We’re not getting the full experience, and so we are left feeling hungry.

So, what we think of as overeating is actually about underappreciating?
Yes, this thing we’ve called overeating is really a product of our culture, which has us moving too fast. And the faster you go, the less your brain and digestive physiology can actually experience what’s going on with food. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to realize when we’re full. This raises a simple but very important point: When it comes to properly registering both the nutrition and satisfaction inherent in the food we’re taking in, the body needs time and focus to figure out what’s going on. That’s just how we’re wired.

And the link between pleasure and your metabolism?
Pleasure catalyzes a relaxation response, and the same switch in your brain that turns on relaxation — the parasympathetic nervous system — also turns on full, healthy digestion and assimilation. Conversely, the same switch in your brain that turns on stress, anxiety and fear — the sympathetic nervous system — turns off digestion and assimilation. So, there is a direct biochemical connection between eating with pleasure and our digestion and long-term calorie-burning metabolism.

You could be eating your favorite ice cream cone, but if you’re miserable and stressed-out and guilty while you’re eating it, you are not receiving that pleasure. Also, you’re actually shifting yourself into a stress response, which will put you in a mild degree of digestive shutdown, which means you’re excreting nutrients and not absorbing them fully, and you’re increasing your output of cortisol and of insulin, which will signal your body to store fat.

How can we learn to eat with more pleasure and awareness?
First and foremost, we need to slow down and notice, as well as savor and receive. The only way to eat with pleasure is to notice if there’s any pleasure to be had. So be attentive, take your time, and delight in your food. You may find you don’t actually enjoy certain foods as much as you think you do, or that it doesn’t take nearly as much to satisfy you. I once asked a client to slow down and really savor the Big Macs he felt compelled to eat daily, and when he started fully experiencing them — flavor, aroma, texture — he found himself completely repulsed.

You recommend doing a “Forbidden Foods Inventory” of foods we love but feel we “shouldn’t” eat. Why?
Doing an inventory of all the foods that give us pleasure allows us to play with our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” And once you’ve got your list, you can figure out how to include those foods in moderation in a way that works for you.

Let’s say pancakes are on your “Forbidden” list. You might decide that Sunday morning is when you’re going to have a couple pancakes and really enjoy them. Are you going to have unlimited pancakes seven days a week? That’s probably not the best thing for you. But conscious doses of pleasure throughout the day and the week put us in a place where we’re honoring our desires and at the same time nourishing our bodies in a thoughtful way.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter.

By Marc David, Experience Life


Jailene Santana
Past Member 7 years ago

Awesome article!

Jailene Santana
Past Member 7 years ago

This culture really does move too fast.

Lin Moy
Lin M7 years ago

Pears and cottage cheese realllllly give me pleasure. It's like having a dessert..

Shar F.
Sharon F7 years ago

Yes, this article is a good reminder. I eat too fast, and thus too much. Need to slow down, savor every bite, and eat less (for the good of the earth, in addition to self).

Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

This article is absolutely true for me. I believe that all people's bodies are different to one degree or another. But, I know that since my mother went into the hospital last November and then died in December, I have been in EXTREME stress mode, and I have taken pleasure in almost nothing I have eaten - or in anything else, for that matter. And, although I had been eating next to nothing during that entire period, my body composition has changed. Only recently, with regular yoga and some improvement in my diet, has my body begun to regain its normalcy. Thanks for helping me understand what caused this. It was starting to concern me.

gail d.
gail dair7 years ago


Jane L7 years ago


Eliza D.
Past Member 8 years ago

I think a small but important distinction must be made between "who you know," and "who you get to know." I am also a freelancer and whilst like you i agree that a lot of work comes from people knowing me - these are people who got to know me because I was out there whoring myself, thrusting myself in people's faces, networking and getting to know people. WORKING to become part of the network is one thing. it is quite another for Vitamin P to be the preserve of only those who were born into it. Vitamin P in its purest form should be ruthlessly exposed.

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Melissa M.
Melissa M8 years ago

I wholeheartedly agree that you should give in to the temptations of our favorite and most pleasurable foods... every once in a while… Especially if you are on a diet or if you struggle with your weight due to health reasons, etc... I have always found if I deny myself the things that I crave for too long that I will eventually break down and possibly binge or at least eat more than I would have. You have to do it in moderation - once a week is great... And it can't be "I'm going to have the biggest sundae on the menu at the ice cream place" every Sunday - that isn't the idea, but giving in a little here and there and NOT feeling guilty about it helps your diet and your mood! I had no idea there was so much science behind that concept…

Laurie Trewhitt
Laurie T8 years ago

As a miniature foods artist, I have had time to drool over well prepared meals in pictures. A great way to enjoy food can include pouring a special drink, like a smoothie into a large fancy glass, top with fruit and a paper umbrella! Take a little time to fancy up the meal table, or tray. Play some comfort music in the background...or bring some giggles to the table. Taking time to make a meal special, can really help focus on enjoying each bite, and in turn, a person doesn't eat as much! Adding other pleasures to the eating experience has given me a different point of view, with food..even in my mini creations!