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50 Shades of Mindful Eating

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I confess that I have not read the summer's most talked-about erotic work of fiction, 50 Shades of Grey. Regardless, the book has repeatedly popped up in conversations with clients, friends, and colleagues many times over the past few weeks.

In general, the discussion dances around the complex and intricate relationship between pleasure and pain, sensuality and perversion. The big question -- can pain be pleasurable and pleasure be painful? It's a complicated, controversial and heated question that taps into deep and polarized feelings. When stepping into the imaginary shoes of the characters, reactions have ranged from "S&M, that's awesome, sign me up!" to "No way, no how -- never."

Interestingly, these provocative discussions echo the way many people feel about food. Similar to sex, eating sometimes walks a fine line between pleasure and pain. Eating is extremely pleasurable in many circumstances. However, it can also evoke an enormous amount of pain -- I see this every day in my psychology office. You can push the boundaries with food.

A friend recently told me a story about entering a chicken wing contest at a local restaurant. The wings were reputed to be the hottest in town. Although he was profusely sweating, eyes watering, ears ringing and turning an unnaturally bright shade of red, he obtained an enormous amount of pleasure knowing that he ate more than his guy friends at the table. And, he admitted he would do it again. He would willingly sign up a second round fully knowing the level of pain that could ensue.

On the other hand, our feelings can turn on a dime from pleasure to pain. A client told me a story about eating a rich, dark German chocolate cake. Each bite was exquisite and seduced her tastebuds. Yet, a second after she ate the last bite, the guilt and regret was so crushing and excruciating that her thoughts briefly turned suicidal.

Again -- a fine line between pleasure and pain. Think for a moment what aspects of eating you find pleasurable and which parts are painful. Are they interwined or seperate? If linked, it might be helpful to learn about mindful eating -- a gentle, compassionate and long term way to eat. It's great for people who have stepped beyond the boudaries of what feels pleasurable and safe. The good news is that there are no hard and fast rules that you have to follow.

Eating mindfully is a shade of grey, not a black or white extreme of overeating or dieting/restriction. When you are eating mindfully, my clients, readers and friends find that they naturally ramp up the pleasure and minimize the pain.

As a side note, I've been told that food makes an appearance in 50 Shades of Grey as kinky foreplay. But, I digress. Keep in mind that you ulitimately obtain pleasure from food or sex when it takes place without the confinds of boundaries -- the boundaries that you set and based on what you truly enjoy.

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See Dr. Susan Albers' new book, But I Deserve This Chocolate: The 50 Most Common Diet-Derailing and How to Outwit Them. She is a psychologist for the Cleveland Clinic and author of five books on mindful eating including 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and Eating Mindfully 2nd edition (order now!). Her books have been noted in O, the Oprah magazine, Shape, Prevention, Health etc. and seen on The Dr. Oz Show on TV.

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