It may seem the two are disconnected: our sensuality and how we relate to food.
But when we look at the definition of sensuality, which is our enjoyment and expression of physical pleasure, we can begin to see that how we relate to food has everything to do with how we experience pleasure in our bodies.
“It seems that recently there has been an uptick in messaging that tells people, especially women, that food is meant exclusively to fuel us, and that potential for pleasure should not be a factor that influences our food choices,” says Caroline Burkholder, registered dietitian and owner of Rooted Nutrition and Counseling. “It’s such a sad thing to see something so beautiful and life-giving as food be treated like a villain.”
While food is indeed fuel, it can also be a significant source of pleasure and an access point into our sensuality.
The Connection Between Food and Sensuality
Here are ways that your relationship to food can impact your sensuality.
Your relationship to food can mirror your relationship to pleasure. The way that we relate to food often correlates to the ways in which we relate to all areas of life, including pleasure. “When we restrict our food, we restrict most things in our lives, including the ability to experience pleasure,” says psychotherapist Amanda Marks, owner and founder of Resilient Counseling. “And we are more likely to have issues with intimacy and our ability to enjoy life and have fun.”
Some of the reasons restriction can lead to lack of pleasure, according to Marks, is negative alterations in moods and feelings, social isolation, and romantic disconnection. On the other end of the spectrum, when bingeing occurs, emotional needs including pleasure are often buried. “We are consumed with thoughts of food with both restriction and bingeing, and that leaves little room for the other aspects of our lives,” Marks explains.
And Burkholder says her clients who heal their relationships to food can view food as both fuel and pleasure. “The more that people embrace the idea that food serves a range of purposes—providing nutrients, helping us feel energized, serving as a vehicle of pleasure and as a conduit for connection—the more they can use food to engage with their sensual selves,” she says.
Your cravings can be symbols for sensual deprivation. When we reach for food without physical hunger, we cross into emotional territory. Perhaps, for example, you have eaten enough for dinner but you are needing some extra comfort after a hard conversation, so you crave milk and cookies to provide the comfort. Or maybe you are feeling deprived romantically and/or sexually and notice an increase in cravings for chocolate.
When you have not gotten the intimacy and love you need, you might notice an uptick in cravings for sweet and/or soft foods in general. While we are conditioned in our culture to believe cravings, especially for more pleasurable foods, are negative, they can in fact be wonderful inner guides.
Cravings without physical hunger can point us in the direction of where we are depleted and need to fill up in life, including our romantic, intimate, and sexual areas.
Connecting to your sensuality requires being embodied. When we are in positive relationships with our bodies, we are connected to them, and we are listening to them and honoring their communication cues. That connection fosters a state of embodiment, or being present in the body, which allows us to access our senses fully.
When we are in negative relationships with our bodies, disconnecting thoughts, beliefs, and symptoms are often at play. These might include restriction, compulsive exercise or exercise resistance, and bingeing. “When we are not nourished mentally and physically, we can’t be embodied and therefore can’t live a full and connected life,” Marks says.
According to Burkholder, negative thoughts and beliefs about food also affect our ability to access our senses. “Because eating food is a dopamine-producing activity, it makes us feel pleasure similar to that when we listen to music or engage in physical intimacy,” she says. “However, if our inner monologue about food is fraught with judgment, it will be nearly impossible to tune into the inherent pleasure that food can bring.”
Your relationship to food can impact your sex life. Nutrition issues and body image issues often go together. When we are war with food, we are almost always at war with our bodies. And according to Burkholder, positive relationships to our bodies can positively impact our sex lives. “Studies have found positive body image to be associated with greater sexual satisfaction,” she says. And it makes sense—if we loathe our bodies, how can we enjoy sex?
Ways to Heal Your Relationship With Food
If you feel like access to your sensuality is being negatively impacted by your relationship to food, here are some things to try.
Try mindful eating. “One great place to start would be by using mindfulness practices, specifically mindful eating, as a method to fully engage with the sensory eating experience,” Burkholder says. She cautions that diet culture sometimes hijacks the concept of mindful eating and promotes it to cut calories, which is not the purpose. “Mindful eating involves paying nonjudgmental attention when we’re eating, moment by moment, to fully engage in our sensual awareness,” she says. “We will more fully experience the sensory pleasure that comes with eating when we employ mindful eating practices.”
Try intuitive eating. Intuitive eating includes 10 principles to find freedom in relationship to food and body. It fosters interoception, or a felt sense of what’s going on in the body, and encourages us to listen to our body’s cues of hunger, fullness, and preference. It also addresses our thoughts around food and encourages us to eat without judgement and with full permission. “Being able to free your mind from the clutches of self-criticism can open up the potential for a more present, more embodied experience while eating,” Burkholder says. “When we are able to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods, we can tune into what our bodies need and allow ourselves to enjoy the physical sensations of food, free of guilt.”
And Marks advocates for “intuitive living,” which is essentially the result of the domino effect of benefits once we embrace intuitive eating. “Just like we were born intuitive eaters and can get back to that, we can heal our relationship with pleasure and allow ourselves to have pleasure again,” she explains.
Work on your relationship to your body. “Respect your body” is one of the 10 intuitive eating principles, so it makes sense that the two go together to enhance our sensuality. “Embracing the practice of intuitive eating can lead to greater feelings of self-compassion and self-love and positive body image, all of which can contribute to a more satisfying and pleasurable sexual experience,” Burkholder says.
Working towards acceptance or neutrality of our bodies is difficult yet absolutely worth the benefits. With better relationships to our bodies, our lives open and we are free to be our truest, most sensual selves.
Discover more about food and sensuality with foods for sexual vitality.