Food As “Fuel”: Is This Part of The Problem?

30 Sep

tumblr_mniqdoAudd1rq6lflo1_500A couple of years ago when I first began blogging, I wrote a couple of articles on the topic of “normal” eating habits. Since the beginning of that series of posts, I’ve begun to think a lot about the “food as fuel” mentality that a lot of people tend to have, and how it can negatively affect their relationship with food.

There is no doubt that food can have a strong hold over us mentally. Especially for those of us who have been, or are currently battling with emotional eating. We all know that eating certain foods triggers that endorphin-like rush, and feelings of safety. This is why we call these foods, “comfort foods”.

This can create problems down the road if a line isn’t drawn. However, I see those who hold the strict “food as fuel” mentality to be the kind of people who are afraid to indulge in foods that are made solely for the purpose of making the taste buds dance.

I do say this out of experience, having been in that position before. It might be that they are prone to overindulging. Or it might be that they feel as though in order to be completely dedicated to their sport, activity, or goal, they must eat only for the purpose of keeping their body running at full capacity.

Now, there are a couple of points I can agree on. Food is not love. Food does not equate happiness. Food cannot mend our broken hearts, fix our problems, fight our battles, fill empty spaces in our lives, or provide a long-lasting calm to our troubled minds. Food is, simply, fuel.

But is there a time where we can take this mentality too far?

watch-a-movie-copy

I dunno, man. I find the process of cooking and eating extremely entertaining.

Food provides us with energy to perform daily tasks and activities. No matter which way you want to look at it, that’s what food is and always will be. But be wary as to what measure you implement that knowledge. I only stress this because people have completely damaged the way they view food. They cannot find the balance that comes from eating for health, enjoyment, and satisfaction, versus eating to “fuel the machine”. They believe that in order to be healthy, and in order to achieve their goals, and in order to prevent binging, they must completely eliminate the enjoyment that that comes from eating. They must eat only to stave off hunger, and to keep themselves alive. Likewise, the other party will eat beyond what their body needs or is comfortable with, and have an all-or-nothing disposition with food. Overindulgence is their downfall.

At the same time, treating food as nothing but fuel disconnects us from one of our most powerful, and enjoyable senses. Good taste is bliss. There is no denying that food which is flavorful has a huge impact on us mentally and emotionally. Food that tastes good makes us feel good. We feel most alive when we take full advantage of all our inborn senses.

So while treating food like it’s the love of your life is not the solution, neither is treating food like coals on a fire. I see too many people eating for the sake of staying alive rather than actually enjoying what they put into their bodies.

Flashback: My mom is a wonderful cook. She was always quite ritualistic about the way we ate our dinners, for as long as I can remember. We ate at 6:00pm every day, we all sat down at the same time, served ourselves, and talked about our day. She would remind me to eat slowly, put down my utensils between bites, and have a little of everything, focusing on vegetables. According to her, they would someday make me “big and strong” (joke’s on you, mom! It was donuts all along).

Now, I distinctly remember enjoying those times we had, and usually enjoying my meals, so long as the spinach was placed at the far end of the table. In those moments, I’m not even sure I was 100% positive what a carbohydrate was. I knew vegetables were good for me, but I also knew that mashed potatoes tasted so much better when they were drizzled with gravy. I couldn’t care less how many calories were in my pasta, so long as it tasted good.

Food-QuoteIt wasn’t until I grew older that the idea was put in my head that in order to excel with my health and fitness, I needed to stop eating things that made me happy, and instead eat blandly, cutting out entire food groups and macronutrients. I didn’t know how to find a balance. And unfortunately, many still don’t.

We need to get back to our roots. We were born with intuition. Gluttony is learned, not inborn.

I think most of the problems start when you take extremes, and forget to think of food as a separate activity from the rest of your daily tasks. We eat while we cook, read, watch TV, talk, walk around the house, etc. Or we eat too fast, gulping everything down at warp speed so as not to taste it’s bland flavor and texture.

Food becomes “fuel”, or an add-on to whatever other activity we are currently participating in.

What we have long failed to realize is, eating should be its own separate activity. A lot of people like to combine eating with other things, and sort of condense it into one thing. This might seem more convenient for those with extremely busy schedules, but that takes most if not all the enjoyment out of eating in the first place. So even if you have taken the time to prepare yourself something that tastes great, it can’t be fully enjoyed when it’s inhaled.

As much as possible, I encourage you to put time aside for your meals rather than try to multitask. This becomes especially important when you have developed poor eating habits and a negative relationship with food. A positive bond is formed through appreciation and patience.

Just like a positive body image can only be formed through self-love and taking time for yourself, a positive relationship with food can only be formed through slowing down, enjoying yourself, and understanding your body’s needs.

If for whatever reason you feel you don’t have time to sit down for 20 minutes to eat a meal, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

“Am I eating too often?”

“Am I working too much?”

“Am I stressed?”

“Am I lazy?”

Yes, it is possible to “eat too often” for your schedule. No one says you have to eat 15x per day. If it’s inconvenient to sit down for 20 minutes every time you have something to eat, it might be time to rearrange your schedule. I believe this is crucial, especially when it comes to regaining a more positive relationship with eating.

Remember what it feels like to trust your body. To not think of anything but the moment. To savor your food. Slow down, and really taste it. How many times have you made something, shoveled it in your mouth, and wondered, “Why the hell am I still hungry?”

Chances are, you need to take a deep breath and relax.

Just don't hold it too long.

Just don’t hold it too long.

Not sure how to go about reviving your meals? Here’s a few tips to help you get started:

  • Buy a cookbook. Or five.
  • Look online for a new recipe to make every day.
  • Learn how to incorporate spices into your foods.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Revise your schedule to make room for meal times.
  • Rotate your foods. Don’t eat the same thing every day.
  • Eat with someone else.
  • Set a timer (if you need to), to help teach you how to slow down.
  • Chew your goddamn food. Seriously.

Remember. You owe it to yourself to enjoy every day you have that is spent in good health. Don’t waste time worrying about things that, when it all comes down to it, are unimportant.

Like. You know. Obsessing over numbers and stuff. Don’t do that.

Eat healthily. Not too much. Mostly fresh stuff.

– C.M.

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6 Responses to “Food As “Fuel”: Is This Part of The Problem?”

  1. Marina Featherstone October 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I couldn’t agree with this more (based on my own experiences as well). Another concept that I disagree with, is that of “the cheat meal”. This adds to the novelty of indulgence, and only increases your cravings for it. It’s better to allow yourself space every day to have small indulgences, which reduces the novelty of it, and thus reduces your craving for it. Now, for me instead of a cheat meal, I allow myself to indulge in a small way on a daily basis, and I indulge far less because of it.

    • thecookiemonster October 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

      I agree with the “cheat” mentality as well. I left that behind quite awhile ago.

  2. Sam October 1, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Wow, trenchant. I agree with this 100%. (It helps that my mom is in the food industry). I hate the whole concept of fuel vs. entertainment, in fact. I’m no Paleo enthusiast or hippie, but I do like to think back to traditional human culture… human beings are not meant to engage in things that are hard-and-fast either “entertainment” or “function.” Traditionally, especially speaking as an Italian, food is part of a social environment that is pleasurable and connective. Useful activity is made more pleasurable through play. Reducing people to consumers and producers is so empty and NOT how we’re meant to be. There’s a middle ground! Food can taste good and be part of a nice meal and properly nourish you.

    I hate, by the way, how the way Americans see food is either as ‘tastes good’ or ‘is good.’ It can be both.

    • thecookiemonster October 1, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      “Reducing people to consumers and producers is so empty and NOT how we’re meant to be.”

      Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Jennifer October 1, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    Urgh all these new fitness posts are constantly contradicting. I want to know about food for fuel and convinient foods. Truth is, I don’t always have time to sit down and have a 20 min meal. You can’t tell someone they are working too much. They get their quick lunch break and that’s all they get. Don’t be so pretentious about this stuff like all the other posts around these days. Sure in a perfect world I would love to have the perfect balance but at the moment as a competitive triathlete and a busy mum I want convenience and fuel . Trust me, I don’t need to be told to enjoy myself. I will have a cupcake or a big Italian feast whenever i want. But right now my priorities are performance and convenience. That’s the honest truth. Give us practical ideas please!

    • thecookiemonster October 2, 2013 at 12:37 am #

      I wouldn’t necessarily look at them as contradicting. Look at them as different people sharing what works for them personally. Everybody is different, and everyone will relate to different things on varying levels. The joy of reading different viewpoints is taking a little out of everything, and building your own ideas. It’s just like with training programs, work-related advice, and anything else you can imagine.

      I was not trying to be pretentious at all. This is just how I honestly feel about eating meals. I don’t mean you have to sit down for every snack. But for actual meals, I believe it is important. This is directed more specifically at those who are still trying to overcome eating issues. It’s what has worked for myself, and for many other people as well.

      Just because it may not apply specifically to you doesn’t mean you have to take it personally. If it’s not applicable to you, then simply find what is, and do that.

      I can write an article on practical ways to get in healthy, yummy food when you are busy and on the go. But that wasn’t the objective of this particular post. But I may write something up about that in the future.

      Thank you for your honesty, and I do hope that you find something that works for you!

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