Food: it's not just fuel
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I am always wary when I see people trying to take the "food is fuel" approach, because it tries to lock down all the family, cultural, and celebratory associations with food and usually leads to an emotional crisis, binge eating, and disaster. Yes, we tend to be very food-centric in our celebrations, but that's not something that is unique to this country or this time period. Food is part of celebrations throughout the world and important part of the rituals of our lives.
Food IS magic. It transports us to different experiences, connects us to friends and relatives, evokes memory. The making of it can be an important ritual, as can be the sharing of it. Treating food as nothing but fuel is an attempt to completely deny the pleasure of one of our senses, taste, and to deny some of the pleasures of our other senses. It's like amputating part of our experience.
This is not the same as saying, "hey, it's Thanksgiving, let's PIG OUT!" That's not truly experiencing and enjoying food; that's just mindless gluttony. Mindful eating means taking enjoyment from the rituals, the sharing, all the senses, without just falling into automatic eating.
It is possible to love food, enjoy food, and eat in moderation. It's called Mindful Eating. This year, using this approach, I ate and enjoyed all the rituals of celebration at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and lost weight during both holidays. I did most of my eating with my eyes, my nose, and my mind, and focused on sharing with family and the experience, rather than the food itself. I partook of everything, but mindfully: I took only small helpings, and paid attention to my hunger. When I wasn't hungry anymore, I stopped eating.
If food was only fuel to us, we wouldn't be tempted by it. Trying to convince ourselves that it is nothing but fuel is one more way to set ourselves up for failure--maybe not this week or this month. Maybe not even this year. But eventually an approach that is all about taking away pleasure is doomed. Remember that the long-term success rate for weightloss is in the single digits. We are already trying to beat long odds. We shouldn't make this task extra-difficult for ourselves by treating our daily sustenance as an enemy.
Instead of treating it like the enemy, I say to treat it with the respect and sanctity it deserves. Our strong cultural associations with food come from a time when it was considered precious and abundance was seasonal. People came together to celebrate the harvest, and in leaner times to share among the many. Now, our food is so abundant that we allow big companies to strip it of its nutrition and transform it into junk. That's a terrible abuse of a precious resource. Don't support it. Buy real food, cook it with care, and share it with love.
It's how we were meant to eat.