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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.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Food IS fuel to me. I am continually working on making me an even better finely tuned machine. My "machine" is my body and it deserves the best "fuel" to keep it running.
    I do enjoy GOOD fuel, and fuel that keeps my body strong.
    Yes food is part of celebrations and enjoyment and I "fuel" my body at those times with good and healthy choices.
    I think the concern is as you mentioned...mindful eating, and not emotional. To not let food become more than it is....not give it "power" but yes to respect it for what it is, that which keeps our bodies functioning.
    1804 days ago
    Great blog. Food is not just fuel , if that was the case none of us would be obese or overweight .
    2224 days ago
    I don't like the 'food is fuel' idea either. Love your blog :)
    2226 days ago
    Very well written blog!!
    2226 days ago
    Great blog! I agree! Food and my enjoyment of it is very important in my life. It's one of my main forms of entertainment. I know that is frowned upon, but I don't care because I was successful in meeting my goals even while not changing that. I know I would never be able to change that! I just approach it more mindfully like you mentioned. That and I follow my "if I don't love it, don't eat it!" rule.
    2226 days ago
  • YDAVIS23
    I think you're right that the problem is that we do treat it too much as fuel - I mean america runs on dunkins, right? I love your approach and will be thinking of you as I spend my week preparing food for company, my family, and myself, pouring in the love and intention with each recipe.
    2227 days ago
    It isn't just fuel or it wouldn't be so wonderful to wake up to fresh ground coffee in the morning.
    Spark On! We Got This!
    2227 days ago
  • OPTIMIST1948
    Mmindful eating. Mindful writing. Truely something to mull over. Thank you for the mental food.
    2227 days ago
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    2227 days ago
    Food isn't just fuel to me, either. It's not meant to be or we wouldn't get the satisfaction we do from it.
    2227 days ago
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