You hear it all the time, “food is fuel.” And it’s true, of course. Food sustains us, nourishes us so we can focus during the test, or walk the dog on a Thursday after work. But even though diet-culture would have us believe otherwise, food is more than fuel.
I think most of us know this, deep down. But when caught in a diet-mindset, we like to suppress it. Because if food is just fuel meant to fill biological, physical needs, can’t we train ourselves to eat only what we deem “healthy” on a rigid time schedule?
For those of us who’ve spent any amount of time on the diet bandwagon, we know it’s hard, if not impossible. And for good reason. Health is relegated to solely what we eat and how we move. We have emotional and social needs as well as biological ones.
But this begs the question: should food fill emotional and social needs? Can food fill emotional and social needs?
It helps me to remember snapshots of what life was like when I lived like food was just fuel. You might relate to one or all of them.
- The panicked struggle of politely refusing a slice of a homemade chocolate birthday cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles at my best friend’s birthday party. Because chocolate cake isn’t touted as pre-workout fuel, ya know?
- Ceaselessly tracking calories in versus calories out. No need to over-fuel, right?
- Staying up way too late reading articles on what to eat before and after a workout. Carbs before and or after or both? A little fat or lots? Sweet potatoes or bananas or almonds or avocado before cardio? And then not being able to sleep because my mind was swirling with the mess of conflicting (mis?)information.
Those three examples from before I accepted that food is more than fuel can be summed up in one word: STRESS. Stress on stress. I don’t need to say it, but I will anyways–stress is not healthy.
Side note: The “food is fuel” mantra is one often used to combat emotional eating. But emotional eating is not the heinous crime it’s made out to be. If it’s your only coping mechanism, it might be problematic because relying on emotional eating to deal with every problem usually isn’t pleasant. But that can be said for any coping mechanism.
If anything, repeating “food is fuel” to yourself like I did will only make you want to turn to food for comfort more, because “fuel” is not very holistically satisfying.
In my life right now, the epitome of “food is more than fuel” is Sunday lunch. Most days, lunches are a packed-in-a-cooler-bag-eaten-in-the-car affair, so a relaxed lunch eaten in the company of family and/or friends is a welcome reprieve. Food brings people together. Food is a common need and there’s something real and grounding about filling that need together. And it’s not just about filling biological hunger. Think about the variety of colors and tastes and textures. It’s communing together, a celebration.
It’s a pretty picture, isn’t it? But all too often, that picture is marred. Food is the enemy, the dinner table, a battleground.
Take a step. Maybe try for one meal a day, or even one meal a week, where you appreciate food and the company you’re with. It won’t solve your troubles at work or your family crises. But it can help you more deeply appreciate food as the gift it is, and any step closer to food peace is a step in a good direction.
So no, food can’t solve problems beyond physical hunger. What it can do, though–if you let it–is beautify our experience here on earth.
In what ways is food more than fuel in your life?
P.S. The recipe for the berry apple buckle cake in the pictures is from Heartbeet Kitchen (and it’s pinned to my Sunday Lunch Pinterest board, of course). Get the recipe here. And while you’re there, I would advise you to binge-read all the posts on Amanda’s beautiful site (aka proof that food is more than fuel). And then make all the recipes.