Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.
Have you ever stopped to consider what relationship you have with food?
We don’t often think we even have a relationship with food, and yet we do — and it’s pretty intimate.
Think about this: if you’re like me, you spend as much or more time with food than you do with many of the loved ones in your life — several hours a day or more.
And consider this: technically, food is just fuel for living. That’s all — nothing else.
And yet … it has become so much more to most of us:
- we use food for pleasure
- we use it for comfort
- we turn to food when we’re sad, depressed, hurt
- we use food to socialize
- we use it as a reward
- we do it when we’re bored
- food can also be a chore
- we use food as gifts
- we turn to food when we’re lonely
- food can be associated with sex
- food is equated to health
- sometimes, food becomes an obsession
- it definitely can be an addiction
- food can make us hate ourselves
- food is the center of many billion-dollar industries
In fact, the huge food-related industries are at the center of much of our relationship with food: restaurants, fast-food chains, convenience foods, agribusinesses, distributors, grocery chains, snack foods, bakeries, coffee shops, dessert chains, health food, diet foods, supplements, bodybuilding food, and many others. They spend billions upon billions every year trying to get us to eat more and more food — their food in particular — and the horrifying thing is that all this advertising really, really works.
We have been convinced that the answer to almost any problem is food. You truly love someone? Buy them chocolates, or take them to a restaurant, or bake them cookies. Want to lose weight? Eat diet food. Want to get fit? Take our supplements, eat our meat, drink our milk. Want to be healthy? Eat our healthy products. Want to reward yourself? There are too many options to name here. Having a bad day? We’ve got the food for you. Don’t have time? Our food will save time. Want to save money? Buy super size and “save”.
Food is the answer to everything, apparently.
And yet, we forget that food is just fuel. We need to eat a certain amount to live and maintain our weight. If we eat more than that, we will store some of that fuel as fat (or build muscle if we’re exercising). And how do we lose weight? By eating, apparently — eat diet food, drink diet shakes, eat Zone bars, eat vegetarian products, eat meat and other protein sources, eat low-fat products, eat our cereal, drink our diet soda.
But what if we … just ate less?
Despite what the food industries have convinced us, we don’t need to eat as much as we do to survive. Sure, maybe eating that much is fun, and pleasurable, and will stave off boredom, and is fun to do with friends and family, and so on. But we don’t need to eat that much. Actually, we need to eat less.
The problem isn’t that it’s so difficult to eat less. The problem is that we have a complicated relationship with food that started when we were toddlers and has become more and more complicated through the years, through endless amounts of advertising, of eating when we’re sad and lonely and happy and bored and at parties and going out and on dates and watching TV and dieting and so on.
Our complicated relationship with food makes it hard to cut back on how much we eat.
So let’s start building a new relationship with food:
- Start recognizing exactly why we eat — is it just for sustenance or is our hunger often triggered by other things (boredom, socializing, pleasure, etc.)?
- Start realizing the effects that advertising and the food industries have on how we think about food and how we eat.
- Stop eating when we’re bored, out of habit, as a reward, for pleasure, for comfort, etc.
- Only eat what and how much we need.
- Find other ways to entertain ourselves, comfort ourselves, find pleasure, etc.
- Find other ways to socialize than eating large amounts of food.
- Stop obsessing so much about food.
- End our addiction with certain foods — sugar, for example, or starches. We can still eat them, but we don’t need to eat them as much.
Think about it: how much simpler would life be if you could end this complicated relationship with food? Some changes that might happen:
- You’d spend less time thinking about food.
- You’d spend less time preparing food.
- You’d spend less money on food.
- You’d eat less.
- You’d get healthier.
I have to give credit to Brad Pilon and his excellent ebook, Eat Stop Eat, for inspiring this post. Brad shook up a few of my notions about eating, my assumptions about standard beliefs in the health industry, and about why we are conditioned to eat so much.
While I haven’t yet decided to try Brad’s super simple method for losing fat — fast 1-2 days a week and eat normally on other days, plus strength training — I definitely recommend his book as a way to challenge the ideas you might have read in magazines or fitness blogs.
But what’s most interesting is how he recommends 24-hour fasts as a way to transform your relationship with food. By fasting, you learn to give up your need to eat for reasons other than fuel. You learn that hunger is often conditioned by other things, and you end that conditioning. You learn that hunger is OK, and after awhile the fasts don’t bother you at all. At least, that’s what Brad claims, and it sounds reasonable to me. I might try fasting for this reason alone.
Now, some of you will object to fasting on the usual grounds — it’s unhealthy, your body goes into starvation mode, it’ll slow down your metabolism, your body will start using muscle as fuel, your blood-sugar levels will drop too low, you won’t have energy. Those are the same reasons I objected. And I won’t try to refute these ideas — Brad’s book does a much better job. (Note: the links to his website aren’t affiliate links and I don’t make any money if you buy his book. Nor do I endorse his program, as I haven’t tried it. I do endorse the book for informational purposes.)
Anyway, you don’t need to fast to transform your relationship with food. It’s one way, and I thought it was an interesting idea.
In the end, let’s teach ourselves some simple things: food is just fuel. Most of us need to eat less. Food isn’t love or entertainment or anything else like that. It’s just fuel.