Food is fuel.
Is this the only purpose of food?
When I first started my journey to living a healthier and happier life three years ago, this was a phrase that I was constantly surrounded by. I first created my current Instagram page as a way to find inspiration and hold myself accountable for one thing: losing weight. The Instagrammers that I decided to follow at that time were all in with weight loss, whether it be naturally or assisted by weight loss surgery. On the daily, I saw their stories and posts about the grilled chicken and veggies they were having for every meal. Then there were the photos of hotel breakfasts, which were usually just a few pieces of fruit and a cup of yogurt on a white Styrofoam plate. There were boomerangs of these influencers taking their pre-workout, photos of meat wraps, meal prepping videos. The list goes on and on. And I kept reading the same proud phrase over and over.
Food is fuel.
With recently having switched over my focus from purely weight loss to all-around health and wellness, I started to question this phrase and the real purpose of food. Of course food is fuel, we all know that. A calorie itself is a unit of energy. The number of calories in a piece of food describes how much energy our body can get from eating it. Calories are the fuel that keeps our bodies is good working condition. When we consume more energy than our body needs, we store it and gain weight. It’s science. Of course food is fuel. But it’s so much more.
It’s Not Just Biology
Tongues and their tastebuds exist for a reason, and that reason is highly biological. Speaking from this biological perspective, taste allows our body to prepare for digestion. Taste activates our salivary glands and prepares our body to receive and process the food. Taste also allows us to detect poison and other survival-of-the-fittest things. But through evolution, these initial purposes for taste have gotten less and less important for survival. Although we still use a combination taste and smell to tell if foods have gone bad, it’s not a huge concern in our daily lives. Taste is one of our strongest senses, and it is mainly used for enjoyment now. This is because our lives as humans have gotten much easier. But there is a lot of “taboo” within that.
I’ve found that thinking of food as only something that makes my body function to be detrimental for my mental health. Thinking of food as an energy source and nothing else rejects that food can actually be enjoyed. It places shame on the fact that eating can be pleasurable. And as weird as the word “pleasurable” sounds when describing food (mostly because of its sexual undertones, merp), it’s true!
The immense amount of shame placed on enjoying food is something that really harms the relationships that many people have with it. Societal pressures are all around us to not eat fast foods, sweets, carbohydrates, and fats. People are doing Atkins, then Paleo, then Keto, then juicing, then the potato diet. It seems like everyday there’s a new diet fad that demonizes one or more categories of food and steers us all in a different, confusing direction. Demonizing food is what causes people to have painful food relationships.
To deny the fact the food is emotional and that enjoying food is natural is what causes the misery and guilt attached to it.
Food and Fat-Shaming
The negative stigma surrounding enjoying food is what also causes society’s negative perception of fat people.
Fat people are that way because they did it to themselves. Fat people are irresponsible and eat only for pleasure. They’re lazy and just lay around grazing and watching Netflix all day. They don’t take care of themselves. The only things they eat are cupcakes, fried chicken, mac and cheese, and donuts.
Before anyone takes this out of context, this is obviously not the truth.
I could go on and on for hidden reasons as to why people struggle with their weight and also why body positivity is so important, but that’s not my purpose in writing this. What I will say is that one of the many reasons why people say these things about fat people is to make themselves feel better. While living the grind-or-die lifestyle and depriving themselves from the joy of food, these people feel morally above people who decide to live a bit differently. I can respect the different lifestyles and diets of all people, but I cannot respect people looking down on others just because they don’t eat processed sugar or fast food or something.
Having a negative view towards food can condone these extremely hurtful things to be said about fat people. They can also cause people to really struggle with how they feel towards food. What is morally right and wrong when it comes to how we consume food? Nothing. Everyone has their own life and own viewpoints on nutrition. And nutrition itself is ever-changing. We should be entitled to our own thoughts on food without judgement!
Food is Cultural, Emotional, and Communal
Of course food is fuel. Obviously. But these are three things that food also is.
Food is cultural. I, a caucasian American girl, even have a little bit of culture attached to the food I eat. In Wisconsin (where I grew up), hearty Germanic foods are the tradition and bring people together. Grilling brats on Sunday summer nights and pairing them with cold glasses of beer. Going to the Wisconsin State Fair and sitting down at a picnic table with a cream puff on one plate and cheese curds on the other. My grandma bringing Kringle over on the weekends. Having fish fry on a Friday night and going out for frozen custard afterwards. All of this, all of these memories associated with food, are at the core of who I am.
My best friend has memories attached to his mom’s paneer makhani, which was his favorite as a kid. I know people who get sentimental around matzah ball soup, tamales, and homemade gnocchi. Even a pint of Ben and Jerry’s can remind people of nights spent in watching TV. One simple pint can bring back the nostalgia of late college nights or a bittersweet break-up.
Food is not just fuel.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Lunar New Year, Día de los Muertos. Weddings, birthdays, baby showers, barbecues, and potluck dinners. People are brought together through food. This is one purpose of food. Food is joy and food is love.
It’s okay to enjoy food.
What the Purpose of Food Really Is
To repair a relationship with food is hard. But giving yourself permission to enjoy the food you eat is so freeing. To allow yourself to experience the memories and sentiments that come with food is the most liberating thing. Eat mindfully and enjoy each bite, and try not to beat yourself up if you eat a little too much birthday cake. Food is more than just gasoline for humans. Food is beautiful, delicious, and powers our bodies.
The purpose of food is complicated. It’s more than fuel.
I know I could be seriously bashed so much for this last sentence. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it sums up what I have come to believe:
Food is everything!