"Food is fuel." You've heard that saying, right? Are you tired of it like I am?
I'm a human. But I'm more than just a human. I'm also a student, in some situations. I'm also a blogger and a Jesus-lover and a plant-based-diet enthusiast and a 20-something girl who is still figuring life out (baby steps, ya' know?). My point is that I'm more than a pair of legs and arms attached to this chunk of torso.
In the same way, food is more than fuel.
Think back to that one professor in college who captivated your attention in every lecture. For me, it's Dr. Nicholson (where're my Mustang Nutrition Majors at?!). She's my professor for Cal Poly's Contemporary Issues in Foodservice lecture, and she's one of the - if not THE - very best professors from whom I've ever learned. The class isn't really anything challenging or bursting with new information, but that's just it. There's something simple yet intriguing about digging into the various reasons we, as a culture and as individuals, eat.
Last week, in class, she shared with us a story of when she was a working RD volunteering at an ethnic food festival. Several visitors approached her questioning how they can make one of their culture's staple dishes - latkes - lower in oil or oil-free, without stripping it of its classic flavor. She paused to think, as did I in that moment. Well, you can bake them in the oven or possibly "fry" them in vegetable stock... but...
But the oil serves a deeper purpose than an ingredient to crisp up the potato latkes - it represents the presence of God's Spirit. By frying the latkes in what an RD might see as a swimming pool of oil, the Jews who celebrate this holiday see it as recognition and honoring of their God.
The oil is more than the crisp-factor. The oil is more than fat. The latkes are more than shredded potatoes. The latkes are more than carbs.
Clearly, my professor's story triggered the turning of some wheels in my brain. I let those wheels turn as they led my thoughts into how I view food in different situations, which I realized I want to change.
When food IS mostly fuel...
There's no denying that one of food's main purposes is to provide energy for the human body. The brain needs carbohydrates for cognition and the limbs need them for movement. The muscles need protein for structure and function. The bones need vitamins and minerals for stability, and fats to absorb those nutrients.
Viewing food from the "food is fuel" perspective can be beneficial if weight loss is the goal. For an overweight individual or for one who doesn't have a grasp on proper nutrition, developing the understanding that food provides nutrients and energy the body needs in order to function optimally (or minimally, at the very least), can be a key in attaining/maintaining health.
- After a workout, the body usually needs proteins and carbohydrates most of all. Why? To rebuild the muscles that broke down and refuel the glycogen stores that provided the energy.
- Before an exam (for all my fellow students), the brain can best remember important material when it feeds on berries, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables. Oh, and don't forget the carbohydrates.
- While recovering from emotional eating, I viewed food as just macro- and micro-nutrients - protein, carbs, and fat, and vitamins and minerals. I didn't allow myself to see it as anything that could lift my mood because doing so would encourage me to continue eating and continue eating and continue eating until I felt better (after which I only felt worse).
When food is MORE THAN just fuel...
Now, whaddya' say we have some FUN?! Food is fun! Food is a vehicle for creativity and self-expression. Food encourages exploration of various cultures, values, tastes, and cravings.
And most of all, food provides the ropes for and ties the knots within in a community or group of people. Take Food52 for an example. This was one of the first food-blogging communities I discovered way back when I first began, and I fell in love immediately. At the time, most of my mind revolved around food's nutrition label, but a small part spoke up and craved the culinary experience that Food52 highlights behind each recipe.
- When a group of close family and/or friends are gathered around a table, whether in the comfort of a home or the excitement of a restaurant, food is about sharing and tasting, and the food is only a small part of the get-together.
- Even though one meal may have been big (possibly too big) and filling beyond comfort, sometimes there's just magically room for a vegan apple fritter. And some of that room might be influenced by friends who crave said vegan donuts, but hey, that's okay, too. Either way, there's still room.
- Backyard barbecues in the summer, movie nights with friends, and late-night cravings for donuts (can you tell I like donuts?) just scream "I'M MORE THAN FOOD". Don't they?
I'm not saying that food is never fuel or that it is only fuel. Isn't that part of what makes food to indescribably worth it, though? It is all of the above.
Want to read more about why food isn't just fuel? Check out this article from the founder of Precision Nutrition. I love his perspective, his scientific evidence, and of course, his support of food as a cultural celebration.
Food is sometimes pre- or post-workout fuel. In that moment, its usually a banana and peanut butter or a protein smoothie for me. But, other times it may be a communal celebration with my roomies at the end of a rough week, in which its a ginormous pizza topped - no, piled - with veggies and vegan cheese.
Just like you are not a static being with just legs and arms and a body, food is not just protein and carbs and fat. Just like you wouldn't want to be narrowed into in any one category (i.e. student, athlete, girl/boy, etc.), don't try to squeeze all foods into "good"/"healthy" or "bad"/"unhealthy".
I'm no dietitian, though I am studying to become one, so please don't think of me as your one-stop-shop for all things nutrition- and ED-recovery related. If you'd like, I can point you towards some of the RD's who have helped me immensely in my journey, and I can share my story with you.
I hope you've found this helpful! Leave a comment below and tell me your favorite foods - when is food fuel for YOU? When is it a form of community and celebration?
Thanks for reading!