How Food Is More Than Fuel

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Food is a complex issue.

There’s a reason that our society struggles with weight management, and it’s not necessarily because we don’t know how to eat well. I’m sure many of us understand we’d be a whole lot healthier if we ate more whole foods and less sugar, avoided fried or processed things, drank less alcohol, and limited our soda consumption. So, why don’t we?

I’m the biggest culprit of it all– I really know a lot about how to eat well. So why isn’t my diet better?

The way we eat is not just a physical, biological process–it’s highly psychological! When we eat we are not only fulfilling our bodys’ fuel needs, but often, other emotional or psychological needs as well.
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In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week this week, I’m writing this article to share some insight into the complexity of eating behavior.

Adaptive Roles of One’s Diet

  1. Identity
    A person uses the way they eat to define who they are. “The skinny one,” “the fat one,” and “the health nut” are all identities that people take on having to do with the way they eat. Personally, I’ve been “the health-conscious” person to the point where I felt embarrassed to eat a food that was unhealthy or in a large portion in front of others. Coworkers would remark,”Look at Kait’s lunch, it’s always so healthy.” I’d only eat candy or burritos or fried food when I was alone, because heaven forbid someone see me eat something unhealthy and I lose that identity of being the health-conscious person.
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  2.  Distraction or Numbing Emotions
    Eating becomes a way of distracting from life’s problems when one is unable to cope. Instead of being unhappy, stressed, or burdened from the life problem, the central focus becomes one’s diet and the goal of losing weight. Sometimes people eat to “stuff” down uncomfortable feelings. In concentrating on eating, one can space out instead of focusing on the problem. I have some crazy mental association between relaxing and binge eating. If I’m stressed I need to relax so I binge…which is actually counterproductive considering that binging causes more discomfort and anxiety (i.e. more stress).
  3. Control
    When life feels out of control, eating becomes the one area that no one else can control. Sometimes our bodies become the battleground for self-assertion.
  4. Social Habits
    If you are female and you break up with your boyfriend, what do you do? Grab that pint of ice cream!
    Unknown-1Rough, stressful day at work? You need a drink….or 5.
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What characterizes an eating disorder?

There are a variety of eating disorders that exist, some more well-known than others: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, orthorexia, purging, night eating syndrome, body dysmorphia. Do you feel immense guilt after drinking an In-N-Out milkshake? Would you still love yourself 5 pounds heavier? Do you opt out of a family dinner just because the meal isn’t the healthiest? Do you feel like certain foods have control over you or cause you to lose control?

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Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.

Research suggests that up to 50% of the general population demonstrates problematic or disordered relationships with exercise, body, and/or food, but clinical eating disorders only occur in 1-3% of the population. The difference lies in the degree of symptoms one experiences and how much they interfere with one’s life, health, and ability to function day to day. There are some common symptoms of eating disorders like food restriction, binge eating, purging, excessive exercise, and use of diet pills and/or laxatives. Symptoms that are not as well known include basing one’s self worth or self esteem highly or exclusively on weight or body shape, or having an obsession with or high amount of anxiety surrounding certain foods, calories, or food groups.

Keep your food/body relationships healthy:

  • Avoid classifying foods as good or bad. Food doesn’t have morality; you are not good because you eat broccoli or bad because you eat pizza. There is a time and a place for all foods.
  • Limit social media time. It’s easy to get caught up in comparisons, but when most people share pictures on social media, they are sharing pictures that reflect the best versions of themselves. These posts don’t tell the whole story–the struggles, the vulnerabilities–these pictures are the highlight reel. Check out Sohee Lee’s short article called Don’t Be Fooled By Photos.
  • Be as objective as possible about physical assessments. It’s been said that one should view his or her scale weight with as much emotion as he or she would count the number of white cars in a parking lot.
  • Don’t make a habit of “punishment” workouts or diets. “I ate X so now I need to do an extra workout this week.” “I binged last night, so I’m not eating any carbs today.” Be consistent with your diet and workouts and the results will come.
  • Make a list of all your amazing qualities that are not related to your body or diet. (I’m really organized, I listen well to others, My dog loves me)
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  • Be aware and respond to your own red flags. (Isolating yourself from others, becoming secretive about food, anxiety, depression, giving a lot of emotional weight to things like your scale weight, binge eating episodes)
  • Set realistic goals and focus on your system to make progress day to day. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds in the next 4 months, focus on your plan of going to the gym 4 days a week and eating enough protein each day. I like focusing on the small steps because it allows more opportunities for success every day instead of just one big moment for ultimate success or failure 4 months from now. Read my article on goal setting to learn more.
  • Forgive yourself!
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Further Reading

Body Dysmorphia in the Fitness Industry

Why Can’t I Stick to My Diet? The What-The-Hell Effect Explained

How to Break Free From Binge Eating

The Candy’s Not Going Anywhere

Ban No Foods

How to Stop at One Cookie

When Good Fitness Habits Go Bad

What are your thoughts? Let me know!

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One thought on “How Food Is More Than Fuel”

  1. Nice post. And love the cartoon 🙂

    I’m very interested in this topic. You are right, there is so much more to fitness than just food.

    I actually began a four-part blog post along these lines, but so far, I’ve only posted part one: http://fatgirlsfitness.com/2016/02/12/three-pillars-of-fitness-part-1/

    I look at the psychological aspects and habitual aspects separately, even though they do overlap. Habits, to me, are very physical. They represent what you do on auto-pilot. So I think you can have a very healthy psychology, but also poor habits.

    But often, they come together. And it’s also very likely that one follows the other.

    And then on top of that, there are physical barriers to fitness.

    Great post – thanks for sharing 🙂

    Like

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