Food is Not Just Fuel…

imagesThere seems to be two ways of thinking when it comes to eating, “Food is Fuel” and “Food is Pleasure”.  These are two very opposing views that cause confusion for many of us.

My opinion…yes food is  “fuel”, but “fuel” that can produce pleasure.  When we solely believe that food is fuel, I think we are missing the point.  How can we ignore the intimate nature of food?  For centuries food has been used to celebrate events such as weddings and births, as well as for comfort and consoling when death occurs.  And if you think about it where does a family tend to gather during holiday celebrations?  In the kitchen.  And at any social event, where do you find a group of people talking and laughing? Around the buffet.  Food is a way to show friendship and love, and when we deny this by identifying food as just “fuel”, we are not allowing that friendship and love into our lives.

So why do we tend to equate food with love?  Believe it or not our early human ancestors may have the answer.  Imagine yourself in the prehistoric era.  You are a hunter, and you’re tracking a large mammoth.  The time is right and you strike.  The mammoth falls to ground, and you think to yourself, “This animal is too large for me to eat by myself, I think I’ll ask those people over in the field to join me.  They looked hungry”.  The group eagerly makes their way over, creating an event for social exchange and the building of relationships, thus the feast was born.

As we evolved, our brains became programmed to associate these food events and our relationship with others.  It may also help that our digestive systems produce hormones that act on the area in our brains that is related to memory.  This trait most likely made it through the evolutionary process, because our ancestors had a better chance of survival if the vividly remembered where they had their last pleasurable meal.

I’m sure you can relate.  Think about dish that maybe your grandmother made every time you visited, or the snack your mother had waiting for you when you got home from school.  For me, I think about a peanut butter sandwich.  Simple I know, but as a child I would watch the show, Eureeka’s Castle.  My favorite character on the show was a dragon named Magellan, and there would be a point in the show that Magellan would make a peanut butter sandwich.  Being the young “foodie” that I was, I would ask my mom to get the peanut butter and bread, and we would make one along with him.  So now every time I make a peanut butter sandwich, I get a warm feeling that reminds me of my childhood.

The warm feeling that I felt was brought on by my brain’s dopamine system, which becomes active when we look someone we love, or a favorite food.  It acts like a reward center, pulsating feelings of pleasure.  Therefore, one could say that our brains show us that food really is connected to love and our well-being.

Identifying food as just fuel, does not allow us to experience those feelings of pleasure, which play a crucial biological role in our lives.  That pleasure allows us to listen to the subtle messages from our bodies that let us know how much and when to eat.  Denying ourselves that enjoyment in food, and just eating what we “should”, makes us feel unsatisfied, and we may spend unnecessary time day dreaming about food, and possibly ending up binge-eating once we get our hand on those foods that release the dopamine in our brains.

This “Food is Fuel” mentality also produces a sense of shame for eating foods that may not fit in the “Food is Fuel” ideal.  Which is nearly impossible, because food truly is a part of our culture, as well as our social and emotional experiences.  By not acknowledging that Funfetti cake will always be a part of a birthday celebration, and that eggnog will always be a part of the holidays, we place guilt on ourselves and do not fully enjoy the celebratory, cultural, and social experiences.  Therefore, it starts to halt what may be possible in our lives rather creating memorable event.

Giving up on the idea that “Food is Fuel”, or any other ideas that you may have about food that encourages restrictive behavior or make you feel a sense of shame in your relationship with food, is a positive first step in forward in a truly healthy lifestyle.

If you would like to learn more about letting go of the “Food is Fuel” mentality, contact the Inner Door Center at 248-336-2868 for more information on our treatment programs or visit



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