“You have to view food as a fuel not a source of pleasure – that’s the whole problem today – people use it as a crutch”. This was said within a nutrition interest group online, I won’t disclose the group as it is not my intention to have a go at the person involved, I don’t disagree with the statement, I just believe this conversation is more nuanced and worth having.
These are my thoughts: Yes food is a fuel and it is essential to understand this fact, however, food is also a great source of pleasure and attached to many cultural and religious rituals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, enjoying good food is one of life’s great pleasures! The issue is much more complex!
Many of us no longer know how to eat
We have been given terribly conflicting nutrition advice and many of us no longer have natural instincts around food and how to eat because we didn’t have it modelled by our parents/community. Many of us had bad dietary advice such as avoid fat, eat margarine and sugar cereal is the most important meal of the day along with disordered attitudes towards food from our role models. Our ancestors did not need to see an expert for nutrition advice; this wisdom was simply passed down through families/tribes/villages.
Food like substances did not exist back in the day
Furthermore, we are no longer dealing with real food (food companies have produced “food like substances” that capitalise on our pleasure centres and really mess with our brain’s biochemistry to cause a kind of addiction. Food companies spend millions to create a bliss point in food so you simply can’t stop, that was not something that great-grandma had to contend with. They then spend millions advertising using all the mind tricks to create FOMO (fear of missing out). Also, unlike back in the day, these “foods” or food in generally is available anytime, easily, you don’t even need to leave home and we have more available income to spend on takeaway/snacks.
We are more disconnected, more anxious and ill-equipped to deal with our emotions
We have a society of many people who are not given any advice/modelling on how to have emotions and how to manage them in a healthy way. Most of us no longer live in a tribe/large family setting so we are disconnected, over committed/busy and stressed and many of us now use those food like substances to numb ourselves/push down the emotions/to feel good – maybe it is the only thing in life that feels good for some people or the only tool they believe they have at the time.
So while I don’t disagree with the statement, I feel it is a far bigger topic and an important discussion. Any kind of shaming around getting pleasure from food (whether intentional or not) is not helpful and often can contribute to making problems worse. Food is not the enemy; we are not failures without self-control. We are just human and this is a relatively new issue that we face.
To deal with these issues, we need to be prepared to be kind to ourselves and others.
This is what we teach at Informed Health. It is important to learn how to eat to nourish yourself whilst also learning what is behind your conversations about food and new tools to manage emotions and stress. A diet will not fix emotional eating.