Food is fuel for the body.
Every time I hear the term “comfort food,” I cringe. To me, the term implies an unhealthy relationship with food. The most important aspect of breaking out of the cycle of unhealthy eating and achieving true health and fitness is coming to grips with food. It’s not just what we eat that matters, it’s also why we eat.
Think about this for a second–our society has turned food into a fetish. I’m a reformed “foodie” so I know exactly what I’m talking about. Most people eat not to fuel their bodies. Rather, we do it to relieve boredom. We comfort ourselves with food. We use it as a source of entertainment. We try to reduce stress through eating. We use it as a reward system. Finally, we often eat just to have something to do. Food should not be any of these things. The only thing food is supposed to do is to give us the energy to live life. We should not allow food to take such a prominent role in our lives that we become obsessed with it. I control what I eat, not the other way around.
Take for instance the idea that food can be comforting. Many people eat to find relief from stress. Or, we want to recreate the sensation of a time in our life when things were easy and less worrying. While the notion of comfort food seems innocuous, the way that it is practiced is destructive. The foods that we think are comforting are usually greasy, fatty, sugary, salty, or all of the above. How many times have we reached for cake, pastries, ice cream, cookies, alcohol, or chips when we are confronted with something unpleasant? Worse yet, we overindulge in these so-called comfort foods because we feel bad and the act of eating helps to distract from what is making us feel bad. This of course leads to feelings of guilt for losing control of our eating in the first place, which then leads to more eating to hide the feelings of guilt. When we gain weight from overeating, we eat even more to disassociate ourselves from the unhappiness from having gained weight. I see this vicious cycle played out time and time again. We are not infants who need to be comforted. We are sentient beings with free will. You can choose to deal with the negative things that happen in life, or you can mask them with food. What course of action do you think will lead to more unhappiness?
Secondly, I don’t use food as a “treat” for anything because I’m not a puppy. If I want to eat a chocolate chip cookie, I’ll eat one. It won’t be because it’s my reward for having worked out. In fact, that would be such a silly thing to do after working out. Would you pour leaded gasoline into your car’s gas tank after you just had it tuned? Of course not, because that would damage the engine. Our bodies are machines in many of the same ways. After having tuned your body with intense exercise, why would want to put sugars, processed carbohydrates, and fat into your system? Is that the kind of fuel your body needs to run efficiently? Of course not. Funny thing is that we do this all the time. I see people every day on the running trail with their Starbucks cups in hand. Sadly, we have more reverence and respect for physical machines than we do for the one our souls inhabit.
I know many would consider my attitude to be hardnosed. Don’t get me wrong, because I enjoy eating as much as the next person, but I have learned to only eat for one reason—to give my body the nutrition and fuel it needs. I like putting clean, healthy, nutritious food into my body because I feel great afterwards. I don’t like being bloated, strung out, wired, or guilty when I eat. Food is a positive force in my life, not a source of guilt or shame. Also, I only eat when I’m hungry. I’m talking about real hunger when your energy stores are getting depleted, not the false sense of hunger you sometimes feel when you’re bored or stressed.
The bottom line is that if you want to achieve true fitness and happiness, you’re going to have to break your bad food habits. Your relationship with food needs to change. Take stock of when, why, what, and how you eat. When you can do that, then you will feel better overall because YOU will be in control. Who needs comfort when I can kick adversity in the face? Who cares about treats when I already feel great all over?