Food is more than fuel

Man and women eating pizza
Enjoying pizza in NYC

Food is fuel for your body. You’ver heard that before right?

It’s a line I would often use when I worked in a hospital with malnourished patients. I don’t think it was very helpful. I would say 99% of the patients already knew this and wished they could eat more. There were other factors which were stopping them from eating enough. Maybe it was nausea from their chemotherapy. Or a lack of appetite due to constipation. It could have been the emotional stress they were feeling from being in hospital which meant food was the last thing on their mind. It was my job to identify what these roadblocks were and how they could be managed. If I simply said “remember, food is fuel” and left, nothing would change.
I tell this story to highlight how the phrase “food is fuel” is way too simplistic. Yes, food is the vessel for getting nutrients and energy into our body. But if we only eat food for this reason then we miss out on the many other experiences food can bring. When I think of happy memories, they often involve food. Baking and (badly) decorating gingerbread men at Christmas time. Eating hot chips loaded with chicken salt at the beach. Cooking sausages over the campfire growing up. Thinking of these now just makes me feel warm and happy.

Iced ginger bread men biscuits
My badly decorated gingerbread men

Unfortunately diet culture can make us feel the opposite. It can make us feel guilty or shameful for simply enjoying food. It can make us think we need to buy the expensive supplement powders or juices to “properly” nourish our body. It tells us we need to be more thin, muscly, or curvy. It tells us to only eat for 8 hours a day or to cut out whole food groups for our “gut health”. It makes us obsess over food and we end up losing the ability to enjoy eating. Yes, having a varied diet with fruits, vegetables and wholegrains is important. But enjoying your favourite foods with the people you love is also important. So, eat the cake at your sister’s birthday. Celebrate your friendships with pizza and red wine. Enjoy your favourite chocolate bar because you want to. Ignore diet culture. You never need to feel guilty for eating.