Is food just fuel?
This one drives me nuts so bear with me during this verbal diarrhea as I go through my stance on this and why you should view food as more than just fuel.
I’ll start with a couple questions. 1) Have you ever been to a social event that didn’t serve food? 2) Have you ever celebrated an event that didn’t in some way include food?
I guarantee you the answers to both of those questions is yes. If you got a no on either of them, please DM me, I’d love to hear about your life.
The thing about food is that yes, from a physical perspective, it is energy. Calories are energy and that’s the funny thing about them also because for most of us, we’re basically trying to restrict energy by eating less calories everyday (side tangent, think about how effed up that is?)
When we have excess energy, our bodies store it as fat. When we run low on energy, we burn up our stores of it (fat) and if we are out of that, we use break down muscle and convert it into energy. This is physiology 101 in just under a 100 words.
But if food was as simple as just finding the right type of energy source like going to the gas station and entering regular, premium or diesel gasoline, we wouldn’t be crying as we’re digging for the bottom of a heavenly hash tub of ice cream now would we?
No. Food and its reactions are far more complex in our lives. Our relationships with what’s on our plates, forks and spoons is far more important than that. The reality is that food can be pleasurable, enjoyable and community building in ways you may or may not have already imagined.
Since the start of time, we’ve been gathering around for events such as feasts. In the ice age, it was celebrating a successful hunt through cooking that food and enjoying it all together as a group. Over time, it’s evolved into celebrations around holidays and other parties and events. It’s a way for us to feel happy and share that happiness with other people. In fact at these celebrations, we often show off how good we are at making the most delicious foods, but have you ever been at thanksgiving and said, “man, we’re really getting in a lot of great fuel at this table now aren’t we?”
No, it’s ridiculous. It’s as ludicrous as assuming food is just fuel. This doesn’t even go into the dopamine reaction our body can go through when consuming something like ice cream when we’re feeling down on ourselves.
With that being said, how do we make a balance of using food as fuel for our workouts while also using food as happiness and in the positive ways?
It’s a million dollar question that has an answer as sexy as its definition--balance. Balance the way you’re eating and when you’re eating it. There’s going to be times when, for lack of a better term, you’re eating like an asshole and consume cake for supper and ice cream for dessert. There’s going to be times when you’re eating broccoli and chicken and are cleaner than a whistle.
Throw the good in with the bad and you get balance. Throw the good decisions out by making the bad decisions and you’re left with a f*#&ed up relationship with food. It’s that simple, I promise you.
The reality is that food is more than fuel and it’s meant to be. Some days will be good, others will be difficult and be “bad.” So what, get back on the wagon and try again.
To my knowledge, they aren’t taking Christmas off the calendar any time soon, so do you want to try to practice enjoying it manageably, or yo-yo like the millions of other people who are mentally consumed after being surprised when they overate on Christmas day?
I know I know, eat less and move more. That’s how we’re supposed to lose weight, feel the best and look the best, according to the media.
But that’s how we’ve got to this point where everyone is chronically undereating, overtraining and seeing ABSOLUTELY NO RESULTS.
Don’t worry, I was there once too. I couldn’t figure out why things weren’t working when I was eating 1,600 calories and working out 5-6 days per week. How could I not lose any body fat at 213 pounds?
Turns out I had to flip this dieting methodology on its head. I had to eat more.
1. The main reason you should be eating more is that it boosts your metabolism. You are responsible for your metabolism whether you believe that or not. If your metabolism is turtle slow, that’s because you’ve allowed it to be in that state. Sure there are reasons that are thyroid related that can slow down your metabolism but you under eating is the sure-fire way to screwing things up and making it impossible to make your metabolism the fat burning machine you want it to be.
When it comes to creating weight loss, there’s really only one way to do it (sorry fad dieters). Create a caloric deficit. If your caloric maintenance (the amount of calories you’re eating to sustain body weight) is insufficient (sub 1700 for females, sub 2300 for men), we have nothing to subtract calories from without creating hormonal damage or metabolic adaptation. It’s like creating a financial budget with $1,000 each month and wanting to take on a new monthly payment for a new car. Good luck paying for a new car while budgeting that $1,000 towards rent, hydro, food, cell phone bills etc. It’s not going to happen. You have to increase the ceiling (calories or revenue) to make it work.
2. Everyone wants to enjoy a good cheat meal and not worry about it right? Who doesn’t want to go to DQ and crush one of those new Reese’s Blizzards?
Well, back to working your budget, you can’t do that if your budget is paper thin. Like wanting to buy a new car with little to no revenue, you can’t enjoy that Blizzard with little to no daily overall caloric intake. The reason for that is that if you only have 1,000 calories to work with for the day, and you eat 800 on that Blizzard, good luck eating just 200 calories for the rest of the day.
That being said, through reverse dieting and increasing your daily energy expenditure, enjoying snacks like this and many more will be a piece of cake. When I was eating 1,600 calories per day, it was damn hard to stay under that amount without being worried about gaining fat. But through slowly increasing that amount to 3,300 calories per day, I not only felt better but was able to have a beer or “cheat meal” and it wouldn’t affect my nutrition throughout the rest of the day.
3. Balancing and regulating or hormones and function throughout the body. When it comes to undereating, you can be run through the gamut of feeling horrible on a regular basis. Undereat and your sex drive goes down, you’re moody and sleeping at night has become an unconventional mess.
Increasing your caloric intake and the amount of food you’re eating on a regular basis decreases your stress levels while assisting in testosterone production and estrogen balance which are integral to not only feeling good but making sure you’re able to meet and exceed your goals.
Let’s face it, in today’s society there are no shortage of stressors that impact our lives. All of those stressors not only impacts the way we’re making nutritional decisions in the kitchen but can also impact the way our body sees stress and responds to it. If we’re constantly secreting cortisol, our body could care less about losing body fat and eating is one parasympathetic activity that helps us rest and digest.
From an evolutionary perspective, we weren’t stressed out when we were eating. We were relaxing and this means that increasing the amount and times we are eating allows our body to relax and digest everything that’s going on. No one is saying get the tub of ice cream out and sit on the couch and watch The Office all day (although how fun would that be?), but eating enough is a way for our body to optimize hormonally and feel awesome about it.
No matter where you start, a macronutrient based diet can be hard to adjust to from the outset. For most people, knowing what a carbohydrate, fat and protein is and what they do is a step in and of itself.
Even harder is the marketing that comes with a variety of today’s products (it’s why you eat whole foods people) that tells us a certain food is high in x,y or z and that’s why we should eat it. But there’s some easy things that will help you get on your way towards hitting your macros with ease each day.
1. Fruits and vegetables are largely carbohydrates. But I thought carbs were bad? (story for another day). But fruits especially can be high in carbohydrates, particularly bananas but all contain fructose which your body eventually converts to glucose (sugar) for your body to use as energy or store as energy (fat).
Eat as much fruit and veggies (greens particularly) as you can in a day, leaning heavier on the veggies side of things. But, at the end of the day if you’re sitting there with 0 g of carbs left, 100g of protein and 10g of fat, you aren’t going to get what you need by shoving a banana down your throat.
2. Pick foods that are simple to enter into your macros. I’m not saying don’t make a recipe for a favourite dish that you enjoy, but maybe don’t do it on day 1. If one of your favourite meals is your mom’s homemade lasagna, maybe you wait until you have things figured out at least somewhat before you’re running around trying to enter all of the ingredients individually or create a recipe on MyFitnessPal.
This means trying to stick to simple things like potatoes, ground meats, steaks, any vegetable, etc so that when it comes to putting it into your macros on MFP, all you have to do is type “lean ground beef 100g,” before entering the amount of servings you had into your day. It’s that simple.
3. Eat as many whole foods as possible. This one is relatively simple to read and but harder adhere to. Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar as much as humanly possible. Why?
Because it’s not only going to help you with your micronutrient profile but filling your fiber intake of 25-35g per day is impossible if you’re filling your macronutrients eating just doughnuts everyday. There’s simply no way you can just go completely on the one side of fitting your macros but abandon quality food.
4. Don’t get lost in the minutia. Countless times I’ve helped start people out on their new tracking measures with macronutrients only to check in with them after one week and they’re worrying about sodium intake, potassium levels--the list goes on and on.
The thing with MFP is that it’s so great it includes virtually everything. So much information that it’s almost impossible to understand everything going on. There’s cholesterol (isn’t that giving us heart attacks?), sodium, potassium, vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron just to start with. All of this information can be important for sure, but let’s not start here or get lost in it.
All of that is information for further use once you’ve mastered the basics. Macronutrients are the building blocks of everything and if you’re eating like an asshole with all carbs, fats and no protein, it won’t matter if your potassium levels are king of the world, you’re not going to see results.
5. Think ahead. This one is one that crushes people’s ability to stay on point every single day and is one that can be avoided for absolutely everyone. There’s nothing worse than getting to 7 o’clock at night and having 1,000 calories left to eat and not knowing how you’re going to be able to do it. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail--it’s literally that simple.
This means different things for different people though. For some, it can mean meal prepping on their weekend and putting the foods into containers to be used throughout the entire week. That can work, although that would drive me insane. Personally, I usually rotate between eating mostly the same foods each week so entering my macros on the Monday is usually a good reference point for the entire week.
It doesn’t mean you have to be this way but try waking up in the morning and programming what you’re going to have for the entire day. This provides you a roadmap for hitting your macros and takes the stress out of wandering through the kitchen at any point with the thought, “what the hell am I going to eat?”
A former journalist and sports blogger, I've turned my writing prowess and love of fitness and nutrition into a personal blog where you can find anything you are looking for on the world of health, nutrition and fitness.