Food As Fuel (Or Fueling Obesity)

Read time: 2 minutes

Over the years I’ve heard the word food being replaced by the word fuel. Coaches say it. Personal trainers say it. Weight loss experts say it. “Did you get enough sleep? Did you get enough fuel?” It’s not so much a matter of changing semantics but of changing mentality.

And the mentality that food should be viewed only as fuel for the body is what’s probably wrong with the American diet today. Using food as fuel encourages a feeding habit removed of joy, appreciation and celebration, turning it into a mindless act. It teaches us to eat on the clock, rather than on the true needs of the body.

The problem is that our body doesn’t have just a single fuel gage to tell us when our tank is empty, but many physical and emotional gauges that trick us into thinking that we need more fuel. For so long we’ve been fueling ourselves by social or dietary rules that we’ve forgotten what physical hunger actually feels like.

So we’re pressured into eating the so-called “most important meal of the day.” We panic about forgetting that light snack between breakfast and lunch. We consider ourselves reckless when we skip lunch. And, darn it, we kill all of our effort in the gym if we don’t fuel up within half an hour after the workout.

At work we stock the desk with nuts and jerky, in the car we stuff the glove compartment with protein bars, and in the fridge we line the shelf with fudge-flavored yogurt. Just in case, we say, worried that a hunger pang is the end of our metabolism.

So: Fuel, fuel, fuel!

What kind of ethics do we express when we eat food without joy or appreciation when others must starve? How do our bodies compare to those of the French and Spaniards, who sit down to celebrate the flavors of each meal? What if we actually seek to identify all the flavors of each bite on our plate, instead of shoveling it down mindlessly like the way we pump fuel into our cars? Would our careful and deliberate enjoyment of food allow us a higher quality of food intake, without going overboard on low-quality food with an amalgamation of disassociated flavors?

I believe that sitting down (with family and friends) to a meal is the best thing that we as a nation can do, socially, mentally, gustatorily, and physically. While eating, we ought to focus on the immense flavors of duck confit with tangerine-kumquat marmalade. We ought to search for the subtle sea salt hidden behind the delicate sweetness of caramelized sea scallops, and share the flavor with a glass of Bordeaux Blanc and see what dances on the taste buds. Or even venture with all our senses into the deep intricacies of a Chicago Deep Dish.

The reality is that many of us don’t have the time to sit down to a slow meal, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that we think we still must eat simply because it’s mealtime. So we fuel up mindlessly, even when the body has plenty in reserve (glycogen stores, fat stores, protein stores, etc.). We end up throwing calories into the body, but with lost opportunity to experience the joy that should accompany food.

Perhaps it’s time for us to let go of the fear and guilt of missing a meal, and allow ourselves the opportunity to learn how to eat less frequently. Maybe we should go longer between meals without letting the myth of “a slowed metabolism” interfere. It’s time to raise the importance of each meal, and place a greater focus on quality over quantity.

Perhaps it’s time to remove the fuel out of food, and put the food back into food, and really, truly enjoy eating again.

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22 Responses to Food As Fuel (Or Fueling Obesity)

  1. ozarkhomesteader says:

    Here here! Huzzah! Right on!

  2. Grok says:

    Good post and I see what you’re getting at, but personally I have to look at food as fuel quite often.

    Being the foodie & over-eater that I am, I’m forced to add monotony to my meals or make them not too tasty, otherwise I’ll just keep on going…. I’ll be doing this a lot more in the months to come as I get closer to competition time. I can’t afford to get sidetracked on my diet anymore.

    I’m definitely not afraid to skip a meal (or nine ;)), and don’t carry around bars. This fuel approach really is just a way for me to re-feed in moderation and keep food off my mind the rest of the time.

  3. Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

    @Grock,

    A meal, or a food, can absolutely be enjoyed in its natural, unseasoned state. The sweetness of a strawberry; the saltiness of grass-fed beef; the bitter-sweetness of raw cauliflower.

    The underlying point of the post is that if we skip a meal (or meals), rather than eating just because we think it is time to eat, then we’re more inclined to enjoy food once we do eat — flavored or unflavored. The mindless consumption of food is likely to lead us to eating more and more of food that is enhanced in flavors, until it reaches a state of hyper-flavor, which is all that can come near to stimulating the reward center nucleus acumban.

    After watching your Kill-to-Eat videos, I’d say you’ve been there — having seen you immersed joyfully in eating the bird that you killed and cooked with absolutely no added seasoning. That is exactly what my message is:

    Skip a meal; enjoy your food more.

    Thanks for the great comment, Grok.

    • Grok says:

      Right on! For sure I don’t eat just because it’s time. Well, not in the CW way anyway 😉

      Paleo + IF = Everything taste hyper-flavor!

    • Grok says:

      P.S. The bird in KTE was half raw, half leather because I was so pressed for time cooking it. Still magical! The apple would’ve tasted good to anyone, but after all that food-less hiking… it was a mouth orgy!

  4. Al says:

    The problem with this diet is that moat people can’t eat ONLY fruits and vegetables for the rest of their lives. Most people like meat, but most people (including myself) can not eat JUST fruits and veggies all the time. Please correct me if i am wrong.

  5. Al says:

    I just can not eat ONLY fruits and veggies all the time. Themeat is not a problem but the other i just can not handle.

  6. Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

    @Al,

    Charles Washington over at Zeroing in on Health advocates that vegetables and fruits are not needed, and he demonstrates that well.

    http://blog.zeroinginonhealth.com/

    Even Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories explains that vegetables and fruits are not needed.

    In other words, these people are implying that you can eat all the meats and their natural fats all you want.

    If you’re saying that you cannot eat only vegetables and fruits and must include other carbohydrates, then it is a decision you’ve made, and to be respected. Giving up grain-based carbohydrates is not easy, as they are so versatile that they’ve been made into addictive constituents of the diet — easily digested, hyper-flavored, cheap, and abundant.

    To give them up permanently, you have to realize it takes 3 things: 1) Motivation, 2) Commitment, and 3) Time. Grain-based carbohydrates, similar to sugar, cause addiction not unlike drugs. It takes an equal amount of effort to break the addiction.

    But if you feel that you still want/need more than JUST vegetables and fruits, then you can still include tubers like sweet potatoes, parsnips, and other root vegetables. If you must include grain, then do so in limited quantities and go for sprouted grains, because they contain less anti-nutrients and more bioavailability of useful nutrients.

    Just remember, the more starchy, easily digestible carbohydrates you eat, the more you will probably want to eat them. And they provide a poor ratio of nutrients to calories.

    • Al says:

      1)I can’t find which particular post you were mentioning on blog.zeroingonhealth website

      2) I am not worried about needing carbs. I am just worried that if I cut out F&V’s I will leave myself with just meat to eat. I don’t know if i can stick with that long term.

      3)Thanks for the advice!

      • Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

        Although some people successfully cut out fruits and vegetables and eat only meats, I don’t think you have to eliminate fruits and vegetables at all. I encourage that they make up a good portion of the diet. If you’re able to eat a WIDE variety of fruits and vegetables, using all sorts of seasoning and spices, I’d bet that you’ll be able to live with just F&V (and, of course, meats) for the rest of your life and not miss anything else. Having said that, social participation is an important part of being modern man, therefore I believe it’s good to still enjoy stuff with sugar and made with grains once in a (long) while. The most important thing to remember is to eat responsibly and mindfully. Other than that, I don’t like to stress about food.

    • Al says:

      Nevermind, I found that stuff i needed on his site. Thanks!

    • Al says:

      After chcking out the zeroiginonhealth site, i believe that i can do this long term. I guess i just needed to see if it can actually be done and still be good for you too. Thanks for the reference.

      • Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

        You’re welcome, Al. In many populations and cultures, this is the only diet they’ve known and used for generations.

      • Grok says:

        A diet that was potentiality consumed in some shape or form for millions of years sounds like it’s probably fairly healthy to me 😉

  7. Joshua says:

    hey jonny! never heard from you whether you carb-loaded periodically with lowfat starch ridden meals (for glycogen levels, and thyroid and leptin)

  8. Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

    @Joshua,

    Thanks for the reminder! Here’s my response to your question in the original post:

    http://theleansaloon.com/2009/12/22/ghrelin-its-ok-to-be-hungry/#comment-238

    Thanks for reading, and if you or anyone have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

  9. Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

    Also, Joshua, concerning leptin:

    Leptin is released by the fat cells when they’re filled with consumed calories. This hormone then tells the brain that energy is met and satisfied.

    But leptin is both a good and evil hormone, depending on its status in your body.

    An over-stimulation and chronic release of leptin (through overeating) can cause leptin resistance, in which case the brain can no longer “hear” the message of satiety. So you continue to eat without achieving satiation.

    Constant eating might create chronic leptin release, encouraging leptin resistance. Intermittent fasting, however, controls leptin release and may prevent or even repair leptin resistance. Long-term calorie restriction (CR, which is not the same as IF) can suppress leptin level — but I’m unsure how this affect anything, other than keeping the brain from sensing satiation.

    I think the most important thing about leptin is ensuring maximum receptor sensitivity to this hormone. IF may actually help, with its periods of fasting and refeeding.

  10. Josh says:

    Thanks for the response, man! makes a lot of sense…I’ve got intermittent fasting incorporated into my lifestyle and I love it…However, I tend to carb load periodically with lots of grain products (mostly sprouted). I’m beginning to feel addicted to these carb loads and it his hard to be satiated on starch-only meals. After reading your response I feel comfortable scrapping the “loads” and perhaps just eat more yams/potatoes periodically

    • Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

      If you’re going to eat grains, then sprouted grains is the better choice. But best to stay with yams and other tubers.

      I certainly enjoy yams, especially “pancake yams” (mashed yams fried in coconut oil).

  11. Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

    Grok, I do remember reading this. Thanks for the reminder, as I always keep my mind on what foods offer a high nutritional value for the calories they carry.

  12. Lou Monty says:

    I was a all-vegetable for 27 years supplementing my diet program with seafood for 23 of those years. I was having bad outbreaks of herpes simplex on my lips which appeared to only get uglier as time went on. I was also getting a lot more muscle tissue and joint aches and general exhaustion as well. My gum disease was not going away regardless of brushing and flossing consistently and staying away from sugars. It was researching about the coconut oil conundrum that ultimately put me over the edge into drastically transforming my eating habits. Learn the truth about coconut oil at well-informed-sources[dot]com

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