Food Is More Than Fuel

We’ve all heard that familiar saying: “Food is fuel!”

Recently I came across this article from Precision Nutrition, which argues the exact opposite: Food is not fuel.

It was one of the best nutrition articles I’ve read in a long time, because it took into account the dynamic nature of the human body and health, and how those dynamics affect the relationship between a body and the food that fuels it.   As my research (as well as my own experience) has taught me, food is more than the sum of its parts calories. If health is a house, your food is the foundation.  A foundation should fit the measurements of the house, of course, but a foundation’s value is not based merely on size.  It has to have integrity, it has to provide stability, it has to be balanced, it has to provide the base off of which a quality (read: health) house (read: body) is built.  Likewise, food needs to provide energy in order for the body to survive, but it is the parts of food that cannot be measured in kilocalories that provide the body what it needs to thrive.

food is not fuel

You can check out these links for more on how food affects neurological health, fertility and reproduction,  depression and anxiety, acne, alcoholism, other addictions, and insomnia, among so many other issues.

On top of all that food does for the body in terms of health, it’s also something to be savored and enjoyed.  Unlike putting fuel in your gas tank, having meal is an opportunity to enjoy good company and community, which is an investment in your social, emotional, and relational health.  (Mediterranean cultures are well known for this.)  Treating food as something that is a source of energy and nothing more downplays its value and its role in our lives.

Obviously, I may be biased…mama likes to eat, you know?…but I think that most of us would do well to appreciate food beyond its capacity to give us energy.  After all, the fact that we can have food on the table at all is a blessing that is too-often taken for granted.  Let’s make the most of that blessing.  Maybe it’s time to stop slowly starving yourself. Maybe it’s time to unglue yourself from the calorie-counting apps.  Maybe it’s time to start choosing foods that promote health rather than just a quick jolt of energy.  Maybe it’s time for more homecooked meals and less Lean Cuisines.  Maybe it’s time to stop calculating “if it fits your macros” and start considering “if it promotes your health.”

Grab some friends, stir up some soup, break some bread, and boost those seretonin levels. (Can’t really do that at the gas station, can you?)

5 thoughts on “Food Is More Than Fuel

  1. Oh man, I used to be all about the “food is fuel” idea and couldn’t eat anything outside of lean protein and healthy carbs and fats! Thankfully I got past that stage and can now appreciate that food is meant to be enjoyed ALL of the time 🙂

    Plus, I’ve never hit a PR after eating chicken and broccoli – just saying!

  2. I used to be all about the phrase ‘food is fuel’ and, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I find myself slipping back into this mindset but I do know better now! I think I slip back into it mostly when I am eating a restaurant. For me, the excessive amount of calories in restaurant food compared to a similar homemade dish make it hard for me to order anything but salad. I know, I know, work in progress…

    1. Yeah, restaurants can be tricky for me, too! Most of the time, the food is not that delicious, so it doesn’t seem worth the toll on my body from putting in less-than-healthy ingredients. (It’s more about food quality than calorie quantity, though.) When it comes to authentic homecooked dishes, I say bring it on!

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