Food is Fuel.
This is a popular mantra amongst the eating disorder recovery community. It uses it to highlight the necessity of food, thus aiming to provide a compelling reason for a person to conquer their eating disorder.
It also intends to strip away the automatic negative associations that many of us have about certain foods. ‘Fattening’, ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ are eschewed to emphasize the inescapable fact that food is essential for life.
Whilst the use of this phrase is almost always meant positively, it can also cause harm.
Sadly, the use of this saying can be counterproductive, as it may ironically end up reinforcing some of the attitudes it intends to dispel. Stating that ‘food is fuel’ reduces eating to a singular purpose with no room for anything but its most basic function. Many of us with eating disorders already have incredibly reductive, black-and-white views of food. We may view macronutrients, particular diets, specific foods, or entire food groupings as unequivocally ‘bad’. The last thing we need is to have this perspective endorsed by people who’re trying to overcome eating disorders. The ‘food is fuel’ mentality pushes us further into the belief that eating can be minimized into cold, clinical, and dispassionate categories which ignore the myriad other functions of eating.
Food is culture, community, nostalgia, sociability, pleasure, family, and heritage, and a has a whole host of other meanings. Simply reducing food to ‘fuel’ resounds like the echo of damaging diet culture rhetoric which many of us are actively resisting.
So, how can we reject this message and make progress in our recovery?
1. Stop reading nutritional labels
Each time we analyze the nutritional content of food, we teach our brain that these numbers and ingredients are important. Naturally, our attention becomes increasingly drawn toward this information and it gains a higher priority within our relationship with food. By actively ignoring nutritional information, you’re eating for the vital reasons why healthy psychology around food is so essential, and it will encourage others to do the same.
2. Don’t engage in diet culture conversations
If discussions of diet culture (and all its attendant obsessions with the quality, quantity, and nutritional aspects of food) are detrimental to your recovery, then politely disengage from the conversation. Don’t accidentally reinforce the damaging ideology we’re trying to resist. Prioritize yourself; your well-being is important!
3. Choose foods that bring you closer to others
Seize the opportunity to eat in a way that consolidates your emotional relationships with other people. Join in when everyone gets pizza, enjoy a cappuccino, or go for spontaneous drinks. Choose food, life, and friendships instead of the cage of restriction, obsession, and control.
We know that food is so much more than just fuel, so let’s promote that with our actions, and resist the dogma of a culture that fixates on the food it’s consuming. This dangerous obsession is not making any of us healthier or happier.