We are supposed to eat to live, not live to eat. But that wisdom is lost on so many of us, who routinely overindulge in our favorite foods (or on food that just happens to be there). The term “comfort food” speaks to the emotional attachment people tend to have to dishes and items that can make them feel good when life has got them down or out of sorts. In fact, some of us have emotional attachments to food in general; we run to food when we are happy, when we are sad, when we want to celebrate, when we feel insecure. We have social functions centered around food and holiday gatherings that combine family time (yay!) with total gluttony (boo!)…

I’ve long since had an unhealthy relationship with food. A lightly chubby child who became a “thick” teenager and a big college girl, my eating was so often patterned around how I felt, not what nutrition I needed to take in to fuel my ever expanding body. While I kept a pescatarian (fish-only) diet that was relatively low in salt and devoid of fried foods, I was a sugar monster with a major Starbucks habit and love of all baked goods. And, I NEVER worked out. A major “this has to stop” moment occurred when I was a few years out of school and I took control of my eating and activity levels. I became a gym rat and over the course of two years, I lost over sixty pounds. Despite having some gym-related setbacks (a relatively major injury, changing schedules, and a hard time getting back on track after a long absence), I’ve kept the weight off for almost two years now.

While my eating habits are much better than they were when I was pairing white chocolate mochas with turtle brownies, my struggle with food is far from over. I’ve finally been able to process the fact that not only will the cookies I’d be inclined to grab when sad not cure my blues, but the poundage it can add will invariably make me sadder. I know that when I use food to nurse loneliness or boredom, the problem remains and the relief is temporary. The hurdle now is letting go of my attachment to foods that are terrible for me, yet make me feel great when I eat them. I’m still a sugar monster, but I have to manage in moderation. Occasional indulgence, not constantly “treating myself” is the key.

Food should be more than simply functional; all of our five senses are wired to receive pleasure and we should absolutely enjoy eating, considering that we must do it daily to survive. However, we must ensure that we are providing our temple with the materials it needs to run well: fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, vitamins and nutrients. The sugary, greasy, fattening delights are not the only deliciously indulgent things to eat and we have to balance finding the “yummy” in what’s good for us and the restraint to limit the intake of what is bad. Common sense, but so very hard.

If a sad day finds you craving a pint of ice cream, take a long walk to clear your thoughts instead. If you still really want that Eddy’s, grab a single serving cup, not a quart. Don’t order a pizza because you’re bored, finish that book you’ve been dying to read instead. Call a good girlfriend when lonely, not the pizza guy. Food is not your friend and is not your safe place when life gets you down. Bad health from a bad diet (which is not restricted to, nor guaranteed of the overweight; many slim people can’t walk up a flight of stairs, let alone run a mile, due to poor eating/low exercise) can cost you the opportunity to experience joys that are far more thrilling than a bowl of ice cream Take control and free yourself to experience the world’s truest sweetness.

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    I live to eat. As a kid, while my sibs watchex cartoons on sat mornings, I would watch the frugal gourmet and yan can cook, in hs, I didn’t write boys names in my notebooks, but menus and recipes I’d day dream. I was always an athlete, and being a new yorker I walked every, but life ain the suburbs of dc has taken its toll on the physique. I love to cook and so most of what I eat is what I make, a lot brown rice, beans, fish. Veg, fruits, but I also love my meat (not just the healthy lean stuff, gimme them oxtails too). To get ready for my bffs bsachelorette party in cancun, we made a google-doc workout tracker – the mutual inspiration health log. So we can see – wow, L is lazy as hell and she ran 4 miles??? I’m definitely kickin up up my 2.5 to 3.5mi today!!
    It has helped all of us get on track… Cuz it feels soooo good entering ur workout logs and seeing ur beautiful accomplishments over the course of a mont or so. It also helps us all root for and motivate each other to not fall off

    • Wow ads, you’re my TV twin. I used to watch Yan Can Cook and the Frugal Gourmet instead of cartoons, too!
      Anyway, I agree that there’s anything wrong with “living to eat” as long as we eat consciously and with moderation. Good food is meant to be enjoyed (and shared).

  • MiMi

    I agree. I LOVE food. but never ate out of emotion. I just like to eat. But as a woman your metabolism changes when you get older and in my 20s I could burn off anything I ate. Now in my 30s I realize I may LOVE food, but food may not love me. I’ve always been a healthy eater, its carbs that are my enemy but lover behind closed doors LOL! I LOVE LOVE LOVE Bread, rolls you name it. But it’s not good for you so, with everything in life moderation is the key. Glad to have read this article.

  • amarie

    wow, i can relate on so many levels. i’m also a pescatarian and avoid fried foods, but boy oh boy do i love my carbs and sweets. the food truck craze that is taking over the nation is ruining my life. definitely need to avoid the food truck orgy festivals.

    i did the gym thing and lost about 20 pounds but i couldn’t keep up with it. i was getting up at 6 am for work everyday, and going to sleep at midnight or 1 am, and i was exhausted. then i had a foot injury so i took a break, had a death in the family and took a longer break, the holidays hit and i quit lol. now i’m trying to figure out a routine that’s more feasible and fun (the gym is just so monotonous). i’ve done pole dancing, working on hula hooping now, and belly dancing is next. these activities give me something to look forward and i feel that same dread as when i was on the stairmaster.

  • fahrealtho

    I think the concept of eating every few hours/5- 6 small meals per day is really more about will power and control and NOT about metabolism. If you think about it, eating the smaller meals more frequently will help you to stay full longer so you are less likely to overeat. The only way to know if your “metabolism” is messed up is when you realize you stopped loosing weight. I have lost the most weight when I did NOT eat the six small meals, but that’s not to say you wouldn’t lose any weight eating the six small meals.

    My issue is eating stuff without thinking. I ate a few tortillas a few moments ago, maybe 1 full serving (or 12 chips), and while it’s not a part of my diet, i don’t think it’s that bad. I plan on doing an hour of cardio this evening to burn the excess.

    I have always been a little greedy, and it’s my daily struggle to stop the greedy madness, because as you know the usual greed doesn’t push you to eating carrots and broccoli but cakes and pies. Ooh tummy grumbling, must resist cookies!