In our society, food serves as more than a function of nourishment. It is used as entertainment, a coping mechanism (both over indulging and under indulging), art, pleasure, and the list can go on. And, as a result, it serves as more than just fuel for a sport. Just as in the past we have talked about wanting to create variance in our movement so must we create variance in how we look at food. This comes from creating awareness around our actions with food. When I was in the military we were told a story about how Russian’s in communist Russia were only given two season choices… salt and pepper. They created a view of their food as fuel because they had no other option (this was the moral of the story for us as well, food is fuel, shut up and eat it.) It created a relationship of scarcity, while this may have kept them alive and fueled, if they were ever put into a situation of abundance they might not know how to handle and moderate what they were eating. While in our society it is a great thing to live with abundance it also comes with its share of negative consequences. We can begin to forget that food is fuel, and we can cave into using it in abundance for entertainment, pleasure, and/or as a coping mechanism. Potentially taking us further away from our goals.
It is preached inside of fitness communities that our biggest enemy is ourselves. We have a tendency to go to extremes when it comes to food - overeating on one end to starving ourselves on the other end. When this happens, we begin a downward spiral of negative thoughts about how we can’t control our temptations. It is this downward spiral of negativity that continues to feed the habits that are keeping us further from our goals and developing a healthy relationship with our food.
This isn’t to say that we should coddle ourselves or the ones that we are trying to help, but rather, understand that we are human, and that as humans we aren’t p erfect. We will all have slip ups and each slip should be viewed as a learning experience. According to Carol Dweck Author of Mindset and contributor to this study it is your perception of things that is most important to create upwards progress when you are trying to create a habit change. Instead of allowing negative thoughts and feelings consume our minds, we should see these experiences as learning opportunities to help us create better habits.
When we have goals in a sport that requires us to be properly fueled (especially performance sports), or goals to maintain a certain weight, we have to develop a healthy relationship with food. While this mostly means relying on recognizing food as fuel, we also have to find a balance between utilizing it to fit our goals and recognizing the moments or situations where we might be using it for coping purposes or pleasure and rationalizing those scenarios with the bigger picture.
If you are struggling with developing this mindset around food as fuel, and you have performance or fitness related goals, the first step is to recognize when habits aren’t aligning with goals. This is mostly done through education. The more we know and understand about how food interacts with our body, what is and isn’t healthy for us, the better informed we are about the decisions we are making and the more aware we become as to how those decisions are affecting our bigger goals. The harder part is making changes around those decisions.
It is said that the best in the world don’t have better self control than others, they just limit the number of choices they either need to make, or that will distract them from their goals. When creating a better relationship with food it is both important to educate yourself and simultaneously form habits that are going to make it easier to create choices that align with your goals. While this is not easy at first, over time, if we keep working, we will have molded ourselves into the person we want to be and will have created a lifestyle that allows us to continue an upwards progression towards our goals.