Why are you about to put that in your mouth? I started asking myself this several years ago, to bring guilt-free consciousness to my nutrition.
There are five levels of purpose to eating:
5. Survival: Many places I’ve traveled in the world, people were desperate for anything upon which they could subsist. During the period of my life when I was homeless and couch-surfing friends apartments, I was grateful for anything I could find to eat, or given as a gift. When you’re starving, no one cares about organic, local, whole, grass-fed, or nutrient dense. You just want to eat.
4. Energy: Only slightly above subsistence, when you can afford to buy surplus food, but your work and time demands intervene upon your ability to plan and schedule, then you eat what will give you the ability to make it to through the next task. Many times in school or while working abroad, I bought the nearest, fastest food I could ingest so that I could endure my job, or continue to study, train or get home.
3. Mood: Above the cold fact that you need immediate energy, we can choose to eat to improve or alter the feeling that we are having. Too much of any one thing, or too little of another, can wreak havoc on our emotions. They make us feel nostalgic or comforted based upon how the drug anchored with a specific positive event in our past. My comfort food was blueberry pie: so when I was really stressed, I’d devour one to relax. Sweets, carbs and fats seem to cause us pleasure but snare us to repeatedly administering more of the drug for the same effect.
2. Performance: Above energy and mood, we can eat to fine tune our work, training or activities. Not that we elect the healthiest alternatives, but rather that we are purely attempting to create a specific physical, emotional or mental effect with what we eat. I’ve been in great “shape” in my past, but unhealthily. Here we adjust the portions, the combinations of fats, carbs and proteins to elicit a target result in our output. Many right ways to do this, but they don’t necessarily have to be healthy.
1. Health: Eating to improve our health, to live longer (or at least to not shorten our lives with illness and disease) remains the most controversial topic. Primarily in a society of abundance, do you find these arguments, because we can choose to not eat healthily. I find these debates fascinating, but exploratory, as research is often insufficient, funding usually suspect and opinions mostly biased. This exceeds mere performance, because i can eat in the short term to achieve an objective, what ultimately will bring about illness and disease in the long term. I know intuitively what makes me healthier. I can see, feel and experience my health regardless of any expert’s opinion to the contrary. But I do not doubt for a moment that my health is a luxury for which I am overwhelmingly grateful.
Some would like to put “Joy” or “Pleasure” above Health. Eating for an emotion, regardless of the positivity of the emotion, is still eating for a mood-altering experience. We can eat unhealthy foods for “joy”, as we can “savor” low-performance nutrition. However, we can also eat high performance, healthy food which cause no shift in mood, can be difficult to savor and enjoy, as the powerful medicinal quality of food which we need for performance and health often isn’t “pleasurable.” Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food, advised the founder of modern medicine - Hippocrates.
When you open your mouth, and insert a substance, do it consciously; decide, I am eating this to survive, for energy, to change my mood, to perform sufficiently, or to improve my health. Then, be guilt-free. You choose exactly why you ingested it. You don’t need to carry any baggage when you’ve done this consciously.
If you want to change the purpose of why you’re eating, only bringing consciousness to the behavior will empower you.
Finally, let’s stop arguing about how others are eating. We don’t know what life is like for them, or the choices they feel they need to make. Let them be. Let’s focus on our selves.