Blog Action Day 2011: Your Relationship with Food

(This post was written for Blog Action Day 2011. I decided to participate because the roll of participants was filled mostly with vegans all set to blog about how awful it is to eat meat. We’re not about that, so I decided to take a more universal tact. Hope you enjoy.)

It’s fascinating to think about the overall human relationship with food; it’s complicated and interesting. We’re too smart for our own good, you know. Your brain is constantly interfering with your eating habits. Consider this: no one teaches a grazing animal what and how to eat. A carnivore may be taught how to hunt, but once a kill is down he’s eating it. Most animals don’t even grow up with other members of their species, yet know exactly how to feed themselves.

But people? What a jumbled mess of misfiring instincts and cross polluting influences! We’re the only animals that go hungry by choice. We’re the only animals that will eat themselves into permanent immobility. Humans are the only animals that can and will eat non-indigenous foods (apes don’t import bananas to Africa, after all). We even voluntarily eat food that is essentially inedible or inaccessible in its natural state (See: grains and seed oils). We, as the only species that routinely cooks, have developed the completely alien concept of “cuisine” and derive pleasure from preparing foods in special ways.

I say this now, as a recovering compulsive eater. I cannot resist something placed in front of me and will eat anything, simply because it is available, without considering if I want it, need it, or even like it.  I will go to town on sugar. I would be living on sugar today if there were not compelling reasons not to.  A decade ago, my lunch was a whole pizza or two candy bars and a liter of coke.

You know those failed adults you’ll meet from time to time that insist that they do not like vegetables and won’t try them? That was me on my first date with Stacy. I ordered a cheeseburger with double sides of french fries and more french fries.

Today, I make food. Not food products deep fried in industrial seed oils and covered up by overly processed refined carbohydrates. I write recipes for this here moderately successful family food & health blog and wrote a book based in large part on what I cook for my family. I make food that is tasty and nutritious every day.  What I find is that people love food. They love to look at it. Taste it. Test it. Talk about it. FOOD!

Why has food so completely taken over the lives of so many first world people? An academic analysis of what food is supposed to be would lead to one conclusion: fuel. But through evolution we humans have had an awesome twist of fate; now our relationship with food has become a bit twisted. It’s delicious. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. On the other hand, our social constructs and desires lead even the most knowledgeable and educated members of our species to damage the very processes that once kept the species alive.

For example, I am a compulsive eater because once upon a time, maybe in the frozen Scandanavia of my father’s family, maybe the Africa of my more distant ancestors, food was scarce. In scarce times, you better eat everything you see that’s vaguely edible and eat it all because you don’t know when the next vaguely edible food stuff is coming.

I am sugar obsessed because sugar is the most readily usable energy source for the body that is also readily converted into fat stores. In paleolithic times, sugar essentially meant only one food: fruit. Fruit goes bad or gets eaten very quickly, so a sweet tooth would have helped survival of the fittest. If you’re a hairless primate and you find some fruit, gorge on it! It won’t be around for long and you need fat to survive winter!

I’m no different from anyone else. I cook food and try to make it taste better because eating is pleasurable. In fact, everything essential in life is pleasurable. Sex, food, relaxation, sleep and even breathing (what’s better than that first deep breath after being underwater for a long time?). For us food-kateers, making something that hits all the pleasure centers in your brain is our goal. It’s where we thrive. It’s when we get to puff out our chest with pride, pump our fist in the air and get excited that you experienced joy from what used to simply be food.

These days, thanks to Paleo, I now have a deeper, truer understanding of the relationship between food as fuel and hitting that pleasure center in your brain. Now that I’ve identified where my instincts, cravings, and desires are coming from, I’m better able to respond in ways which nourish my body. How awesome that such choices just so happen to be getting my body leaner and stronger.

Today for lunch, I cooked a half pound of pastured venison and ate it with a little bit of mustard. I was completely satisfied. When I was getting ready for lunch, I could have chosen to eat chocolate or bananas or skip it all and just drink coffee (or as Robb Wolf says, cash in at the adrenal ATM). But I realized I ought to eat protein, I was craving protein, so I made it.

Most people will never be able to truly analyze their relationship with food, even to the limited degree I have started doing. The problem really is, they don’t even have the desire to do so. They want to gawk at some food, work up an appetite and then head out to McDonald’s for some quick cheap eats that respond to those pleasure calls in their brain. That puts me in a somewhat awkward situation.

If you are unhappy with how fat you are, how unhealthy you are, or how you feel, I think I could possibly help you. But I don’t have a fast food chain with high quality food made quick, easy and cheap. Nothing is an easy fix for you to pop in your mouth and magically melt into an athlete. You need willpower to make the right choices, as often as you reasonably can. And that means THINKING about your FOOD, how it affects you and what your body really needs it for.

So, I turn it over to you, dear readers, what is your relationship to food and eating? I’m curious to know.

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