You have probably heard of the saying, “Work to live. Don’t live to work.” Recently it just occurred to me that the same thing is true for food. During an age where the entire globe seems to be obsessed with food, weight and health/beauty ideals, it is about time we realize: We eat to live, we don’t live to eat!
[“Eat to live” also happens to be the slogan and title of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, which explains the nutritarian diet.]
Do you find that your day revolves around your eating schedule? Do you long for the next meal like it’s your salvation? A lot of people are plagued with what they perceive as cravings for a certain food, a sweet, or a caffeinated beverages. What they are most likely experiencing, however, is a feeling of emptiness and boredom that they try to fill desperately by chewing on something. People turn to constant snacking to break out of the routine, to add a little pleasure sensation throughout the day.
There are three things essential to our survival in the physical realm: air (oxygen), water, and food, respectively. Notice that food is only the third requirement on the list. We can survive weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without oxygen. We need to fill our lungs with oxygen and make it available for assimilation by our cells almost immediately. Water makes up about 60-70% of the average human body, and balance must be maintained between intake and output. Food takes a much longer time to be processed and integrated into the tissue and eventually to the cellular level.
The process of digestion and metabolism of the food has been studied extensively but still remains among the most controversial sciences. This, in turn, is responsible for the myriad of opposing dietary theories that float around the media, are propagated by the government in the form of food pyramids and guides, and are taught on all different levels at schools and universities. However, with mixed messages from food and health industries, and a focus on convenience and consumerism rather than sustainability and nature, people are as confused as ever about what to eat. According to Michael Pollen, author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” the human body is nourished by only about 1/4 of what we eat, and the rest of what the average person consumes is only detrimental to the health (see interview here).
Industrialized countries in particular have become obsessed with staying healthy and fit and determining the proper eating habits. Third world, countries, on the other hand (which, incidentally, have the lowest rates of psychological illnesses such as depression) don’t seem as concerned.
Even if you genuinely try to eat well and lead a ‘healthy lifestyle’ – the overwhelming presence of food as the centerpiece of our society is evident. We are constantly setting up lunch and dinner work and romantic dates, and checking out the local spots for good food and drinks to socialize. Our schedules revolve around food, and our day is broken up by eating times. We are habitually bombarded with food imagery from the media, and enticed by the smells of food encountered wherever we go. We let our stomachs govern our entire existence!
There is no question about it, food gives us more than just cellular nutrients – it has complex interaction with hormonal and neurotransmitter systems, which make us feel good. This may sound shocking, but here is a consideration: shift focus away from food and towards fulfilling your life with satisfaction on a much deeper level. Think about what spaces you are trying to crowd out by temporary “food highs.” Things like meaningful relationships, a career where you feel valued, a spiritual practice you believe in, physical exercise and ways to express your creativity are all areas of life that are often overlooked. Yet these are the things that truly count, that make us fully human on an emotional and spiritual level. It is no wonder health is defined as the sum total of physical, emotional, and social well-being (WHO definition).
Living healthily entails more than what you put in your plate and into your physical body. Living your life according to your dreams, goals, and values, with the people that you want to share it with, needs to be addressed. Only then can full health be achieved by proper nutrition.