On Thursday on my walk, I was listening to Episode 112 of Nutrition Matters and the guest Kara Lydon said something that really resonated with me. She said, “By reducing food to numbers, we’re kind of missing the bigger picture.”
Food is absolutely fuel for our bodies – the carbs, fat, protein, and micronutrients we get from food are vital to proper functioning, movement, and feeling our best. That being said, nutrition is important, but it isn’t everything.
Our bodies aren’t machines. Eating and movement are not as simple as calories in, calories out. Diet culture tells us that we can control our weight or our appearance by focusing on the numbers: eat x calories per day or this many grams of fat or only eat between these hours every day. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There isn’t even a strict one-size-fits-one approach. There’s room for flexibility. More importantly, there are a lot of factors playing into our metabolism, most of which are out of our control and don’t fit in to the “calories in, calories out” way of living – genetics, hormones, our environment, and stressors just to name a few.
Beyond the fact that our metabolism is largely out of our control, food is more than just fuel for our bodies. It’s more than just calories and grams of macronutrients.
Food is about satisfaction. Did that meal or dessert truly satisfy you? Was something missing?
Food is about pleasure and connection. Eating makes us happy. We connect with family and friends over meals, happy hours, coffee dates. Plus WE ALL EAT. Food: the ultimate common ground. For a deeper perspective, this TED talk details how connections we make in our lifetime are predictive of health. Good relationships predict good health. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.” – Robert Waldinger
Food is about celebration. As people, we celebrate life milestones and holidays with food. Food serves as a meal just as often as it serves as a tradition.
Satisfaction. Pleasure. Connection. Celebration. You can’t measure these but they all play into our health.
When we reduce food to numbers we take for granted our mental health, a crucial piece of our big picture. Counting calories and tracking macros is stressful and promotes all or nothing thinking when it comes to food. This constant stress takes a toll on your health, whether or not you meet your calorie goals for the week.
Reducing food to numbers detracts from the joy and satisfaction we are supposed to get from food. That’s what resonated with me so much about what Kara said. We shouldn’t ignore the bigger picture – the fact that food plays a role in our emotional, mental, and relationship health as well as our physical health. Yes, the nutrients in food matter. But so does the context in which you’re eating that food.
Next time you’re deciding what to eat, I challenge you to decide not based on the time of day or the number of calories, but rather from a place of satisfaction and pleasure. I think it will make a difference.