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Many people have a complicated relationship with food, and if you are one of those people, you are not alone. Some find that affirmations, or helpful reminders about food’s purpose, can help with feelings of anxiety or guilt before and after mealtimes and snacks. A common phrase, especially within the eating disorder recovery community, is “food is fuel.” This affirmation is intended to shift perspectives from a fear around food to appreciating the essential purpose it serves in one’s life. 

Early on in my recovery process I was told that “food is fuel” to help understand the miraculous and beautiful way our bodies break down specific nutrients in different ways to help us build muscle, provide energy and keep our brains working, hearts beating and blood pumping. In other words, food helps us put one step in front of the other, living and moving each day and reminds us how truly remarkable our bodies are for keeping us alive! And initially, this perspective helped when thoughts of restriction arose and motivated me to feel the fear and eat the food anyway, knowing it was fueling my body. 

However, as I’ve progressed further in my personal recovery journey I’ve been reminded of the ways in which food is SO much more than fuel. Food can be joy, comfort, connection, solace, memory, excitement and tradition. And it’s OK to feel all these things about food. Sometimes it’s what we use to cope, to help us through a particularly difficult or traumatizing time (hello COVID-19), and other times it’s what we use to celebrate and draw us near to others. 

When I see food as more than fuel I think of my Mom’s homemade carrot cake, the mouth-watering masterpiece she lovingly makes for my birthday (and many times in between), which I’ve recently learned to bake myself when I moved to Scotland. Making the cake tempers waves of homesickness, makes me feel close to her and in some moments feels like the kindest thing I can do for myself. I think of teaching my British flatmates how to make the American delicacies of Mickey Mouse chocolate chip pancakes and sheet pan loaded nachos. I think of driving the Scottish coast in search of the freshest fish and chips. And I think of exploring my new city and stopping at every bakery and cafe along the way. Food connects me to home faraway while also keeping me present to the experiences of my everyday.

Appreciating food and our emotions that come with it can be scary in a society that tells us to remain neutral or punishing in our relationship with food and our bodies. But our lives are meant for so much more than counting calories. When you open yourself up to enjoying food you give yourself permission to enjoy life. 

By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image