Food, Fuel, and Feelings: An Epiphany

The phrase “food is fuel” comes up time and time again in the running and fitness communities. “You need to fuel your body with foods that help it feel good and perform at its highest level.” I’ve heard that a thousand times, and more than one therapist told me to try and view food as fuel during the darkest times of my recovery from my eating disorder. We also hear a lot of recommendations to think about how a certain food makes us  feel and use that information to decide what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat. To be honest, I have never been terribly successful at this, but I didn’t really think about why until this past week, when I had an epiphany (you guys know I love a good epiphany).


A quick google image search of “food is fuel” returns about a thousand memes and images like this

Let me back up a bit. I’ve been teaching and taking barre about 5 days a week, and of course, I’ve been training for a marathon. In an effort to eat more vegetables, I’ve started eating yummy salads for lunch each day, and I’ve bumped up my fruit intake as well, just trying to eat a more balanced diet. I’ve cut back on alcohol with the simple rule of making sure I don’t drink on more days of the week than days that I do. That’s it.  I haven’t thought about or tracked my calories at all, I’ve just tried to think about eating as many whole foods as possible and let the rest take care of itself. As a result of cleaning up my diet a bit and finding a great balance between barre and running, I have lost a few pounds, but most importantly, I’ve felt better than ever. I’m prioritizing my sleep, staying organized, and trying to keep my stress levels down. I feel truly strong and powerful but also graceful and lean, and it has been awesome!

Last week, though, I had a busy week involving a couple days in the swamps for work, a hectic morning where I thought I would be working from home but ended up having to run into the office (thereby not having any lunch or snacks), and I ended up eating out a lot more than I normally do. I got out of my routine, and I didn’t feel great.

What, your job doesn’t involve you wearing a headlight and walking in knee deep water in culverts underneath the interstate to look for endangered bats? Weird. I thought everyone’s did.

But the reason I didn’t feel great wasn’t because I felt “fat” or heavy or whatever else, which is how I normally thought about how a food makes me feel. In the past, if whatever I was eating made me feel “skinny,” no matter how lethargic or run down I felt or how junky the food was, I equated that food with making me feel good. If the food made me feel “fat” or bloated or heavy or whatever else, even if I had a lot of energy and it was good, whole foods, than that food automatically, in my mind, made me feel bad. I honestly did not have any other frame of reference for feelings that food could give me.

I realized last week that that is an incredibly oversimplified (and honestly STUPID) way to look at food. Last week I was eating foods that actually didn’t make me feel fat – they were still decent enough choices, really. Nothing too crazy. But I was eating out a lot, eating more simple carbs and less protein than usual, and I realized I was more tired and lethargic. I didn’t have as much energy! I didn’t really feel any heavier, but I still felt bad. It was a light bulb moment for me, as dumb as that sounds. It is possible for a food to make you feel bad without it making you feel fat. Whoa!


A few too many bagel sandwiches were probably consumed this week

I also found that I was a lot more hungry than usual, most likely because I was not fueling (there’s that word again) my body with the highest quality stuff, and wasn’t eating the whole foods I’ve become used to.  Nothing catastrophic happened this week. I didn’t collapse at my desk or anything, but I did realize that if I can feel really good, why would I not want to? It’s awesome (and necessary, for me at least) to indulge at times and eat foods that are just delicious and don’t offer a ton of nutritional value, but doing that day in and day out is just not how I want my body to feel and work each day.

So yeah, I guess this is one of those “OMG duh, Danielle” blog posts that I have been known to write, but I love learning more about myself and my body. It’s exciting to discover that all the things that I used to think were the gospel truth about food and body confidence aren’t necessarily the case at all, and learning to separate the feelings of “good” and “bad” from “skinny” and fat” is a pretty important lesson. Hey, the more you know!

LEAVE A COMMENT: What foods make you feel great and what make you feel terrible? Do you think of food as fuel, or is that a challenge for you also?

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