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  • Writer's pictureRachel Bennett

What are you craving?

A friend said something recently that has stuck with me all day. He was being very specific in his declaration of health and at one point he said, “I consume only foods that are fuel…”. Now this is not news. One of the first lessons I learned when I started really making changes in my health five years ago was the concept of food as fuel instead of a hug. It changed my whole world. I started to pay more attention to what I was putting in my body in consideration of my goals instead of just grabbing whatever. Or shoving in as much as I could as I binged away my anxiety and poor time management. What really struck me in this moment, listening to my friend, was the freedom there is in setting this as a standard method of operation.

You see, when food is fuel, it takes out the emotion of it. You wouldn’t put Gatorade in your gas tank just as much you wouldn’t put gasoline in your body. It’s not good for it. And frankly it could be dire for both me and my truck if I decided to switch up what fills either tank. Change the choices a bit and you get something similar. I remember for years I went for convenience first, taste second, and amount third. I’ll explain. When I was in school, I was involved in a lot of things, so when I reached for food it for whatever was quick and tasted alright in the amount to stop hunger pangs. What I had available to me was high sugar, high fat, high everything… and not very nutritious. If we could have adopted Little Debbie, I’m sure that we would have. Hell, we were definitely paying the child support. Pasta salad was the only salad that I remember eating very often... and we made it in gallons… and none of it went to waste. This was where it started. College was the same… cost came into play because I was broke. All the same, you’d still find me at the Taco Bell drive thru with a few bucks to spare while I grabbed a few bean burritos. It was convenient and I could get a lot for my dollar. And wow, if someone in the dorm ordered pizza and had leftovers, I was the first to step in line… again I was broke. Later when I moved out as an adult, I started cooking for myself and the goals were still the same. I learned to cook fast meals that tasted good enough and could feed me for a while. At that point I wasn’t broke (maybe I was by today’s standards), but I was feeding myself in the way I’d been conditioned. And over time it just became habit. I got used to eating the same things over and over. I had no idea of nutrition other than sugar was bad, but it tasted good, so I’ll keep eating it. Carbs were also bad, but everything was a carb so I can’t avoid those either. And if I’m honest… every weekend of my 20s I was just feeding a hangover whatever it wanted anyway…. And that was nothing good. No wonder at one point I topped out at 230 lbs. Food was definitely not fuel. And I remember that each time I made a decision about food it was about whatever I was craving.

I also remember eating for comfort. This one was a little trickier. I found that “comfort food” really brought comfort. For some reason having something to eat or drink got me through really tough times. Anxiety and depression had the perfect prescription in a big batch of mom’s spaghetti and meat sauce. This need to comfort in this way is probably the reason I was a smoker for so long too, come to think of it. Both created patterns of behavior that have been the hardest to break. And the more comfort I needed, the bigger the portion. One cookie wouldn’t do it, but a handful might do the trick. Right? Point is, when I let my emotions pick what to eat, I wasn’t even taking hunger into consideration.

I remember the first time someone told me that food was fuel I went back to the phrase I’d heard in health class back in middle school, “you are what you eat.” But I never really got it. I think I initially related it in categories. Fruits and vegetables were diet food so if I ate them, I was on a diet. If I ate casseroles, pasta, snack cakes, and whatever else then I was normal. Figure that… normal vs being on a diet??? I mean, we did look at the food pyramid. But no one that I knew actually paid attention to it.

So what changed? When I started feeding my body what it needed instead of what I craved I noticed one big change. I felt so much better. After about 4 or 5 days of being macro balanced with the right carbs, proteins, and fats my body just felt … well… better. And when I had a “cheat meal” that included a little more fat, or a high amount of sugar I reminded myself of what didn’t feel good. And then it just clicked…. If I eat better quality foods, I have a higher quality of energy and clarity. So if I want to feel better, I have to feed myself in a way that fuels that. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still wanted certain foods. And having chicken and broccoli got old really quick. And most days I was not craving a salad by any means. But, like any habit, over time I started to worry about what my emotions or taste buds wanted over what my body needed. And it really took a lot of time.

I think I really started to get to it when I started running. And if I didn’t eat enough, I would run out of gas on my long runs. This was a weird thing for me because I’d lost my weight in calorie deficit and had yo-yo dieted for so long that the mindset of reduced calories was tough to break. Anyway… back to running. I started researching the best fuel sources and how to eat for running. And when I realized I wasn’t eating enough… well that was mind blowing. I’d never been told to eat more? Except by my grandmother and that’s a story for another time. So, I started to grocery shop and meal prep based on my workout plans and runs the following week. And figuring out what carb sources my body liked for my longer runs. But bottom line is I started really giving a thought to my food.

Later, I began to realize that I wasn’t researching a ton of recipes on Pinterest or blogs to support my meal prep. My decisions became simpler. Because I just didn’t care about mealtime being an event. It was just necessary. If I had lean protein and vegetables, then I’m ready to go. And snacks became easy too. I remember having a super slammed day recently and just grabbing my protein shake and putting a few tablespoons of water in it so I could eat it really fast like a pudding instead of spending the extra few minutes to mix it with water. I think that’s when I realized that I’d leveled up as an annoying healthy person. I just needed the fuel so I could keep my focus. No way was I going to skip a meal.

All that said, my mindset has shifted in my relationship with food. I don’t have to crave something to eat it. And I also don’t have to be crazy hungry to eat either. I just know that when it’s time to eat I need to put some good fuel in there. Not a lot. Just enough. And that’s freeing.

What do I mean by freedom? Let me give you a few examples. It’s freedom from the awful decision-making process when looking at a menu. There are usually a handful of things that are good for me and a whole lot that’s not. So, I just choose to not even consider the ones that aren’t. When I started losing weight, I was traveling a ton for work. One of the things that was always tough was figuring out what I wanted to eat while I traveled. And since I was away, I could eat what I wanted. Not what I was fixing for the family. I treated it like a day off… something special… which usually meant it wasn’t that good for me. No wonder after I got home, I was always so bloated and puffy. But when I made a commitment to start putting better quality fuel in, my choices narrowed. The decision fatigue wouldn’t be so frustrating. I was free from so many choices. I had more time to focus on other things. To be honest, I slept better (which is always a struggle when I travel) and I had more energy for the day ahead.

It’s freedom from guilt. There’s no more for not eating something just because a friend made it. If they’ve been around me long enough, they know I’m not being rude. There’s no more guilt for eating so much you’re uncomfortable. There’s no more guilt when you have a special occasion and enjoy something out of the norm because most of the time, I prioritize what fuels me best.

And more than feeling the freedom, it starts to change your language. Instead of saying, “What do I feel like eating?”, I started to say, “What do I have available that works for me.” It has nothing to do with how I’m feeling and more about making logical choices. When that change happened, I realized that I was managing my emotions without the consideration of food or alcohol. I stopped saying things like “I need chocolate.” I still joke and say “I need a drink” but truthfully, I really don’t. I just need to go for a walk. So I guess, I have the freedom from the hold that addictive foods have had on me in the past? Maybe? I know I still will struggle from time to time. But it feels so good to fuel my body well.

(Speaking of… it’s time for me to eat!)

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