Food Is Not the Enemy

This one took a long time to click for me, and to some extent, I’m still dealing with it. But here’s the net of it: you have to stop thinking of food as the thing you need to give up (i.e. “the thing that makes me fat.”) Food is not the enemy. It’s time to change our mindset about it.

Shoutout to my friend Joe who inspired this thought process.

The Enemy

A properly balanced weight-loss/healthy-eating program shouldn’t be focussed on going without. Instead, it should guide you to make better decisions. We aren’t trying to go without food, we’re trying to substitute bad foods for good foods. Put another way, we need to stop thinking about food as our enemy and start thinking about it more as a fuel source. It is a way to make our bodies feel great.

The concept of food as a fuel source is still somewhat new to my thinking process. I’ve always thought of food as a source of enjoyment. Eating at restaurants had always been one of my favorite hobbies. I absolutely love food. In fact, my whole mindset shifted recently when I realized that I had started to eat in order to run better, rather than run, so I could eat better.

Yes, food can cause your body to gain weight, but it can also cause your body to lose weight. It all depends on what you eat. Need more energy during workouts? Eat more clean carbs. Need to gain more muscle? Eat more protein. Need more day-to-day fuel? Eat more fat. Want to lose weight? Eat the right kinds of foods.

In other words, food is a means to the end. It’s what will help us accomplish our goals. You can use it as a tool to gain weight, lose weight, increase your energy, or make your physical activities easier and/or more enjoyable. It’s not the enemy. It’s the weapon.

The Culprit

If any of these phrases bounce around in your head while you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably guilty of making food the enemy.

“I’m going to be hungry when I’m on my diet.”

If you’re hungry, you’re never going succeed in the long-term and you are basically setting yourself up for the crash-diet cycle. Hunger is your body telling you that you need more food, and starvation is not a component in healthy eating. You can still lose weight and never be hungry (you do have to be able to differentiate between real hunger vs. cravings, emotional hunger, or other forms of eating that take place when you’re not actually hungry). If you are hungry, it means you need to adjust something.

“I can’t eat that.”

If you tell yourself that your favorite foods are completely off-limits forevermore, your likelihood of success is basically zero. There’s not a chance in hell you’d convince me to give up cinnamon rolls, peanut butter cookies, ice cream, pizza, or donuts. However, in a flexible-dieting approach, I can still eat those things because I plan and budget for them. No, I don’t eat them as often as I would like. But I can absolutely eat anything I want, as long as I make it fit within my numbers. In other words, I have to give something up in order to get the junk food. Sometimes it’s worth it to me. Sometimes it’s not.

“After I’m off my diet, I will… <fill in the blank>” or “I can’t wait for this diet to be over.”

Putting a finite ending date on your diet is a sure sign that you’re on a crash-diet cycle. Remember, you’re not going on a diet — you’re changing the way you eat. Permanently. You can still eat what you want, you just need to do it responsibly. Yeah, sorry, it’s time to start acting like a grown-up instead of a spoiled kid. Don’t delay doing anything until you’re “off your diet.” Set goals for your weight-loss and reward yourself when you reach certain milestones, and then keep going.

“There’s got to be a faster way to lose weight.”

Real, legitimate, permanent, and healthy weight loss takes time. It’s not fast (sorry). If you are on a diet that promises more than about 2 pounds of weight loss per week, you are headed for disaster. In fact, if you are on this type of diet, you’re burning muscle, not fat. If you’ve made all the right changes in your eating to make this a permanent change, who cares how fast the weight comes off, as long as it happens. Two pounds per week is enough to lose over 100 pounds in a single year—an incredible accomplishment by any measurement. Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen that fast.

Your goal is to find your happy place where you can sustain your new habits indefinitely. But the scale is steadily moving downward. That happy place lets you eat what you want (in moderation), forces you to make some healthy choices, never leaves you miserable, and gives your body the energy and feel-good chemistry you deserve.

And the best part: that happy place is very achievable.