What Food is Not


Hey guys!

So, I know that everyone is always talking about his or her yoga teacher and how great he or she is, but really: my yoga teacher, Ashleigh, is the best. She’s sweet and wise without being too much of a flower child; hip and funny without being a smartass. (She’s a pretty great yoga instructor, too!)

Ashleigh also happens to be a raw foods enthusiast! We’re often busy chatting about our favorite goodies at Quintessence and Pure. Every now and then, Ashleigh begins class with a food related anecdote (for no class of hers begins without an insightful, honest, and funny story). A few months ago, Ashleigh shared a story that resonated with me as a nutritionist.

The other night at dinner, Ashleigh said, she’d found herself digging into the bread at the dinner table with a little too much abandon. A few days later, she relayed the story to her own yoga teacher–a woman she considers a mentor. Her mentor responded by asking Ashleigh why she’d been so hungry for the bread. “I don’t know,” Ashleigh said. “It was just so soft and warm.”

“Oh, Ashleigh,” her mentor responded. “Was your mother soft and warm?”

As Ashleigh went on to explain her mentor’s insightfulness, I marveled at how deceptive food can be—how it can disguise itself as things it isn’t.

Here in the blogosphere, we spend a lot of time talking about what food is. It’s fuel, nourishment, and sustenance. It’s creativity, inspiration, and artistry. It’s friend and it’s foe.

Rather than fixating on what food is, though, it’s important to periodically remind ourselves of what food is not. Too often, our love/hate relationship with food is the result of our habit of endowing it with too much importance. Ask yourself: how often have you dug into that loaf of bread searching for the mother who wasn’t quite soft and warm? How often have you overindulged to compensate for the father who was never quite pleased? How many times have you looked to food to evoke a cherished memory, or to transport you back to the safety of childhood? Or let’s consider the converse: how many times have you found yourself restricting your meals or your portions out of anger? Purging in an attempt to wipe the slate clean? Obsessing over food in the hopes to invest your life with more control?

If you’re like most women, you’ve probably done one of these things–or a handful of them–on occasion. And who could blame you? Wherever we turn, we’re culturally conditioned to worship, venerate, cherish, resent, fear, or hate food. TV commercials display polished, dewy, light-flecked images of food with seductive voiceovers. Magazine adds bombard us with claims that this or that food will do this or that to make us happier, better, prettier, stronger, or healthier. TV shows devoted to weight loss keep all of us rapt with attention. So it’s no wonder we forget that food is just food. No more, no less.

Now, don’t get me wrong: food is a whole lot! But it’s not  synonymous with comfort, ormemory, or escape. It’s not your friend, and it’s not your enemy. Even as we find basically healthy ways to celebrate food’s importance—when we speak, for instance, of its celebration in foreign cultures, or the passing down of cherished recipes between generations of family members—we tend to forget that food is first and foremost the stuff with which we keep our bodies going.


I cherish food just like anyone else—perhaps more than most people! But we all have to be careful to remember what food can and can’t do for us. It may please us and help us to connect; it may nourish us and provide us with creative distraction. It may provide pleasure or joy. But it shouldn’t obsess us, torment us, or control us; it alone shouldn’t give us an illusion of safety or well being. It’s just food. Whatever bothers or distracts us before we sit down to eat will still bother and distract us when we get up to wash the dishes.

It would be nice if, during those moments of eating, food could change our lives. Unfortunately, food isn’t that powerful. And if it is—if you’re looking for it to solve your problems, or to provide you with your principle source of happiness—you’re probably giving it far too much power. What do they say about drugs and booze and other addictions? You can’t look to outside substances for happiness or bliss. So too with food. Happiness, as all the old sayings go, has to come from within.

This is scary, of course: it would be pretty great if happiness came in a bowl of oatmeal, or sat at the bottom of a jar of nut butter, or was hiding in a bar of dark chocolate (and I use these foods as examples because they tend to be the foods that many women are prone to overeating). Unfortunately, we’ve got to rush outside into the world and claim happiness on our own. But this should feel empowering, too—at least as far as your love/hate relationship with eating goes. Just think: if you don’t give food the exclusive power to make you happy, you also don’t give it the exclusive power to make you miserable. Begin looking outside of food for happiness—look to your friends, or look to music, or look to art, or look to your work.


Or, better yet, look inward, which is where happiness really resides. Suddenly, you won’t be looking to food for a mood boost anymore. Instead, you’ll be eating the way we ought to eat: with nourishment in mind. If happiness is a part of the experience, great. Just so long as the primary source of happiness (or distress) in your life isn’t sitting on your plate. Or in the pantry.

Next time you find yourself tempted to overeat, under eat, or simply to approach your meal with a lousy frame of mind, ask yourself: what am I looking for? What emotion or experience am I trying to create through eating? Chances are, what you really want isn’t about to go in your mouth. So if it’s softness and warmth you seek—a softness or warmth you never had enough of—look to the positive relationships in your life, to the songs and books and TV shows that make you smile, or to the activities that make you feel whole.

No matter how great food can be, remember: it’s just food. Enjoy what’s on your plate, and walk away without looking back.

Deep thoughts on a Monday, kids. If you’re not sick of me yet, and if you want to read something a little lighter, please check out my interview with Alison on Health Blog Helper. I talk about this blog, how it came to be, and how my vision of it has changed since I’ve been blogging.

I also talk about my fear of heights.

Have a great night, all!


P.S. Happy Birthday Kath!

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  1. Oh Gena this was so beautifully and perfectly written. It makes so much sense and it is truly what I’ve needed to read lately. I’ve been very guilty of finding solace, comfort and companionship in food. If I’m tired I use it as a pick-me-up instead of lying down to take a nap. When I eat something I never used to eat and deem “bad” I punish myself by eating more…blocking out my thoughts of, “That is BAD…why did you eat that?!”

    As I was reading this post I was sitting here unwrapping Starbursts and popping them into my mouth. I haven’t touched candy in ages!! Where was this desire for something sweet coming from? Fortunately enough I put the package away and I’m going to focus on learning routines for my class, but man did your words ever hit home.

    Thanks for always being so insightful…

  2. This is amazing, Gena. Amazingly deep and amazingly true. Thank you for putting into words (quite eloquently, may I add) what I can only feel. As someone who has struggled from food-related issues in the past, and continues to struggle towards healthy balance, your words really touched my heart.

  3. This was absolutely amazing. It honestly brought me on the verge of tears. Thank you, this is exactly what I needed. Beautifully written as well. Thank you so, so much.

  4. This is an amazing post. Thanks for writing it–I needed this refresher in what food is!

  5. Absolutely great post and I am just enjoying the comments as much as the original writing.

    I am linking this post to my November 1 post, which I am calling a Harvest Potluck, for FYI

    I am also writing an ebook as a fundraiser for UNICEF and I would like to put this post into that book, but I need written permission. I an use an email

    I am doing a fundraiser for UNICEF because I do not have my usual $100 to give this year – and I know this is a charity that actually gives all it’s donation money to feed and give medical attention to children – I know that children will not be coming to my door with boxes for donations – so I thought if I could band folks together and create something of value for them to purchase and download – a good cause would be recognized and receive funding.

    Hope you will consider this?
    What a well written post and I surely do enjoy you blog. I am working on healing myself with raw food and I benefit greatly from your posts. Thank you

  6. Gena, this was an excellent post. Perfect timing too as I know many people (myself included!) are preparing for the holidays, which is often a time for overeating. You summed up everything quite plainly here and I couldnt have said it better myself.

    Food is ment to sustain, and to be enjoyed of course but it is fuel. Food should not take the place of expressing your emotions or replace the comfort of a loved one.

    As always Gena you are an excellent writer!

    Michal 🙂

  7. Gena, you’re a gifted writer. Thanks for capturing so much into one short post here. I need time to sit back and think on what you’ve written, but a few things have come to mind, and I think they relate.

    I have a friend who is never that hungry. A lot of it stems from her depression. She recently saw a former love (the love of her lifetime) and after they were done spending a few days together, she said she had an overwhelming urge to eat. She was so hungry. Like all the meals she missed had finally caught up with her. She just started feeling the hunger again. I can’t help but notice how her hunger is so directly tied to her emotions. After she ate a meal, she didn’t necessarily feel satisfied. Because she wasn’t satisfied emotionally.

    So I guess my story is saying that yes, I agree with you, there are many things food isn’t. Food is not love. Although it can fuel your body and help you feel good, it does not love you the way a human does. The two things can’t be complicated.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like jibberish. I also hope I didn’t misconstrue your message. This is just what it made me think of.

  8. Great post, Gena. I wish I had time to read all the comments too! I also read your interview and I really enjoyed that as well. This post resonated with me, but in a good way, because going raw and vegan has improved my relationship with food dramatically and helped me so much to see it for what it is. Thanks as always!

  9. So cool that you wrote about this today, Gena! I love your blog, and I was so gratified to read this post in particular, because I just began a blog on this very topic. Here’s the introductory post: http://freefoodrevolution.blogspot.com/2009/10/journey-home.html

    I’m trying to renegotiate my relationship to food based on very similar observations you had. Great too, to see another commenter here mention Gabriel Cousen’s book … it was an inspiration to me on putting food into perspective, and I mentioned that in my explorations on the blog, too. Check it out if you’re interested!

    And keep up the great work … 🙂

  10. I had to read this post a few times over a couple days and reflect before I could comment. It is so amazing. It is something you tell yourself, but need to hear from others too. Thank you for your insightful applicable ways and actions that help us separate what food is from what it should be. Food should be pleasurable and certainly has social and cultural connections, but it can not be a replacement for the emotional, social and cultural connections that truly define us or an outlet to avoid facing fears, pain, stress or even happiness.

  11. Gena,

    You are one of the most eloquent writers in the blog world. Your thoughts are so clear, well-presented, and your posts are simply a delight to read.

    I loved many things about this post. In particular, I enjoyed this line: “It’s not your friend, and it’s not your enemy.” When I was living in New York and Adam was living in Colorado, he would come to visit; when he would leave, I’d go to the market near my house, pick up a wedge of brie and an apple, head home to my empty apartment, and eat the entire thing. I depended on food to “comfort me” and fill the void and loneliness I was feeling without him. Food was my “friend.”

    Later, when I began to lose weight (that I had put on from eating habits that included eating entire wedges of brie in one sitting!), food became my enemy, tempting me, trying to break my willpower, trying to “make me fat.”

    I loved this post because it reminded me how far I’ve come. And that I am *not* in a relationship with food. Food is just food. It has no power to help us or hurt us.

    So, thank you, as always, for being so wise and sharing your wise thoughts so we all may benefit. 🙂

  12. Thanks for reminding us to read the comments on this post.

    This is something I’ve struggled with (A LOT) and I completely agree with you. Food is just food. I don’t think that it should give us ecstasy (though it is delicious), and neither should it bring us pain. It is pleasant, we have to eat it to live, and that’s that. It should be enjoyable while we are eating, but should not consume our lives.

    Thanks for your lovely insight, as usual 🙂

  13. This was a truly enlightening post, and I really thank you from the bottom of my heart for addressing such issues. Once they’re out in the open, we can talk about them and analyze ourselves. You are helping us all grow as individuals and as proponents of raw food 😀

  14. I really enjoyed your interview, especially since I’ve just started food blogging myself! It was good to hear why and how you got into it. A lot of my interest in food blogging came from reading YOUR blog and I appreciate the detailed posts.

  15. Gena
    I open your blog ENERY single day since the first day i found you in the net..and every since u have never disappointed me, on the contrary, I find in ever post something inspiring, exciting, interesting, comfort, to read, experience, and most important : I find myself in your words!—reading through the comments people leave you I can see that all this is nothing new for you, but I think that sometimes is not bad to repeat them!
    Thanks for such a dedicated and inspiring blog,
    loving it every single day!

  16. Beautiful post and great interview. I am so glad I read this. Sometimes I think I try to be perfect with my diet, exercise and health to make up for my mom being not perfect with her life (drinking). I am trying to hard not to be her that when I am not “perfect” I beat myself up. This post really made me think. Thanks so much, love! 🙂


  17. That was probably the best post yet. Food is definitely a creative outlet for me, but I also use it to recreate memories. Our family gatherings have always revolved around food, so I have been known to eat for other reasons rather than hunger.

  18. Thank you for such a great post Gena. I went through some of this myself late last year – after losing the weight I’d always wanted to lose and then struggling with food cravings after I hit maintenance mode – I finally had to ask myself “what am I REALLY hungry for?” I’d never experienced cravings like this in my entire life! After a little digging and soul searching and really LISTENING to myself, the answer came to me.


    I quit my job to stay home with my girls, and while I’ll never regret the decision to stay home and raise my children myself, I still miss the challenges and mental stimulation that comes from working outside the home. When I finally figured this out – everything change. I found a new ways to challenge myself and a creative outlet (hello Mama’s Weeds) and spent a little time mourning the loss of food as something I had once given so much power too. A New Earth and Intuitive Eating were the two books that helped realize what was going on though – without them I wouldn’t have known to ask myself “what am I really hungry for?” I’m sure you’re post will help women struggling just last I was last year.

    And thanks again for your interview on Health Blog Helper too! You continue to inspire us all Gena! xoxo

  19. Fabulous post, Gena! Of course I relate and agree with everything you said.

    In my Hungarian household, food took center stage. We celebrated with food. We mourned with food. I learned to use food for pleasure, for comfort, for reward. I turned to food when I was sad, hurt, angry, bored and lonely. I quickly forgot that eating had anything to do with being hungry. Food became the glue that held my life together.

    Sixteen months ago, when I set a conscious intention to change my relationship with food, the goal was not to detach all emotion and enjoyment from eating. It was to find a healthy balance between getting the nutrition my body needs and enjoying my meals mindfully. In short, where I once lived to eat, I had to learn to eat to live.

    Today, if I’m not experiencing physical hunger, yet still reaching for the food, then it’s time to figure out what I want from food beyond its nourishing my body. A sure-fire way of doing that is to ask myself: What is it I don’t want to feel, do, or say right now? — Bingo! Works like a charm every time!

  20. As always another great post! One of our favorite books is “If the Buddha came to dinner”. It talks about how you should cherish all meals as if the buddha was coming over (well there is so much more than that) Very thoughtful and honest post. You hit the points to the “T”! We used to suffer from eating for emotional sake and sometimes not eating too. Though as we have journeyed through various eating habits, etc. we have finally come to the point in our life where we look to food as food but as food that nourish us so that we can live a life we want. And not let food control us anymore. (though we are not always perfect). 🙂

  21. LOVE!

    Yet another great post from you about the power of food! It’s so funny that you’re talking about this, because I had a related conversation yesterday with my boss. He doesn’t know the depth of my eating disorder and the related treatment that I received a few years ago, but he has noticed that I’ve maintained the same weight now for about 4 years. Yesterday, he asked me how I’ve done that. I told him that I “just eat”.

    He also asked me what is my “crutch” when it comes to food. I told him that I don’t have anything like that in my life anymore. If I want to eat something, I just eat it.

    It’s still difficult for me to get that concept across to others, but I’m hoping to find a better way to express it in time. The idea of disconnecting the moral value of “good” and “bad”, or the emotional value of “soft” and “warm” from food is so empowering.

  22. Great post; thank you for this. It was hard to hear (I’m *so* bad about associating foods with good times in my life for comfort), but gave me a lot to think about today.

  23. Thank you so much for this. While I still do see food as a little more than nourishment sometimes, I think the general sentiment is that food can not and should not control us. Period. It’s taken me many years to get over that, and I’m still working through it. You’re amazing and I am so thankful that you share these thoughts with us!

  24. what an excellent post that i’m sure many people needed a reminder of. it took me a long time to realize that food is just food. it’s very easy to let it take over things it shouldn’t (like your LIFE!).. when it comes down to it, it’s just a form a fuel. the only bonus is that it’s delicious 😀

  25. Great post! Very powerful and well written. You have given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

  26. Fantastic post Gina! I completely agree. I am certainly guilty of using food as a way to escape whatever’s bothering me – sometimes overeating, sometimes undereating. It certainly is a journey to be in a good place with it all, but I think to admit to yourself what you’re doing and why is the best first step. It has certainly helped me. Thanks for writing on this topic!

  27. I don’t know. I think I agree with leslie’s comment above. I think a truly happy person is one who can sit down to dinner and remain utterly emotionally unperturbed when served a salad, a roll, a slice of pie, or nothing at all. If you have emotional issues that you cope with by gorging on bread, the solution isn’t to avoid bread. It’s to fix the emotional scars so that you can eat bread and feel neither 1) the need to gorge, to compensate for the mother problem, nor 2) the need to avoid it, to control your emotional weakness. You are suggesting that your friend cut out bread so she can no longer look to bread for a warm mother. But by doing so, you are suggesting that bread now represents FEAR–the fear of losing control to her demons. That’s why you’re telling her to avoid it. That’s messed up. Bread really should represent neither comfort nor fear. She should be able to eat it without feeling that eating it means she’s scarred. She should be able to not eat it without feeling that she’s still empty inside.

    I think these emotional arguments for foodisms are way too close to “control” for my tastes. There is PLENTY of evidence that raw foodism is good for your body on a physical level–there is no need to make specious arguments about emotional traumas. In the case of Ashleigh–is taking away the bread really part of any meaningful solution for her? Or is it a deception? She has to learn to keep the bread there and be at peace with it. She has to learn to be able to remain emotionally balanced while having bread, or hearing about someone’s warm mother, or talking about her own mom.

    Removing yourself from temptation is just refusing to tempt the emotional demons. It’s keeping them dormant, because you’re fearful of waking them. Note that you can’t usually control such emotional triggers in other parts of life–with food, you can cut out bread and thus “control” your underlying issues. In other parts of life, you HAVE to face the triggers, somehow learn to cope, and finally learn to enjoy every moment. I suggest doing the same when it comes to regulating hunger–facing it head on.

    • Hi Lauren,

      I think you entirely misread my post. Nowhere did I say that Ashleigh should avoid bread. I don’t believe that avoiding foods that unnerve us is the solution to emotional eating problems, and would never suggest hiding from a trigger. My point is that we should all face the motives we bring to mealtime. We should be thinking about what we want from our food, and why we want it. And most significantly, we should ponder the role that food is filling in our life; if it looms to large, we should be cultivating other things (relationships, a healthy work life, etc) that can remind us that food is not the be all and end all. This doesn’t mean not eating; it means not projecting needs or wants onto food that eating cannot satisfy.

      I’d also be curious to hear which “specious arguments about emotional traumas” you’re referring to. If you mean that it’s specious to suggest that certain women over or under eat to cope with childhood pain or familial hurt, you’re working against a hefty dose of psychological evidence.


      • I’m glad that you followed up on this comment. I was going to say that it isn’t by stripping food of its meaning that we begin to more deeply investigate its power or meaning–it is by looking more closely at its cultural contexts, at its methods of production that we become more aware of not only the process of food, but also its importance, significance, etc. Thank you for your comment–it expands on your post in a meaningful way.

  28. Hi, great post! I agree that food should not be a replacement or band-aid and simply looked to for nourishment, it truly is a liberating feeling.

  29. Wha?!? Happiness isn’t found in the bottom of a nut butter jar? 😉

    Thanks for this post Gena. I think too many of us, myself included, look to food for much more than fuel and nourishment. Yes, I find great joy in cooking a delicious meal and sharing it with friends, but it does make it easier to turn to (or away) from food when other emotions arise. Insightful post!

  30. Check out this book–
    “The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size” By Julia Cameron
    It parallels your ideas in this post. Happy reading!

  31. Hi Gena,

    Great post! I have been in a behaviorial health class for this past year and we have learned ALOT about the relationship that we have with food and where it comes from. It’s so eye opening and has literally changed my whole life in regards to food (I am now a raw foodist!). Then to come here and see so many women like us (there are 8 of us in the class) feeling the SAME things that we felt when we first started. How wonderful that we are all exploring, all asking questions and trying to figure it out for ourselves.

    May I add to your food=fuel? Food=fuel=blood/cells/organs. Food does turn into fuel for your body, but doesn’t it also build our blood which then builds cells and organs? Thinking about that has helped me with my eating decisions. Do I really want to be made out of the componets of Cheetos?

    One more thing- I encourage people to read about heart hunger vs. head hunger. Basically – “Heart hunger is when you’re having an emotional need caused by an emptiness or a hollowness in life–when you’re sad, lonely, bored, or needing to be nurtured. You think, “I’ll eat something and feel better.” I encourage people to learn to recognize that cravings for ice cream, pasta, or cinnamon rolls are often related to heart hunger. They need to figure out how to take care of the emotional need instead of eating. Head hunger involves stress or anger or frustration…An example is a bad day at the office with the boss. For this you’ll crave something chewy or crunchy like nuts or potato chips, something to chomp on. It’s what you’d actually want to do with someone in life. You’re looking for relief.” ~ Linda Spangle.

    Thanks for this post!


  32. I agree with so much in this post, but I don’t want to only see food as nourishment. It is also something created, something crafted, something that makes people laugh and smile and connects us. Food has been used in a positive way so many times in my life in bringing people together. I know it is not only the food itself, but I am thankful for that power that it holds itself. Going into a chocolate shop makes me happy in the way that going into a museum does, even if I don’t eat anything, I am so happy to admire and take it in as a sensory experience.

  33. Interesting article. I do think many people look to food to address emotional needs that food can never meet. But I don’t agree food is mere sustenance – how many of us would agree to take a pill (for convenience sake) – if a pill existed that could meet our nutritional needs – versus eat? I do believe food, traditionally, nourished us in many ways – not only physically, but emotionally and even spiritually. (“Feasting” is as important to most of our religious traditions as is “fasting” and in my own Christian tradition, the Eucharistic meal plays a central role.) Food anchors us, in place, in time (especially when we eat locally, and in season). This is why cultural traditions around food are so important. Deborah Madison writes that the more disconnected a people is from culture, the more cook books it produces. The plethora of cook books produced here speaks to a huge void.

    I starved myself for many years, but funnily enough, during that time, I became obsessed with cookbooks, and collected many. I poured over the recipes, most of which I never prepared. Oddly enough, they nourished me in ways the food available to me did not.

    Food also connects us, just as it did when we were breastfeeding infants, to those with whom we share a meal, etc., and in principal, there is nothing wrong with this. Provided the food can deliver.

    I have eaten just to satisfy physical hunger – a banana when I thought I might faint only last week – but those are the worst of meals. I prefer those meals I prepare with some forethought, and which nourish (and satisfy) on multiple levels.

    I think people abuse food mostly because the food available to us is only questionably nourishes us physically and does not nourish us emotionally, or spiritually. It is impossible to trace it back to a single grower, a single farm, even a single region with which we might have a meaningful connection. It is grown out of season and shipped from thousands of miles away.

    I guess my question is, would we have this expectation of food (that it fulfill us not just physically but in other ways as well) if historically, it did not meet that expectation?

    It’s not a coincidence that the rise of the obesity epidemic parallels the industrialization of our food system(s).

  34. “if you don’t give food the power to make you happy, you also don’t give it the exclusive power to make you miserable”

    You just put my views of food on their head. In a good way. Too often I search for happiness in food, and too often it makes me feel miserable. I think it’s time I start nipping it in the bud, and searching for happiness somewhere else! Thanks Gena!

  35. As usual, another insightful post, Gena 🙂

    I’ve really started to listen to what my body is telling me over the past year and it’s amazing how much food affects what my body says or does. I’m trying to find that balance, and to honor my body in other ways – besides emotional and overeating, or choosing to use food as my one and only hobby.

  36. “Whatever bothers or distracts us before we sit down to eat will still bother and distract us when we get up to wash the dishes.”

    Wow, I LOVE this!
    Thank you for this post!

  37. I can so relate to this, especially since I’ve been working for a while to change my relationship with food to one focused on nourishment. Something along these lines actually struck me the other day. My family and I were at a river greenway most of the day, we ate a simple picnic lunch with fruit and veggies, and sandwiches (I had a peanut butter and sprout sandwich, which totally freaked my husband out : )). When we started home, I realized that I had not thought about food even once that day aside from the time we were eating. Even my husband made the comment that food like that (meaning mostly plant-based) just “tastes better” in that atmosphere. I really think it was because we were having fun and were focused on the present situation (enjoying our day outside). Does that make any sense?? So often, I spend my days thinking about what foods, or even drinks, would make me “happy” or “cozy”, espcially now with the weather cooling off. Thankfully, I can also see myself starting to realize that, at least for me, many of those things, like coffee and dessert, are associated with memories and the want to, in some way, recreate those cozy, sugar-filled memories.

    Okay, so there’s my novel for you : ) As always, thanks Gena!

  38. Deep thoughts indeed! And words that needed to be said to an audience such as this one. I read all the above comments as well. I have to admit, as much as I love to cook and eat food (and take pride in being good at both, haha), its power intimidates me. And to think I may be about to build a future around that power, well, I feel a responsibility to build a relationship with food that keeps me in control, and happily so. It is a balancing act of gargantuan proportions because love it or hate it, our culture has bestowed tremendous importance upon food, to the point where it is more than the sum of its nutrients–it’s art, entertainment (hello, Food Network?!), pastime, political point of contention and even mortal enemy. True enough, without it, we cease to exist, but since when is it ok to give it human responsibility?

  39. Thanks Gena! I feel like I really needed to read this right now… it’s so easy to become obsessed with food, either with over- or under-eating, but it’s true that food will never solve a problem deeper than hunger.
    Wonderfully true and insightful words.

  40. Food for me has always equalled the things you list under what it’s ‘not’. It’s my coping mechanism for life basically, whether stuffing down negative emotions with huge quantities of it or trying to control the overwhelming nature of the world around me by attempting to do without it…then feeling so exhausted and sad that the ‘stuffing’ mechanism kicks in again.

    I never find the answers I’m looking for in food but most of the time I’m too exhausted to fight with the inclination to abuse it at the end of the day…

    I think this has to be one of your most poignant posts to date. Thank you so much for addressing this issue.



  41. While I love the idea of banishing the negative connection to food, I myself have a very positive connection to it, and to me it is more than just food. It might be my experience or because I grew up in the kitchen with my mom, nonna, and auntie, but to me food IS more than just physical nourishment. And while I don’t find what I am looking for IN a food necessarily, I find it in the experience surrounding it :).

    Also, I apologize for my run-on sentences but not sure how to fix them right now haha. That is all.

    Thank you for once again writing such a thought provoking post.

  42. So true, so true – this post really brings to live the notion of eating to live instead of living to eat.

  43. another well-crafted, wise post – i really enjoyed reading your thoughts. it’s funny, because i was planning to write a post on this exact topic this week, but i have a different sentiment towards the issue.

    i understand the emotions behind your statement, “if you don’t give food the power to make you happy, you also don’t give it the power to make you miserable.” this is tricky for me. i’ve been on the negative side of that, and food (or anything) should never have complete power over anyone’s life. but, like any aspect of life, if we close ourselves off for fear of being hurt, we miss out on the joy. flip your statement around – perhaps we look at food as only fuel, so it doesn’t have the ability to make us miserable – it also can’t make us smile. and if eating is something we have to do several times a day, then sometimes, i think, it should also feed our souls. achieving that balance is complex and difficult, so i can certainly see where you’re coming from.

    perhaps what i can take away from this is that food should never be the be-all and end-all, and that i 100% agree with. but just as i might feel a bit of joy from a piece of art or a phone call from a friend, just as the memory of those might comfort me on a bad day, a good meal has the ability to do the same. maybe that is partially a result of the nutrition in the foods i eat, but i’d hate to close myself off to that little piece of joy.

    this is such a complex issue, i have lots that i could say about it. thanks, as always, for writing with such insight, and for driving me to explore my thoughts. 🙂

    • Great comment. I was searching for similar words. I agree with the idea that many of us unleash our needs and desires on our food and invest them with powers they do not have. On the other hand, I don’t believe in being emotionally disconnected from my food (I know you didn’t suggest that). If food gives me comfort, I accept that as a bonus. I don’t believe that is an unhealthy relationship with food- if I look for comfort only in food, on the other hand, then it is.
      Unprocessed plant food is also not only fuel but medicine, a mood stabilizer, information about the local environment and allergens (if we eat local), and more. Natural plant food works in synergy with our body to keep us in optimal health. I actually try to invest my food with great significance. It may be a psychological crutch (OK, it is), but I think it is a healthy one for now. I associate my healthy raw and cooked plant-based foods with health, vitality, growth, emotional balance and healing, energy, and spiritual connection. I associate unhealthy foods with entangled energy, disease, moodiness, and superficiality. I try to keep a nice spectrum of associations so it doesn’t get too black and white. When I nourish myself well, I feel the effects I mentioned, and I associate them with the food I have eaten and my power to choose to nourish myself with those foods. It may be a little over-involved, but it has helped me greatly. I also celebrate the sensory delight of good food. Yes, too much is too much, but in this case, I want to put a vote in for acknowledging our natural tendency to imbue food with certain properties and to work that relationship to our advantage. So for now, when I am seeking meaning, clarity, energy, calmness, and great immunity, I reach for my juicer. A bit much to ask, yes, but the more I do this, the more balanced and rational my relationship with food becomes. Like someone else said- it’s like a good relationship after a bad relationship. You might project way too much into the relationship, but since it is a good one, you develop trust and insight, and your approach to the relationship evens out. Hope that was somewhat clear.
      Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

      • I agree with you, Laura, that Leslie’s comment was stellar! And so is yours. As you and I both know, too many in the raw community have an attitude that it’s almost ideal to move beyond food completely, to divest it of any significance or meaning or joy. And that’s not so. I believe it’s healthy and fun to enjoy food and to anticipate eating. But I also believe that looking to food (or the refusal of food) as your most immediate and significant source of happiness or comfort or feelings of worth (or whatever) is troubling, and all too commonplace.

      • I’m a bit late responding to this, but I just wanted to say that I loved Laura’s words as well – they really sum up the way I feel on this issue. I agree it is a natural tendency to develop emotional associations with food. What we need to work out is how to use that tendency in a positive way, allowing food to feed us mentally, without consuming our thoughts entirely.

  44. Fantastic post Gena, as per usual. We all have quite the job to do/or have done to release emotional attachments to food and understand its role in our life. This is a great reflection of the truth. Thanks!

  45. Great post! This is what I teach my clients about chemical addictions, but I have always stressed that food and shopping are addictions that are not focused on in my program, but often take the place of the chemical addictions when the clients are in recovery. They often replace one addiction with another.

  46. This is a fantastic post – I’m going to print it and keep it in my journal to remind me how important it is to keep food in its place. Yes, it should be enjoyed. No, it should not be the sole provider of happiness. Yes, it nourishes me. No, it does not solve my problems or define me.

    Thanks Gena!!

  47. You are so awesome! Such a talented and thought-provoking writer and you touch upon an issue that I’m sure everyone can appreciate and has thought about before. Too often I associate food with my mood or my life event or my this and that…at the end of the day, no matter how beautiful it is or how delicious it tastes, it is truly just what keeps us fueled and livin’ 🙂 Thanks, Gena!

  48. Gena this is such a great post. It becomes difficult to remember at times what food IS and ISN’T.

  49. This was SO well written, thank you so much for sharing. I am extremely lucky in that I have never had issues with eating or food. I love good food and I take joy in filling my body with healthy nutrients, but I don’t fear the occasional cookie and I also don’t wallow in a tub of ice cream, either. I eat when I am hungry and I don’t eat when I am not hungry. However, I am surrounded by female friends and family members who are not so lucky. I can see the cycle of addiction and struggle that they go through, I hope they can all read this post because it was brilliant. Thank you again!

  50. whoa – i just picked up gabriel cousen’s conscious eating and this resonates so much with chapters 1 & 2!

  51. I think this is a lovely sentiment and I’m sure it’s very relevant for so many people.

    I do feel like what’s often missing from this kind of conversation, however, is the possibility that food can be akin to art. I think seeking comfort in it, on more than a rare occasion, can certainly be harmful. On the other hand, I am compelled to see food as more than what it is, in the same way I can look at a painting and see past the brush strokes. There is a story, a history, and an art to how food gets to our plate and knowing it is also a necessity just adds to the magic of it.

  52. I could write a book, but for once, I won’t. I will just say you hit the nail on the head and the ball outta the park many times over with this. And I echo what Mama Pea said. Same here, I think that was my fave line of your post, too. And I like how you used oats/nut butters/choc as your examples b/c my golly, they are sure all around in the blogosphere…food for thought, no pun intended.

    Have a great nite, Gena!

  53. I have an interesting tale regarding this; something that put food into it’s proper context for me (although I have never had food “issues” relating to punishment/reward etc).

    When I lived in France, my husband and I got to know the elderly couple down the laneway. We became friends. I was like “Julie” in the new “Julie and Julia” movie; when I had moved to France, I taught myself everything in Julia Child and Simone Beck’s “Mastering the Art of French Cookery”, one recipe at a time. My mother, long dead, had been a beautiful cook and by cooking I was keeping her in contact.

    Anyway, I remember this couple, in their 80’s, used to go walking a lot in the mountains. One day, whilst describing their latest lovely walk, the lady told me that it had been such a beautiful picnic…her dear husband, the summer mountain fields, peace, harmony and a simple…boiled egg with a little bread for sustenance. S I M P L E.

    I loved this image; that it was about everything around the food, rather than the food itself. The food encapsulated this by being simple, by not being too much or too little, but just right.

    As a result, over the years I put away my gourmet habit. I became quite “Zen”; as in, “What is most akin to a boiled egg and a little bread atop a mountain with my loved one?”

    Hence now my foray into raw food.

  54. Gena, I just can’t tell you how deeply this resonates with me – thank you!

    Aside: I’m going to be in NYC for a week (yay!!!), would you pretty-please point me to any wonderful raw food joints to feast at? (Besides the glorious PF&W, which is already on my list)
    Even some that are just raw-friendly are good too – that would be so awesome, I’d really appreciate it! 🙂

  55. Wow! What an amazing post! This totally resonated with me and touched me. It was the explanation I have been looking for and was so eloquently phrased. I have been high-raw for 5 months now and love it. I was vegetarian growing up and for many years, and now with high-raw I feel like I have come home. Now with the amazingly illuminated light-bulb that went off in my head when I read your post, I have another piece to the puzzle I am constructing. Thank you Gena!

  56. This is absolutely wonderful. Thank you for this. I think it’s what I really needed put into words.

  57. Just when I think you couldn’t get any wiser, here you go. My gosh Gena, I don’t have to tell you how well written, well thought out and TRUE this was. My favorite line (out of so many) was “if you don’t give food the power to make you happy, you also don’t give it the power to make you miserable.” I think that is true not only for food but for any toxic or troubled relationship. I’ve taken the power back.

    Thank you so much.

  58. Thank you for writing this – I have been trying to figure out what the connection is that we make between foods and how we use them to fill our voids. This sheds some new light. And I love your blog too – inspiring!

  59. Gena, this post is so beautifully written and thought provoking. I often wonder how we–as people who love food and even center our hobbies and careers around it–are expected to find the balance between cherishing food and accepting it for its scientific, nutrition value. Loved what you had to say on this…

  60. Gena,

    You made me cry with this post. It’s seriously as if you dug right into my mind (and I’m sure hundreds of thousands of other women’s minds) and found exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you so much. I really can only strive to reach this level of peace with food and the world around me. This post was incredibly inspiring as are you.


  61. Beautifully written and insightful post! I’d expect nothing less from you. 🙂

  62. Thank you Gena. I know you didn’t write this just for me… but it means a lot :). Hope to see you over my winter break, I’ll be in touch!

  63. Wow that was intense! Seriously my little brain is still trying to get around everything you’ve written here in this post. While reading I found myself wanting to scream at the computer screen saying “of course almond butter or a handful of dates can and will bring me happiness,” but alas I know you are right. In my past it is so true that I have completely used food to try and mold my emotions, yet I do know, more than many, how food really can’t PERMANENTly fill our emotions. Sure temporarily indulging or restricting with food can make us feel the way we want to feel, yet it is so momentary. The scary thing is that even though I know all of this, I like to feign ignorance from time to time. I really appreciate your bringing a light to this and pointing out that it comes from within, and it is up to us to realize our own passions. I am going to be more in-tune to why I’m eating when I eat, and not use eating food as an excuse. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but it really did help me to write this out in words (so I guess it’s not so much for the reader?).

    Gena, you sure do know how to get a girl thinking on a Monday evening. So simple, yet my mind is still going.

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