Can You Just Eat to Live?

Unlike addictive substances like alcohol and nicotine, you can’t just turn your back on food. Food is an integral part of our lives and our health. That is all well and good, but what happens when we start using food as more than just fuel, and begin relying on food to fill other needs?

socrates is credited with the the quote: “Eat to live, not live to eat.” Even though he wasn’t writing on weight control, what he said thousands of years ago is still important today. Food is timeless, unchanging in its importance to our bodies throughout the centuries. The lesson he shows us is one I worked hard to learn and understand.

When I struggled with my own obesity, I wasn’t just eating to live. I had gone beyond using food as fuel and an enjoyable part of life, and moved into using food in an inappropriate way.

I was using food to fill emotional voids, keep me company when I was bored, and soothe emotional turmoil. I wasn’t just eating to live, I was living to eat.

Every waking moment was spent thinking about food. Rather I was in the midst of blow drying my hair, or preparing lunch for the children, I was thinking about food. “What would I make for my special snack later,” I’d think as I was opening kiddie yogurt containers. Even while eating an enormous dinner, somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d be planning for my after dinner treat. Food was my ever present companion, both physically and mentally.

So what does eating to live look like in real life?  For me, as a real life maintainer, (thanks Vickie for the term) eating, preparing, and enjoying food is still a big part of my day. Especially when you stop and remember that I have seven children, all of whom still live at home!

But my thoughts surrounding food have changed from near obsession, to pleasant planning. An example of this way of thinking might be how some of the food bloggers approach food. They obviously enjoy selecting, preparing and eating fine food. And although my food choices aren’t as exotic or as exciting as theirs, I nonetheless enjoy food. (Believe me, if I posted pictures of the food I ate, everyone would be booooored to tears!)

In the morning when I wake up I don’t think about the chocolate brownie left over from dinner anymore. I don’t worry that John took all of the leftover lasagna, nor do I fret when the children start to eat the last of the snacks. Rather I just go on with my morning, trying to get at least some of my daily chores done before the baby wakes up. When it’s time to make a meal, I just make what I planned, and leave it at that.

Food is no longer always on my mind. I still love to eat good food, but I don’t love thinking about food all the time. It’s been very freeing emotionally to let go of focusing on food all day long. I remember noticing the transition about midway through my weight loss. One day, at about 11:00 in the morning, I distinctly recall thinking, “I haven’t thought about extra food all morning.” I had begun the change.

How often do you think about food? I’m not saying it’s bad to think about food, because it certainly is not – but it may not be emotionally healthy to think about food all day long, every day, without fail. 

The transition for me came slowly, but it did come. It can come for you too. Diane

41 thoughts on “Can You Just Eat to Live?

  1. Big_mummy says:

    *I* cant just eat to live and i think i will always be that way, i do use food less than i used to, and i definatly obsess less about food these days, its not my ever consuming thoughts about what can be my next meal, but likewise, i do ENJOY eating lol.
    .-= Big_mummy´s last blog ..Dude? Dude? Focus dude…. Dude? =-.

  2. MizFit says:

    I almost feel badly saying that YES YES I CAN EAT TO LIVE but it has been a longbumpyroad to get here.

    And, as I yammer all the time :), the final SHOVE to this place was my decision to be a full time mom and a full time freelancer.

    I tried NOT eating to live, at lottsa crap, and could NOT maintain my daily activities.

    (seriously. please to envision a few afternoons on the could supine while I “played” with my active 1.5 year old. didnt work :))

    so now I eat to live and hope that, when my daughter is in school, the habit is so ingrained it continues.
    .-= MizFit´s last blog ..Fall Fitness. =-.

  3. Monica says:

    Diane, I’m not there yet, but I’m trying. I do find myself focusing on food a lot, but it’s getting better. I love how you said that you just noticed one time that you weren’t dwelling on it anymore. I want to have that.

  4. Terry says:

    Another great article Diane. You have a way of making me THINK about things in a new way. I’m not at the “East to Live” point yet. I have had some days or half-days of a less than all-consuming obsession about what I’m going to eat. Even though I have lost my weight and now am maintaining, it’s what goes on the mind that continues to be areas that need changing.

    • Diane says:

      @MizFit – Don’t feel badly – that is the goal! To live life fully.

      @Monica – I think that you are doing a great job. I so appreciate your comments!

      @Terry – Thank you for your nice compliment. The mind part is often the last frontier to conquer. At least it was for me!

  5. Amy H. says:

    I think I spent a lot of time obsessing over when I’d be alone and what I would eat when I was alone. Now when those alone times come, I read blogs, read a book, knit or plan out/prep cook our dinner. I would get a certain food in my head, like M&M’s or cookies, and then I just had to have it and would figure out a way to go get it. I’m still working on it, but the impulses are coming less and less.
    .-= Amy H.´s last blog ..Food Glop & Black-Eyes =-.

  6. Debby says:

    Awesome post. Planning was the key to get my thinking off food all day long. Even after beginning Weight Watchers, I’d still think about food. Oh, it was the healthy stuff I was going to eat, but I’d think about it all the time. Oh what will I eat for breakfast? Oh my what will I have for dinner, snack, etc. Then I started planning my food in the morning. I’d plan in my 3 milks (ya, I’m 50!), my 5 fruit and veg, my 2 healthy oils, and then plan everything else around those. I’d put it all in my journal, or my online tracker, and then just eat what I’d planned! How freeing that was…only thinking about food once a day.
    .-= Debby´s last blog ..If you’re going to binge…. =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Amy H – Me too with the finding different things to occupy my time and my hands! I am really enjoying your blog!

      @Debby – Planning is the key for so many aspects of weight loss. What a great idea to set it all up in the morning, and then move on with other things!

  7. Jody - Fit at 51 says:

    Such a real post Diane! Yes, I remember the live to eat days! Like you, I still enjoy my boring foods. I am not exciting either but I enjoy the foods I have made part of my food life. At times, I do obsess still BUT that is minority & I understand it. It does not effect me in any harmful way. I think it is normal to feel that way at times..

    Thank you for bringing this up because that emotional part & that living to eat is one of the things that really trips people up!

  8. Lance says:

    Diane,
    And this all reminds me, too, of where I used to be just a few short years ago. Eating just to eat. Today, I’m much more focused on eating to live. Sure, there are moments when I slip up. But, I’m happy and comfortable with where I’m at on this continuum. And Diane, what you’ve done for yourself is so wonderful. And to top that off, that you share here so openly, for others to see where you’ve been and where you are – what an inspiration!
    .-= Lance´s last blog ..Sunday Thought For The Day =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Jody – Yes, you and I could start the boring food blog! Now wouldn’t that be exciting to read! Seriously though, it is totally normal at times to think about food a lot – I know I do too!

      @Lance – You are so kind and I really appreciate your nice words. I love how you said you are happy and comfortable where you are. That’s just wonderful.

      @erin – Awesome that you are more and more aware of where you are each moment of the day. I’m glad you like the blog!

  9. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    As always, great post!

    I think it can take a loooooong time to get to the point where you don’t think of food constantly. I think especially when you are losing weight so much focus is on food that it’s hard not to think about food. I tried to be really prepared and plan a lot. Somehow, if I knew there were some healthy, easy option around, I thought about food less… Now, I enjoy food when I’m eating it, but it’s not an obsession the rest of the day.
    .-= Andrea@WellnessNotes´s last blog ..Yummy Wraps =-.

  10. Marisa (Trim The Fat) says:

    Diane, I am really trying to not let my thought of food and compulsion to eat rule my life. I’m feeling better about the change everyday. You are such an inspiration and give me the hope that this WILL happen for me, too!
    .-= Marisa (Trim The Fat)´s last blog ..Working It Out =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Andrea – It can definitely take a very long time, and it is definitely a process. I love how you explained your thoughts – very smart!

      @Marisa – It will happen for you! It’s wonderful that you are feeling more and more confident each day! Congrats.

  11. Robin says:

    For a while, the last year or so, I’ve definitely been focusing on food but lately I’ve been focusing on life instead. I try not to obsess about it too much, that’s where I get into trouble. If I focus too much on eating better or eating less, it just doesn’t work. Focusing on the world around me and getting out there seems to be the best for me.
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..What I Ate =-.

  12. South Beach Steve says:

    It amazes me the difference in people and their attitudes about food. My wife’s family, for the most part, eat only when they are hungry. Food is not looked at like it is for much of my family. My dad said it best once when he said, “I don’t have an eating disorder that is uncontrollable, I just like to eat. I like food.” That being said is perhaps indicative of an eating disorder, although my dad is really a pretty healthy weight.

    You asked how often we think about food. I have to admit, when I am at home I think about food often. When I am at work, not so much. I think some of it is the environment.
    .-= South Beach Steve´s last blog ..Motivation for Monday =-.

  13. 2Bmeagain says:

    Maybe I am the odd one here, but I do better when I do think about food. I have found for me that I have to think about what I am eating so that I stay on track. It is when I stop thinking about food that I get into trouble. I then become a mindless eater and eat everything in sight. If I am thinking about food and planning out my food choices for the day, then I seem to have some control.

    I have also noticed another interesting thing. When I am making good, healthy choices and I’m really focused on my program, I dream about food. I never dream about food when I am eating to my heart’s content. How weird is that?
    .-= 2Bmeagain´s last blog ..Sunday’s Blast from the Past – 4th Edition =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Steve – Good point about the environment we are in somewhat influencing how much we think about food. That’s true for me too, although since I’m home most of the time, it’s probably activity level based.

      @2bmeagain – You are not odd at all. It’s really great to be aware of what you want to eat, and when you want to eat it! Now the dreaming about food – I just don’t know about that! The only time I dreamed of food was when I was expecting!!

  14. Faith says:

    What a great, thought-provoking post! You bring up a really good point that unlike cigarettes and alcohol, food is a necessary part of our lives that we can NEVER give up. I guess that makes it all the more important to establish a healthy relationship with food! It seems like in our culture (and probably every culture) food is used as so much more than just a means to live…think about how often it’s used for celebration, such as at a holiday feast, or when you get a promotion at work and go out for a nice dinner, or when family is in from out of town and you make a special meal. I think the key is to be able to enjoy food without letting it control you.
    .-= Faith´s last blog ..Ramadan & Red Lentil Soup =-.

  15. carla says:

    I admit, because of dietary restrictions, I do think a lot about food. I think about when and what my next meal should be, what I should buy at the store or farmers market and think about making the best choices when eating out. When you have allergies or intolerances, its not so cut and dry; black or white.

    My issue is not eating enough or not eating when I should so I have to be mindful of that. When I am not thoughtful, things spiral out of control.
    .-= carla´s last blog ..If I could control the weather =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Faith – It is absolutely used as a celebration in most cultures. For me, that was some of what made it so difficult to control myself. By the way – I really liked your post today!

      @carla – Yes, very good point about the dietary restrictions. You do need to be mindful of your selections. You are like 2bemeagain in that thinking about food is a healthy choice for you!

  16. NewMe says:

    I would phrase things a bit differently. For me, “eating to live” is the way my father and uncle ate. They were Holocaust survivors, so just having food to eat was good enough. They seemed quite disinterested in flavour, colour or presentation. These were people who had come close to starving to death. Plain food was enough for them.

    As I see it, “living to eat” is probably what you describe: an obsession with eating. Interestingly enough, people who binge probably don’t take much more interest in flavour, colour and presentation than my father and uncle did. They just want as much as they can get as fast as they can eat it.

    I really strive for the middle way: Food is necessary, but it is also a pleasure to be savoured. It’s hard to eat junk food when you slow down your eating. The chemical back-taste comes through loud and clear and the crap just doesn’t taste as good as you thought when you were stuffing it in.

    The European approach to food: taking long, leisurely meals and eating small portions of a variety of delicious things is much healthier, both physically and psychologically. I realize that in our world, this style of eating can be hard to do. It doesn’t mean, though, that I won’t try!

    I see food like interior design. Yes, I could live with a mattress on the floor and boxes to store my books in. Or I could live like a hoarder and fill every free space with my things. I prefer a fairly neat, harmonious environment that is comfortable and colourful. Not always easy to achieve but worth the effort.
    .-= NewMe´s last blog ..Seeing Things Differently =-.

    • Diane says:

      @NewMe – You should post this on your own blog it is so wonderfully rich and full. I like your middle ground – food is pleasurable, and should be enjoyed. Very wise!

  17. Ida says:

    I had the opposite problem. I never thought about food. I just consumed. IF it was there, I ate it. I am still having trouble with the ‘see food’ diet. That is my biggest downfall. For some reason I have yet to figure out, if I see food, I feel COMPELLED to eat it.
    .-= Ida´s last blog ..Today’s stats =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Ida – I totally understand that compulsion because I suffered from it for years and years. It definitely is not easy to overcome, but with practice, and daily recommitment to yourself you can do it!

  18. Hanlie says:

    Until fairly recently I was definitely living to eat… I thought about food ALL THE TIME. Strangely enough, I ate without passion…almost mechanically. I couldn’t get the food in quickly enough.

    Food is still important to me, but instead of just being fixated on the eating, I now enjoy perusing recipes, preparing our meals and yes, eating them too. I have found so much real pleasure in food these days. I’ve slowed down the whole process and savor my food now. I think it helps that my food is fresh and wholesome – I feel so much more connected to it.

    And because I’m being nourished and satisfied, I don’t think about food outside of meal times any more. That is true freedom.
    .-= Hanlie´s last blog ..Book Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma =-.

  19. Jac says:

    Reading through your post, and then also the comments I finally feel like there is hope! Like there will be a day when food is not my constant thought.

    Right now? It’s a constant thought. It’s also my biggest downfall, the thinking of food. It seems even when I get out of the house and try to keep my mind/hands/body busy I am still plotting and planning about food.
    .-= Jac´s last blog ..Associating Home, with Food. =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Hanlie – I can see that in your own blog, that you are looking at food with pleasure and with anticipation of the flavors and the healthy benefits it offers.

      @Jac – There is hope. There will be a day when you will realize – “Wow, I’m not dwelling on food as much!” I hope you let me know when it comes – I want to celebrate with you!

  20. Sagan says:

    I think about food A LOT, but these days its a healthy excited attitude of “what should I cook next? How can I get maximum taste for maximum nutrients?” rather than freaking out over food.
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Nutritional Yeast =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Sagan – How can you not think of food when you are doing your 30 day challenge??!! Seriously though, I admire your great attitude towards food and health!

      @Cammy – Planning is fabulous, as are occasional splurges!

  21. Tammy says:

    I’ve lost 30 lbs thus far, and to tell you the truth, I still think about food all the time, lol. However, I can tell that the “desperation” is nearly gone. That’s the best word I can think of, and I have a feeling you know what I mean when I say that. I don’t fear bingeing anymore…I feel like I’ve just about got a handle on things like cookouts, family reunions, potlucks, etc.

    On the flip side of that, I look forward to holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas all year long…just as much for the food, as having all the family together. I’m actually planning to overeat, lol. But I’m thinking about doing what Sean did. I think I’m going to allow myself an extra 500-1000 calories on those 2 days. I don’t know that I’ll use them, but I know I’ll be able to enjoy all the things I only get once or twice a year, without the guilt.

    By the way, I voted for you on his poll of who to interview next. 🙂
    .-= Tammy´s last blog ..Wow! Guess What I Did?! =-.

  22. Lori says:

    I’ve talked a lot about this with the counselor I’ve been seeing for about a year and a half. I want to be able to “eat to live,” not “live to eat” as well. I too, in the past lived for food– when I was tired, bored, upset, angry, or any other time. My thoughts revolved (well, they still do sometimes…) around food, and I tied emotions to them always. I’m hoping for the easier transition of not letting it revolve around my life, but it’s still a daily (and sometimes hourly) process. Thanks for the post! 🙂
    .-= Lori´s last blog .. =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Tammy – That is so wonderful that you can actually feel your mind shift around. I love that!! I also think that your plan to mirror Sean’s is wonderful! I just saw his poll – that would be neat to be interviewed by him.

      @Lori – It sounds like you have a great counselor, and a great attitude. You are right about it being a daily (and more) struggle. It may always be, but the choices you make are what is important, no matter what the struggle is. Thank you for coming by!

  23. DownsizingDoc says:

    From “obsession to pleasant planning” I love it! I find physical activity is the best way to keep me from thinking about food…..and keeping the stress level down. And avoiding refined carbs and foods with too much fat and salt makes a huge difference as well.

    Stop by my blog, I have a Lovely BLog award for you!
    .-= DownsizingDoc´s last blog ..Thank you Diva =-.

  24. zaababy says:

    With 48 pounds out of the way, I too have noticed my obsession with food going away. One of the reasons I thought I couldn’t lose weight was because I loved food so very much. I couldn’t imagine a life without chocolate or pizza or any of the other things I had to have. Well now I can have it in smaller portions and I’m happier than I’ve ever been with myself. I have 8 children myself, and do my fair share of planning and cooking meals. Loved this post.
    .-= zaababy´s last blog ..Day 109–Weigh Day and a lunch out =-.

  25. Leah says:

    I’m a day behind, but this was a thought that a year ago I had written in my journal and I feel it is where true deliverance from obesity and overeating begins. When we learn to eat to live and not live to eat we can gain control over those bad habits.

    This is head knowledge for me and I’m working at getting it to really become true in my own life 100%. I know I’m getting there. 🙂
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..Deliverance Is Coming! =-.

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