Do You Eat to Live, or Live to Eat?

Mmm, food.

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Use the Healthy Food Preference List and Indulgence Frequency Questionnaire to determine how you can strike the right balance between Eating to Live, and Living to Eat.

When you ask this question to someone, it can definitely elicit a reaction. They usually pick a side and talk about what food means to them (fuel or comfort or family). Or they will talk about how they started on one side of the statement and switched to the other. Or they discuss how they are trying to manage balancing both sides of the question. In the end, it’s the same three words, “to”, “Live” and “Eat”, but the order and perception of those words creates vastly different meaning to people, and likely to you.

Those who “Live to Eat” view food as something more in their life than just fuel. It can mean comfort, family, friends, happiness, lifestyle or stress release. When food takes on greater meaning than its nutrients, we start running into conflicting desires, commitments and priorities. What drives our subconscious to make decisions? Emotions, desires and internalized commitments. That’s why those who “Live to Eat” may find making healthy, positive eating changes very challenging. To you, it’s more than just food…it’s about what food means to you. When it comes to making positive eating changes, fear of change can significantly impact those who “Live to Eat”, especially in two cases:

Foodies – When Food is a Lifestyle

When foodies are asked to make healthy eating changes, they may immediately think that they can no longer enjoy cooking, eating or socializing with their friends. They imagine a shackle being wrapped around the tasting menu at their favorite restaurant or a steel cage surrounding their favorite piece of chocolate cake. And then they imagine that they can no longer go to eat with their foodie friends because they need to eat “grass” or “rabbit food” or any other derogatory term that can be created for fruits, veggies and whole grains. By asking a foodie to make changes, they feel that their lifestyle is under attack and of course, when someone feels under attack, they get defensive and resist change.

However, making positive changes to eating and physical activity does not have to mean giving up eating well or tastefully. It means understanding how healthier foods can fit into your lifestyle rather than making your lifestyle fit into the demand for healthier foods. Try cooking with some new spices rather than butter or oil. Discover new flavor profiles by adding a new fruit or vegetable to a dish. Start splitting scrumptious meals when you go out to eat…then you and your friends can discuss the same foods and each eat less of them. And when you do want to indulge, do so without guilt and enjoy it. Go out with your friends once or twice a week and have fun! In the end, one or two meals do not make or break a healthy lifestyle. It’s the meals we eat on a regular basis that dictate our lifestyle.

Emotional Eating – When Food is a source of Control or Feelings

Call it stress eating or emotional eating, but in the end, those who turn to food to cope with challenges, changes and feelings will find that they very thing they turn to when times get tough may no longer available to them. For others, people who have very hectic or demanding routines (work, family, etc.) may view food as the last bit of control that they have in their day. So they will choose what they want…and “to hell with” what anyone else may want them to do or eat. They rebel with food. On the other hand, sometimes we eat because it is a joyous occasion such as a party or a wedding. What happens is, we no longer listen to our intuitive (aka natural) hunger and satiety systems and instead override them to a point where we feel ravenously hungry or exceedingly full. Over time, we lose a sense of these systems and we start turning to our feelings and emotions to dictate our eating habits rather than our bodies. As Fat Bastard eloquently said in the Austin Powers movie: “I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat.”

In essence, food has become a dependency, equally as strong as drugs for addicts, cigarettes for smokers or booze for alcoholics. Research shows (Farley, A. C. et al. – 2012) that when people quit smoking, they tend to gain weight. It can be partially attributed to the fact that nicotine is an appetite suppressant, but also consider whether food becomes the new “coping mechanism”. When someone who smoked used to get stressed, what would they do? Smoke! Now that the cigarettes are no longer there, they need to find a new coping mechanism. While there are positive ones out there such as exercise, yoga and meditation, a more convenient one may be food. Hence the weight gain.

Also consider this: What is one of the main ingredients in preferred “comfort foods”: sugar or carbs. Carbs, particularly high doses of sugar can have an impact on the brain, stimulating dopamine and opioid receptors: our brain’s “feel good” chemicals. The stimulation has been compared to drug addiction (Hoebel, B. G. et al – 2009), including cocaine or marijuana use. But of course, after a while, the effects wear off and we need to look for the next hit if we did not solve our original source of emotion or stress.

For people who deal with emotional eating, the best thing to do is consider alternate ways of coping with stress or feelings of lack of control. Brainstorming and solving any existing sources of stress is a great first start. Next, it’s about finding other ways of stress management that you can feel comfortable turning to during tough times, especially during challenges you face in the health, fitness or weight change process. Exercise, yoga, meditation, knitting, cooking, favorite hobbies and sleeping are just a few, but you are more than welcome to determine your own. When you are able to start turning to other activities to handle stress, we can become better tuned to our body’s natural hunger and satiety (feeling full) systems and eat when we are actually hungry, rather than when we are happy, sad, mad, etc.

***Note: In the end, we are all somewhere in this continuum between Eating to Live and Living to Eat. The key is striking the balance that allows us to enjoy food when we want while being mindful of and listening to our natural hunger and satiety signals. We choose nourishing, healthy foods whenever we can because we know there will be special occasions when we will choose not to and instead will indulge and enjoy it. It’s not about restriction…it’s about balance.

What About those Who Eat to Live? Attention All Those Who Want to Gain Weight

Those who “Eat to Live” typically view food as fuel to nourish their body and keep it running strong. However, there is one notable exception, and that is those who view food as an inconvenience to their lifestyle and only choose to eat because they know they will pass out otherwise. In this case, you are likely facing weight gain issues, because when you get stressed or challenged the last thing on your mind is eating. But if you are trying to gain weight, and you stop eating (and exercising…or increase exercising without maintaining your eating), guess what will happen to your weight? Yep, back down to where it started.

The keys to overcoming this situation are similar to emotional eating, except the actions are reversed:

  • 1. Make a personal commitment to food, eating consistently and maintaining adequate physical activity, particularly strength training.
  • 2. Determine ways to handle stress or challenges that allow you to maintain your focus on eating more (or maintaining the amount needed for weight gain) and being active.

Do You Eat to Live or Live to Eat? How do you strike a balance?  Comment below or share on Twitter (@JMachowskyRDFit) or Facebook (JMWellness)!

Can Diet Sodas Lead to Weight Gain?

A Refreshing Can of Weight Gain?

A Refreshing Can of Weight Gain?

A recent review of the research surrounding diet beverage consumption shows that the more you drink, the greater your potential changes for gaining weight.

In theory, diet beverage consumption should lead to weight loss if it replaces a higher-calorie drink.  Swapping one can of Coke for one can of Diet Coke each day with no other changes should lead to a ten pound weight loss per year.  Unfortunately, other things usually do change and that’s why theory does not always translate into practice.  (Remember, in theory socialism and Communism aren’t too bad either).

So what’s the disconnect between theory and practice?  Two main points:

1.  According to Yang, “Increasing evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the same fashion as natural sweeteners…Sweetness decoupled from caloric content offers partial, but not complete, activation of the food reward pathways. Activation of the hedonic component may contribute to increased appetite. Animals seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness, even in the absence of energy need. Lack of complete satisfaction, likely because of the failure to activate the post-ingestive component, further fuels the food seeking behavior. Reduction in reward response may contribute to obesity.”

Interpretation: When we drink diet beverages, our body has been primed to have something sweet, but it did not get the calories associated with the sweetness (since diet soda has zero calories). This creates a disconnect between our brain and body, so we now look to eat something to satisfy this newly created un-fulfilled calorie craving.  So by not having the calories in the soda, we look for something else to make up those calories…and if that food is high in calories, then we may have just been better off having a regular, 120 calorie can of soda.  (Of course, the best option is water or another low-calorie beverage without artificial sweeteners to avoid the calories and the cravings).

2.  According to Yang, “Lastly, artificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence. Repeated exposure trains flavor preference. A strong correlation exists between a person’s customary intake of a flavor and his preferred intensity for that flavor. Systematic reduction of dietary salt or fat without any flavorful substitution over the course of several weeks led to a preference for lower levels of those nutrients in the research subjects. In light of these findings, a similar approach might be used to reduce sugar intake. Un-sweetening the world’s diet may be the key to reversing the obesity epidemic.

Interpretation: These extremely sweet artificial sweeteners blunt our body’s ability to detect and become satisfied from the natural sugars found n unprocessed foods like fruit, dairy, etc. Therefore we need to add more and more sugar (and calories) to our foods to become satisfied.  We become “sweet” addicts.

If you don’t believe me, try this: next time you are hungry and haven’t had any sweet foods or beverages in a while, go buy a piece of fruit (apple, peach, etc.) and a sweet beverage (soda, diet soda, etc.).  Eat half of the fruit and feel how sweet it tastes.  Then drink the entire soda or diet beverage (you don’t have to pound it down).  Now eat the other half of the fruit and note how much sweetness you get (I’m willing to bet it will be much less).  If it’s not as sweet, is it as satisfying?  Or would you rather look for something sweeter (and more highly caloric) to eat?

Lesson Learned: We must slowly reduce our “sweet” consumption (from regular or diet beverages, sugary foods, etc.) over time.  If you try to go cold turkey, your body will likely rebel at some point (think about any time you tried to cut out sugar all at once).  Have one less sweet drink or snack for a few weeks until you get used to it.  Then go down by another one.  Take your time. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.


One for the Weight Gainers…

One for the "Hard Gainers"

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Obesity is an epidemic and because of this, most of the research out there focuses on weight loss.  However I wanted to provide a shout out to those who have trouble gaining weight.  While many of us may view “hard gainers” (the title given to those who need to work to gain weight) as people with a “good” problem, talk to any of them and you will find out that they have just as many frustrations involved in gaining 15 to 20 pounds as those of us who want to shed those same 15 to 20.  Too bad we can’t make a direct trade.

The crucial factor to remember is that these hard gainers do not just want to gain weight…they want to gain lean body mass (i.e. bone, muscle, etc.).  Few, if any, people really want to gain fat!  Building lean body mass also helps overweight people lose weight by improving their metabolism (muscle burns more calories per day than fat).  Turns out weight gainers and losers have more in common than we think.  There’s one fundamental difference:

  • Weight gainers want to promote lean body mass gain in the presence of eating more calories than they burn
  • Weight losers (those looking to lose weight) want to maintain lean body mass in the presence of eating less calories than they burn.

Both populations need to be physically active, particularly through resistance training.  Those looking to gain weight may perform a bit less (but not eliminate) cardiovascular activity to minimize excess calorie burn.  Both populations need to eat high quality foods with lots of nutrients like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.  However weight gainers need to increase their intake of high-nutrient, high-calorie foods like whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats compared to those focused on weight loss.

Here is a summary of what the literature (aka scientific researchers) currently says about gaining weight:

Overall, the most effective way to increase strength and bulk is to:

  1. Perform sport-specific (or large muscle group) resistance exercise training.
  2. Gradual weight gain is essential (just like gradual weight loss) to maximize lean mass gain and minimize fat gain, with calorie intakes aiming to gain ½ to 1 pound per week.
  3. When sufficient protein is consumed (as little as 1.0 g/kg/day, but typically 1.2-1.6 g/kg/day in active individuals and athletes), adequate energy intake becomes the most important factor in promoting lean body mass growth.  “High energy intakes necessary to support strength training will provide ample protein for increased muscle mass.” [From Kevin Tipton].  In other words, in our protein-laden American diets, we do not necessarily need lots of extra protein and supplements to gain weight.
  4. More protein is not always better if it comes at the expense of other nutrients required to optimally fuel our activity (i.e. carbohydrates).
  5. Eating small frequent meals that include a balanced variety of carbohydrates, protein and fat at each meal is key to promoting a positive nitrogen balance throughout the day.
  6. The body is primed for growth before/after a workout.  A small snack including protein about an hour or two before training may benefit anabolism.  Adequate fueling after training (carbohydrates + protein) ideally within 30 minutes after training is also crucial.  Low-fat chocolate milk is a popular option, though a sandwich or fruit + low-fat string cheese or smoothies are all great as well.
  7. While some supplements may improve strength and bulk (creatine) or muscle protein signaling (leucine), the gains made through these routes are much less significant than an optimal dietary pattern.  These are for the “last 2 to 3% of results…not the first 95%.”
  8. Protein in foods is just as effective as supplements for building muscle.
  9. When providing adequate energy for muscle building, focus should be placed on high-nutrient, high calorie foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein as opposed to low-nutrient, high calorie foods such as fast food and candy.  Of course, fruits and veggies are important too!
  10. Every person is unique.  Tailor all recommendations to the individual and adjust based on the results achieved.

My motto: “Train and eat like you mean it!”

Here’s some other good resources for tips on gaining weight healthfully:

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