There are a number of different perspectives to view and think about that enticing food item you are about to pop in your mouth. I break them down into fuel; building materials; pleasure source; psychoactive drug.
Fuel: In similar fashion to our cars, we need energy to run our engines. All of our food energy is solar-derived—through a miraculous chemical process called photosynthesis, plants are able to “capture” the energy of the sun by using the solar radiation to fuse water and carbon dioxide to form glucose. We consume plants and gain the energy derived from the sun; alternatively, animals eat the plants, and we eat the animals, again fueling ourselves on solar-based energy.
Point: fuel yourself with premium fuel when possible!
Building Blocks: The human body is in a constant state of dynamic flux—tissues are continually being destroyed and reconstructed. The fodder for the repair process comes from the constituents of our diet. So we literally are what we eat!
We are what we eat eats, and what we eat eats eats as well. In other words, if that salmon fillet you had for dinner last night was from the Pacific Northwest and itself dined on krill and other natural foods, its composition would be very much different from the farmed salmon brought up on corn products and processed salmon feed.
Point: let your building blocks be high quality components, just as you would use if you were replacing vital parts in your car!
Pleasure source: Eating is downright pleasurable for most of us, including myself. It is entertaining, fun, and piques all of our senses. What a clever bait and switch scheme conceived by nature—we are spurred on to eat seemingly by the delight, gratification and sensual stimulation of food, but what nature really had in mind was assuring our fueling for survival purposes. Imagine if eating was boring and perfunctory, like fueling our cars—this would not be beneficial to survival.
Point: Even though eating is for purposes of survival, it is a highly stimulating sensory experience, so try to eat slowly and deliberately, savoring the moment and attempting to balance our hard-wired eating drives with our mindful ability to exercise restraint.
Psychoactive Drug: Food can function as a sedative drug to soothe us. Consumption of certain foods triggers addictive responses in brain reward circuits by the release of a cocktail of chemicals in our brain involved in the reward circuitry: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, etc., driving compulsive eating patterns. These chemicals are capable of making us feel better, relieving stress, anxiety, etc. So there is a biochemical basis for the consumption of highly pleasurable comfort foods—often comprised of refined carbohydrates, sugar, fat and salt—involving the same mechanisms that underlie drug addiction.
Point: Certain foods, usually unhealthy processed junk, can act as a short-term fix for our emotional wounds. Alcohol, tobacco, drugs and comfort foods are maladaptive oral habits that can pacify our frazzled souls. Recognize that comfort food is a nothing more than a band-aid, and what needs to be addressed is the cause that underlies the need for pacification. If the root cannot be addressed, then a compensatory mechanism that is not maladaptive can be a solution. Interestingly, exercise is capable of tapping into our own pharmacy within and releasing the very same cocktail of reward circuit chemicals!