Food is my friend. Food is my enemy. I am comforted by food. I feel like I’m being attacked by food advertising at every turn. Food is how I show love. Food is how we celebrate. I’m a foodie. All I ever think about is food. I avoid food as long as I can until I break and eat everything in sight.

It is very likely that at some point in your life you have uttered one of these phrases, or have heard someone else say something similar. All of these statements can be true depending on the person, but the main thing they all have in common is that they are all talking about your relationship with food, not food itself. Food is a tool, like a hammer is a tool. In the hands of a skilled craftsman a hammer can build beautiful structures, and in the hands of a layperson the hammer can cause broken bones and frustration. Whether you want to believe it or not, food is the same.

During his historic run in the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps was ingesting 12,000 calories per day. To continue with our analogy from above, he was a skilled craftsman utilizing the tool of food to maintain a level of performance that was unparalleled at the time. Give your average IT professional the same daily diet and within a month simple math will tell us that they would have gained 85 pounds of fat. Talk about hitting yourself in the hand with a hammer! This example is obviously ridiculous, but it proves our point extremely well in that food is a tool.

The unfortunate problem with understanding how to use food properly is that there are far too many sources of information for the average citizen to truly understand which approach they should take to eating a “healthy diet.” Buzz worthy terms like “Keto,” “Paleo,” “vegan,” “Atkins,” “Mediterranean,” etc. seem to haunt our TVs, radio stations, and smart phones and drown us in suggestions and testimonials about the latest and greatest. Many people look to their doctor for advice, whom they see a few times per year, but the standard conversation will be “eat less and exercise more.” At my most recent check-up I pressed my doctor for more specific info, and he told me “all the information is online, do you really need me to print something out for you?” More often than not this generic information is cast aside by the patient and their next annual check-up will seem like groundhog’s day; with their doctor imploring them to lose weight or be forced to start prescription drugs for blood pressure, cholesterol, and maybe even insulin.

How can we stop this seemingly endless merry-go-round? The easiest solution is that your calorie intake must be sensible for the amount of calories you burn. Most of us underestimate calories consumed and overestimate calories burned, which is a recipe for weight gain over time. Most health and wellness professionals can help you figure out more accurate calorie models through food journaling and scientific methods of determining calories burned daily. Then you can discuss methods and means to make subtle changes to each category to begin losing or gaining weight depending on your personal goals. Enlisting the help of a professional is key when making dietary changes, they can guide you around common pitfalls and help get you moving faster in the right direction than you could trying to learn everything on your own. Leverage their expertise, their education, and their passion to help you achieve your goals. These professional services aren’t cheap, but please understand that many fitness professionals have bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and certifications that require stringent testing and continuing education courses to stay relevant and certified. Think of money spent in this manner as an investment in yourself, and you will surely be pleased with the rate of return when you experience better health and well-being.

Changing your relationship with food isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort needed to make the change. Making this change is the only long-term solution for weight loss; it is superior to all the fads, all the gimmicks, and all the advertising. Building a quality relationship with food and how you use it to fuel your body will elevate you to the level of craftsman, but even then I wouldn’t recommend 12,000 calories per day.

Korbyn Doucette is the co-owner of Snap Fitness in Shakopee.

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