I’ve seen it a lot (I’ve done it myself): the post-race picture of a beer and hamburger with the caption “After running xx miles I deserve this!” Or the glass of wine or the brownie sundae or the pizza or the countless other foods that “we shouldn’t eat” because they aren’t “clean,” but we do eat when we want to reward ourselves…when we have “earned” it.
I’m not sure why, perhaps it is my history fighting disordered eating and distorted views towards food, but the whole concept doesn’t sit right with me. Why do we feel like we must “earn” food through exercise?
It is not a new concept. It is on some level fact: at one point we DID have to earn our food. We gathered. We hunted. We reaped. We sowed. It was hard work. In the past food was earned through sweat and labor, now we drive in a car, to sit at a desk, to make the money, to drive in a car, to walk around a store to earn our food. But this is not the norm for most. Most of the world still earns their food through sweat and labor and often it is not enough, there is constant need: hungry mouths wanting more.
The phenomenon of earning food through exercise comes exclusively from a culture of abundance. Sport and exercise is the hobby of those who have. It’s not wrong, it just is. [If you want to explore this idea more the book (also a PBS series,Guns, Germ and Steel by Jared Diamond is a fascinating exploration in the disparity between cultures.] Many of us are blessed: the circumstances we were born into mean we have never gone hungry. And maybe that is why we have a slightly distorted view of food, not that going hungry is beneficial or good, but that in a culture of abundance it is hard to have perspective that true hunger brings.
And just as there has always been hunger and want, there has also been feasting. Calendars of cultures past have always been dotted with feast: seasonal celebrations of abundance. Periods of hard work and labor followed by times of celebration with…food! Our present day calendar is similarly dotted with festive occasions, there’s just a lot less physical labor. Maybe that’s why we exercise? Some primal need to move to the point of exhaustion: to make the feast “worth it.”
Even with all this the idea of earning food through exercise still doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe I’m just hyper-aware of my relationship with food, wanting to keep it as free as it has become in the past four years. I haven’t quite figured it out.
What do you think? Is the idea of earning food through exercise healthy? How can you celebrate with food in a healthy way?
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