You don’t have to earn your food. Diet culture likes to perpetuate the myth that you only deserve to eat if you put in the work to earn it, meaning you went to the gym or went for a run that day — or “torched” calories doing something strenuous.
This is so problematic. It has to stop. And here’s why.
Being alive is hard work. Humans need to eat.
The amount of calories each and every person needs depends on a lot of things, but most humans need between 2200-2700 calories per day to maintain their current weight. Every day, your body needs energy to breathe, think, use its muscles, circulate blood, blink, regulate body temperature and make new cells. Even if you don’t get out of bed all day, your body still uses energy to stay alive. The amount of energy you need to just to stay alive is called your basal metabolic rate. That energy comes from fuel, also known as food. But, instead of associating with food with fuel, we associate food with “calories,” which, according to diet culture are a thing to be avoided.
Calories are not your enemy.
Calories are simply a unit of heat energy. We’ve given calories so much power over the way we think, act and feel in regards to ourselves and to food. We’ve made them out to be something that needs to be minimized and avoided and agonized over, but our bodies simply see calories for what they are: an energy source that produces heat to fuel our bodies, in the same way we use gas to fuel our cars.
Active bodies know how to use food.
If you fuel your body adequately and stay active, there’s a good chance you have a healthy metabolic rate. This means your body knows how to use the food you give it. You don’t have to earn it or try to skimp on calories. Fuel the fire. Eat. Stay active and take care of yourself. Your body was meant to use and burn fuel, it’s in your nature and DNA. Instead of trying to “be good” and eat low calorie foods, give your body the energy it needs to be a human and pay attention to how your body feels. Are you hungry or thirsty? Are you satisfied? Are you too full? These are the signals your body sends for how and when to fuel it.
Food is fuel.
All this being said, after an especially strenuous workout, we do often feel like having a nice, well-rounded meal. This is normal! This is not because we’ve earned it, but because our bodies have just done hard work and we need to refuel and repair! Also, I think it’s okay to use exercise to balance out a season of bountiful food. For instance, during the holidays or boozy summer dinner parties, I’ll workout a bit extra just to keep my energy levels normal. Extra food means extra energy to burn, so I usually have the energy and endurance to do more strenuous workouts, or workout an extra day! When food intake is more normalized, I don’t feel like working out as much or as hard. Listen to your body and pay attention to your energy levels. If you really feel that you have extra energy to burn, go for it. If not, be still and be grateful for everything your body does for you.