Health vs. Appearance: What Drives Your Food Choices?

With this headline in mind, I had set out to write a motivational blog post on why we should be making good food choices for the benefit of feeling good instead of looking good. I wrote and rewrote a few drafts but was struggling to capture the right message for what I had in mind. These thoughts usually form themselves into words pretty easily, but not with this theme.

Then it hit me, why I couldn’t spell it out – I don’t actually agree with what I wanted to encourage you all to believe for yourselves, that we shouldn’t let body weight be a motivating factor for our food choices. As much as I want it to be true that I don’t care about my body weight or appearance, it certainly is still a factor in my food choices.

There is still a part of me that associates food with body weight. I can’t deliver an honest post about completely dropping the idea of good food = skinny and bad food = fat, because I know that I still back away from a cupcake (though not often!) if I’m not feeling good in my jeans that day.

But I know now that fear of weight gain is not the primary reason I’ll turn down a cupcake (and it certainly won’t keep me from ever eating one). I eat pretty friggin’ healthy the majority of the time because it allows me to have a really great quality of life. As a result of not eating sugar and processed carbs at every meal, I typically have loads of natural energy and I can focus better on my work.

And weight, I have to remind myself, is nothing to be afraid of. When you are in tune with your body and feed it what it needs on a regular basis, it has its way of balancing things out to find your happy, healthy set point. So why not throw your body a piece of cake now and then?

When Appearance Motivation Becomes a Problem

Appearance is a motivating factor for eating healthy, absolutely. The problem is that for many of us young women, appearance is the only motivating factor.

My sweet mother tried to get me to eat vegetables for years. I remember the health instructors at school teaching about the food groups as well. But as a teenage girl with a high metabolism, I didn’t see a need to eat less junk food. Being in 3 sports kept my body weight in check, so why change what I was eating?

Of course, I never took into account that my poor diet probably played a part in my (b)acne and chronic tummy aches. It wasn’t until my weight crept up that I considered changing my diet. Then, I became obsessed with dieting for looking awesome rather than eating healthy to feel awesome.

Basing your consumption around what makes you look great is what leads to yo-yo dieting, negative relationships with food and even eating disorders.

When we focus only on how eating a certain way for a period of time makes us look, we forget about how that lifestyle makes us feel. If we’re counting calories, restricting carbs and scrutinizing the number on the scale, we’re too focused on the technical details to notice whether our body actually thrives on the food we’re giving it. We can start eating like robots and losing sense of what our bodies actually want and need.

That’s how I dieted myself into an eating disorder. I was so far out of sync with my body that I didn’t know how to eat without knowing nutrition facts and having a calorie tracker nearby. I couldn’t tell if I was hungry, full, or craving red meat or fish, because it was all by the calculations and the macros.

When we continue to label food as good or bad and see only the effects it has on our appearance, we forget about what food is actually meant for.

It’s not all about how food shows up on your body, but how food works for your body.

It's not all about how food is going to show up on your body, but how food works for your body.

Eat Well to Live Well

Looking good can sometimes be too strong of a motivating factor for making good food choices. The vanity factor can overpower the incredible benefits that nutritious food delivers to us. Things like energy, brain power, sleep and vitality become unimportant in comparison to the need to look slim and fit.

But those are the things that add to our quality of life. At the end of the day, how do you want to feel? The zest for life, the desire to do a handstand against a bare wall or a cartwheel in any open area of grass you come across, jumping higher than the girl on the other side of the volleyball net, the ability to fall asleep easily and rest well (insert your own definition of awesome living) – these are quality benefits we get from making healthy choices.

Health vs. Appearance: What drives your food choices?

Looks are a perk of a healthy lifestyle, indeed. But if you’re eating right for the main purpose of looking a certain way, you’re setting yourself up on a destructive path. The “looks” factor of eating healthy is something that we do to get the approval of others. As with anything you choose to do in life, if you’re only doing it to please someone else you’ll never stick with it or be happy doing it.

A Little Bit of Both

You can be super thin yet lack energy, feel sluggish and have health problems. You can also be thin and full of life.

You can be overweight and lack energy, feel sluggish and have health problems. You can also be overweight and full of energy and a zest for life.

Weight isn’t always the mirror image of our health, it’s just the cover that other people happen to see. How you feel day in and day out is your true measuring stick, the one you have to live with.

A little bit of motivation from both the desire to feel awesome and the desire to look awesome is a good thing, but be cautious of getting too hung up on the latter. Your number on the scale doesn’t necessarily define how high you can jump.

Health works from the inside out. Know that if you put a high emphasis on feeling good, your looks will always reflect your energy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What drives your food choices? Does the appearance factor keep you from indulging or do you consider how it will make you feel? Let me know by leaving a comment!

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