Live to eat, or eat to live? For many, a long-running question
It’s kind of a cliché, but we’ve all seen these kinds of interactions. (Maybe we’ve even been a part of them.) I refer to conversations that a group of people on vacation might have at a restaurant table while lunch is in progress, and they’re all discussing where they should have their dinner in just a few hours. Many people are highly food-focused. And many are not. Whichever category you see yourself falling into, this points to a running debate that has been going on for a while:  Do you live to eat… or eat to live?

At first glance, the question seems to break down into a simple black and white dynamic. Is food such a major element in your daily life that you find yourself thinking about it constantly? Do you organize your day around preparing meals and eating them? Or is food no more noteworthy to you than pulling up to the pump for fuel is to your car? Do you see eating merely as a required task to get through so you might have energy to live your life and to do the things that need to be done, or do you see eating as a key focus of your day? To further complicate the question, our current pandemic-driven reality has us unusually homebound. In a time that has seen the halting of many of the out-in-the-world habits that used to define our lives, planning and creating meals helps supply needed structure for our days, elevating the importance of food in our lives. Additionally, people commonly eat out of boredom or frustration or stress, which would definitely push one into the “live to eat” column. Yet, while the eat to live/live to eat question might seem to be completely about food, this really points to an issue about a deeper element. It’s about focus.

How do you use your focus?

While the question seems to break down into a simple black and white dynamic, the answer is far more nuanced. People holding an extreme opinion about one of the two sides—either total obsession with food or complete disdain for having to eat—may even be struggling with eating disorders.

Anyone who knows me knows that I resist using black and white thinking. The all-or-nothing perspective that views the eat to live/live to eat question in strictly opposing terms is more about the un-mindful sense of “shoulds” and the judgements people have about food and eating than it is about a balanced, healthy outlook toward those things. Because the mindful approach doesn’t even respect the question. It points to a third solution.

Live to eat, or eat to live… the mindful approach

As you might have seen me state in previous blog posts, our relationship with food is an indication of our relationship with everything else in our lives. With that in mind, if we consider letting go of the polarized either/or approach, we can accept a third option: mindfulness. To live mindfully is to approach everything with a sense of being present and more fully aware. And when our conscious awareness has us thoroughly engaged in our lives, we naturally are likewise engaged the majority of the time, which means we are also present when we eat…  as well as fully engaged and present when we are doing other things in life besides eating.

So let’s fully live enthusiastically when we eat… and fully live enthusiastically when we are not eating. As is often the case whenever there is a question on where to more effectively apply our focus, the most beneficial answer suggests that we can function at our most selfaware and open-hearted level simply by embracing mindfulness.