Wednesday, November 3, 2010

what fuels your machine makes it

Weight Log: 219lbs (I’m getting impatient-get to a hundred already!)

Ingested (Tuesday November 2nd): 1 fairly large and delicious Ambrosia apple, 10 oven baked french fries, about three teaspoons worth of sampling my newly made spicy ketchup, 1 pot of coffee, 2 cans of diet coke. = Caloric intake: 240; Fat grams: 4.6

Old Man Descartes – you know the guy who said, “I think therefore, I am” ---well he also said that the body is a machine. And if it is a machine then whammo it needs a source of energy – Right? There is no doubt that we tend to view our bodies as machines and we view food as the fuel. The idea that food is fuel to help our body function makes a certain amount of sense but we can clearly see where that idea is far from complete. Who really thinks about fuelling up their body as they sit down for a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving? So food is obviously way more than just fuel. But as soon as you want to talk about nutrition, weight loss, weight gain, training regimens, etc. the food as fuel and body as machine imagery becomes dominant – and ultimately constraining. I think it is interesting that we have something like a calorie counter that can measure a typical type of food in its potential calories like we have here: Its strange really to think that this is possible because it is still completely unclear how exactly the body processes different types of calories and how they are used or stored in the body. This arbitrary calculator can now tell me how much energy I have just fed my machine.

But the story is a bit bigger than that. If food is fuel and the body is a machine. Then it becomes important to put the right kind and amount of fuel into your body. It is also possible to use the body as a reference for the kind and amount of food consumed. A body with that is fat has more than likely taken in too much fuel and a likely also the wrong type of fuel. A body that is fit and lean is taking in the right amount and the right kind of food. That would be the connotative logic – Right? But here too we notice something going on in the background. Thinner and fitter does not necessarily mean that the fuel consumption is appropriate – consider anorexia nervosa. This is where the real fiction is exposed though.

One would never judge the hauling capacity of a pick-up truck by analyzing its fuel. Nor would one ever say that a smaller leaner truck would be a more capable truck than a large one would be. So the idea of the body as machine and of food as fuel disappears as meaningful when it is paralleled with other machines and fuels. Still the body/machine-food/fuel metaphor persists. It has a long history of usefulness – especially once European nations emerged from a perpetual state of potential famine – much the same time as the Enlightenment was catching fire. This metaphor was first used to address what seemed to be very unfit soldiers who were failing on the battlefields of the various wars of the era.

Now we are in a place where the motivation is not toward the ability to carry out our duties as soldiers but rather that we are able to display in/on our bodies the appropriately idyllic gendered body type. Being a fit machine is important for aesthetic reasons not for functional ones. If you want proof listen to the group of guys or girls talking about what they find attractive in the opposite gender. I doubt you will ever hear a girl say - “Oh and by the way did you know that he can lift 300lb on the bench press?” and you certainly won’t hear a guy say, “you see those legs on that girl I bet she can burn out an elliptical machine with those…” (unless I have intoned some crass sexual euphemism unawares). The body machine now should have those functional qualities but not for their own sake but for the mark that these functions can leave on the aesthetic of the body. So now fuel is not only about being able to run an efficient machine but to allow that machine to produce the appropriate body.

Now glance back at the information I documented above. If I hadn’t confessed to you that it was my intake – you might guess that this record might belong to someone with an eating disorder. It does not. It belongs to me. And I defy you to figure out a way that what is represented as fuel can account for the flaps and bumps and bulges that are left on my body – even though functionally I might be in the best ‘shape’ of my life…

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