Eating can be a very complex and personal matter. There are many reasons that people eat and not just for sustenance. There is a lot of psychology that goes into the process of eating that are beyond the scope of this article. This article scratches the surface and looks at the four levels of eating according to the Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition. Understanding these levels can have a profound effect on one’s eating habits. Which level fits your eating style?

My Personal Story

I remember being in the survival portion of my Army training and the cravings that manifested were fairly simple. I wanted M&M’s, specifically the peanut variety. I shared this with some of my fellow soldiers and it turns out I wasn’t the only one. We talked about dreaming of eating them. At the time there were small bags of M&M’s in the MRE’s that we ate and the bags were very small with just enough M&M’s in there to induce a narcotic effect and making the cravings stronger. Fast forward to getting back to civilization and hitting up the Shoppette for the big 1 pound bag of peanut M&M’s. I went through two bags the first day back and two more bags over the next week. I eventually got my fill of peanut M&M’s and I don’t think I have eaten any since.  This is a perfect example of Level one eating, pure pleasure and satisfying a craving.

Level One: Eating for Pleasure

This level is an immature and impulsive approach to eating, aimed at maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Eating at this level is for immediate gratification: “I ate it because it tasted good” and “I ate as much of it as I wanted to” are hallmarks of this stage.

Refined sugar and flour, dairy products, and unhealthy fats are in this category. Food choices typically reflect what we were fed as young children to quiet and appease us. Examples are ice cream, cookies and milk, candy, and soft drinks. Excessive coffee, alcohol, or chocolate is also Level One eating. Emotional eating, which often means compulsive overeating, is a Level One adaptation to pain, tension, and stress.

Level Two: Eating for Energy

Blood sugar regulation drives one’s food choices at this level. We choose substantial foods that allay hunger. The goal is to fill up and not have to eat again for three to four hours. I see this as typical for many persons in the gyms.

In Level Two, carbohydrates become more complex; breads may have some whole wheat in them, but are still refined. Fast foods like burgers and burritos are common choices. Little concern is placed on the quality of the food, the likely nutrient loss due to processing, possible pesticide residues, environmental toxins, or added hormones, antibiotics, coloring, and artificial flavors. Animal proteins, peanut butter, breads, pastas, chips, and pizza are common Level Two foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables play a minimal role in the diet at this stage. This is a highly acid-forming, allergy-inducing, and clogging diet pattern.

Level Three: Eating for Recovery

The inevitable cumulative effects of Level One and Level Two eating are poor body composition – frequently obesity – and diminished energy, health, and brightness of mood.

People experiencing these effects often go on a diet formulated by someone else that organizes foods into good and bad categories and limits quantities. It may or may not emphasize high-quality, organic foods. Examples of Level Three eating are diet plans such as the Zone, Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, Food Combining, Blood Typing, and Raw Foods.

The benefits of such diets are typically short-lived. There is an immediate positive effect from eating fewer refined and processed foods, but then we reach a point of diminishing return. The diet is no longer satisfying and no longer producing the promised effects. The tendency then is to stay with the rigid, reductionist approach even longer or to slip back to Level One or Level Two eating patterns.

Level Four: Eating for Health

The goal of this approach is lifelong learning about optimum nutrition, the healing effects of foods, and an aesthetic and spiritual approach to the culinary arts. It shares some qualities with Level Three, but allows for more personal choice, variety, seasonality, and individuality according to one’s personal needs, tastes, ethnic origin, and commitment level.

Food choices at Level Four are made not by formula, but rather by discerning what the body needs and what the best available choices are at a given time. At this level, we choose among a wide variety of healthy, organic foods. We exercise moderation in the amount of foods we eat, and take more time and care in its preparation and presentation. Food is understood and appreciated as an instrument of personal healing and sharing with community. Nourishing ourselves becomes a wise, mature, and loving act of awareness cultivated through daily practice.

By eating well consistently, we learn what foods best nourish and sustain us during stressful changes that threaten health and impede recovery.

In Eating For Health™, we embrace two powerful maxims – “food is the best medicine” and “know thyself” – and create a synergy that opens the way to wellness and service.

Ed Bauman from Bauman College is the author and creator of The Eating for health model.

Post image courtesy of

Image of Steven Ashton’s actual FM 21-76 Field Survival Manual (March 1986 edition)