When it comes to the phrase “you are what you eat,” I am reminded of a time when I was young and my paternal grandparents came to visit. My sister had been eating bologna that day and she didn’t want to eat dinner when we all sat down at the table to eat. I said, without missing a beat, “she’s full of bologna.” This was funny because of the phrase “full of bologna,” but it makes me think that if she was full of bologna, that she was also what she ate.
As I got older, I would tell her that she was going to turn into a chicken because she ate a lot of chicken. I told her that more specifically, she would turn into a chicken nugget, but that would be odd because a live chicken nugget wouldn’t make sense.
This phrase actually is a phrase supporting the notion that you need to eat good (healthy) food in order to be fit and healthy.
The phrase was not introduced into the English language until the 1920s and the 1930s by the creator of the Catabolic diet, Victor Lindlarh. The exact phrase is found in an advertisement for beef in a 1923 edition of the Bridgeport Telegraph . It says, “Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.”
In 1942, Lindlahr published the book, You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet .
The phrase was adopted in 1960s by hippies who favored macrobiotic wholefood.
It is now also used to say people who eat lots of fats will be fat. The phrase is found in many news stories in newspapers and on television broadcasts.
Some people believe that this comes from Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation which is the belief that Jesus’s physical body and blood is in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. However, the phrase is not found in any religious writings. It is not found, even in the preface written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549. This and similar prefaces are used in both Catholic and Episcopalian worship services.
Even though the phrase did not appear until the 1920s or 1930s in English, the idea was known in the 19 th century.
In 1826 Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante . In it, he wrote, “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” This means “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
Then in 1863 or 1864 Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach wrote an essay called Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism . He included the phrase “Der Mensch ist, was er ißt.” This means “man is what he eats.”
Martin, G. (n.d.). You are what you eat. The meanings and origins of sayings and phrases . Retrieved February 4, 2011, from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/you%20are%20what%20you%20eat.html