At this time of the year when so many people are making goals around food and eating, it might be helpful for you to know what “normal eating” actually is. That’s a confusing topic, right? Everyone has their own ideas. But it becomes a lot more clear when you factor in food behaviors rather than only focusing on the food choices themselves.
For example, what if you decide to cut out sugar but you find yourself bingeing on sweet treats every weekend? Essentially, having a bunch of food rules may only lead to extreme behaviors which aren’t healthy or “normal eating”. You would do well to learn how to self-moderate and trust yourself to make wise decisions around food rather than to stick to outside rules or guidelines for eating.
This quote, from dietitian and author Ellyn Satter, will help explain what I mean:
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”
What this definition does is normalize a wide variety of eating behaviors. Eating should be flexible, variable, satisfying, nourishing and enjoyable. It shouldn’t be obsessive, preoccupying, rigid, overwhelming or worrisome. That’s no way to live!
If your eating habits currently feel chaotic and haphazard or restrictive and obsessive, this can feel very out of reach. So how do you get there? Here are a few things to practice:
- Allow yourself unconditional permission to eat. You want what you can’t have. Telling yourself you can’t have something is a great way to make your brain preoccupied with it. When you know you can have a food anytime you really want it, you won’t need to behave in extreme ways once you get it. On the other hand, if you know this is the last time you’ll be able to have it (or at least the last time this week or this month, etc), you’re going to have all of it right now, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. It’s much easier to respect your body’s signals when you aren’t micromanaged by food rules.
- Aim for satisfaction. You may run scared of satisfaction because you equate it with overeating, However, satisfaction is your solution! I would encourage you to eat for the intent to feel satisfied. Eating to feel satisfied naturally decreases overeating or under eating because neither of those are satisfying (rather, uncomfortable or painful). Feeling full and satisfied from your meals and snacks is your solution. Not feeling full and satisfied is what leads to extreme behaviors.
- Trust yourself, not your food tracker. Instead of tracking calories or portion sizes, I would encourage you to track hunger and fullness levels before and after eating, while paying attention to how the food makes you feel. After a meal or snack are you left feeling satisfied? Energized? Lethargic? Still hungry? Balanced? Get curious about how you feel and function instead of being judgmental about what you look like or weigh. This will help connect you to intuitive signals that will naturally guide your eating instead of needing to use outside trackers.
- Pay attention. Normal eating includes being mindful. Take a step away from your desk and phone or TV. You are more likely to know when you are full and satisfied if you are paying attention. You could set a goal to do this with one meal or one snack each day.
- Increase variety. Sticking to a rigid meal plan or getting stuck in a food rut can lead to overcompensating with food later. You could try new recipes, use new products and get outside your comfort zone. There’s no need to feel overwhelmed by options or feel like it’s time consuming, but food can be exciting and fun instead of boring, bland or scary.
Becoming a normal eater is possible for everyone. In fact, you aren’t learning something new, you are remembering something you were innately born with. It can hard to do that on your own though, so I’m here to support you!
Eat Confident Collective is the premiere online group coaching program for women who are ready to end the battle with food guilt and body shame and cultivate peace, freedom, and confidence.
We believe that everyone has it in them and only needs support, education, practice and guidance to get there. We only open the doors to the collective 3 times a year, but would love to have you if you feel like it’s a good fit! You can read more about the Collective HERE and you sign up for our free video series, Find Your Food Confidence. By doing so, you’ll be alerted when Eat Confident Collective opens again. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me! We’d love to see you inside.