We are born knowing how to eat normally. An infant knows when she's hungry, and knows when she's had enough. If you try to put food into the mouth of an infant who is no longer hungry, she purses her lips and moves her head from side to side to avoid the spoon.
This body wisdom about what and how much you need to eat is still inside you - you just need to reconnect with it. You don't need a diet to tell you what to eat. Animals in the wild manage to get exactly the nutrition they need. Have you ever seen a fat deer in the woods? We are born with this same body wisdom.
The process of feeling hungry, experiencing a body-wisdom-based desire for a certain type of food, eating the food, stopping when satisfied, and then going off to do something else without another thought is "normal eating". This is completely analogous to what occurs when you have to pee. You sense your body's need, you relieve yourself, and then you go back to what you were doing. In both cases, you read a physical signal, meet the physical need, and give it no more thought. That's normal.
Now imagine what a strange world it would be if we were told that peeing had to be done on a schedule. We should pee four times a day, and it should be at four hour intervals, and we should only pee one cup at a time. If we need to pee in between times, we should hold it. If we want to pee more than one cup, we should hold that for the next time. Sound bizarre? That's basically what a diet is. It is just as bizarre to regulate your eating according to arbitrary external rules rather than internal cues.
Eating is a basic bodily function just like elimination. We don't need to be told how to do it.
Eating normally means eating as much as you want whenever you want, but it doesn't mean eating without any limits or control. The difference is that the limits and control come from within. With diets, they come from external rules that are unrelated to hunger, satiation, or how different foods make your body feel.
People with a history of compulsive eating are often so disconnected from their natural internal controls that they don't even know when they're hungry. A primary goal of Normal Eating is to put you back in touch with your own inner wisdom, and show you that you can trust it.
Be careful not to turn attuned eating into the "eat when hungry" diet - another set of rules where you white-knuckle your way through cravings, and feel shame and failure if you give in. When you're truly eating normally, you're not fighting with yourself; the craving is gone. Give yourself time. The ability to effortlessly eat only when hungry is where you get at the end of the Normal Eating process; it's not where you start.
There are no rules in Normal Eating. There's no failure; there are only learning experiences. Normal Eating is about learning to love yourself, have compassion for your own pain, and practice true self-care so you don't need to self-soothe with food.
This is an excerpt from the book Normal Eating for Normal Weight: The Path to Freedom from Weight Obsession and Food Cravings by Sheryl Canter