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What Is “Normal Eating”?

Since everyone else today seems to be asking “What Is Normal Eating?” (Psych Central blog, New York Times Wellness blog, Feed Me I’m Cranky blog), I figured I should address it here – at the official “Normal Eating” Web site.

“Normal eating” means eating according to body wisdom – which then begs the question, “What is body wisdom?”

As I wrote in a previous post on why people are overweight, “Body wisdom is an inborn attraction to the foods that our body needs for nutrition. It tells us exactly what, when, and how much to eat.”

The “symptoms”, so to speak, of eating according to body wisdom, were highlighted in the New York Times’ summary of Ellyn Satter’s work:

  • Going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
  • 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.
  • Leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, rather than eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
  • Trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.
  • Giving eating some of your time and attention, but as only one important area of your life.

The problem is, emotional eaters can’t just decide to do this. If you are driven by compulsion and food cravings, you can’t eat according to body wisdom. Nor can you eat according to body wisdom if you’re eating a lot of processed foods, since these are literally engineered to use body wisdom against you.

And of course, the compounding problem is that emotional eaters cannot choose to forego processed food because of compulsion and food cravings!

There’s a way out of this, and it’s not dieting. “Normal Eating” (both words capitalized) is also a method – a method for overcoming emotional eating so you can make food choices and eat according to body wisdom. The method is laid out in detail in my book Normal Eating for Normal Weight. The accompanying support forum helps you apply the ideas to your own life.

If you are an emotional eater or if you eat a lot of processed food, you are probably overweight. The solution is not dieting. In fact, if you are a dieter, you also are probably overweight because 95% of dieters regain any weight they may have lost, plus some. The solution to overeating is Normal Eating.

Are you a normal eater, or have you experienced normal eating? How do you define it?

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2 comments to What Is “Normal Eating”?

  • Xanadu Xanadu

    I identify normal eating as “no fear of food.” At times in my life when I’ve dieted overzealously, I was afraid of most foods and my first thought upon seeing a delicious buffet was, “That’s going to make me fat!” At times in my life when I’ve eaten compulsively, my first thought about the buffet was, “I won’t be able to control myself.” The common denominator was a feeling that I was powerless and that food was the enemy, either by making me gain weight or by seducing me into using it compulsively.

    I don’t feel this way about food anymore. It is a pleasurable part of my life, but I don’t abuse the pleasurable aspects of it, or eat until I’m uncomfortable. I can face any eating situation with absolute confidence that my body knows what it’s doing, and that if one meal contains lots of X, the next meal I’ll be craving lots of Y to balance things out.

    I should add that normal weight and normal eating are inextricably linked. I can’t call something a “normal weight” if that weight requires me to be at all afraid of food.

  • You hit on something very important here: Emotional eaters can’t just decide to follow the “normal” eating credo given here. In fact, I think very, very few people can, given how damaged our culture’s relationship with food is. We turn to the “tips and tricks” mind-set (drink white wine spritzers! park your car farther away from the store entrance!!) because they are concrete ways we can navigate our confused food culture. Our relationship with food is so complex and damaged that something as wise but simple as what Satter outlines seems nearly bewildering.

    I am not a normal eater, but I have experienced normal eating in fits and starts. And it was pretty much what Satter outlines, plus a dash of intuitive eating. It wasn’t just that I was eating what my body told me to eat; it was that I wasn’t thinking about it. Which, for me, leads to healthy food choices and nonobsession, plus room in my life for food as joy. Concretely, this could translate to, say, a salad with shredded cheese and almonds instead of just fibrous veggies and lean protein — I like cheese and almonds in my salad, and it better fills me, and when I have cheese and almonds in my salad it usually means I’m not mentally “saving” calories for a binge later on. It would mean ordering and enjoying dessert one week on my weekly dinner with a friend because something looked scrumptious — and not ordering dessert the next week because the dessert menu looked uninspired. And doing all this without justifying my choices to myself, without once going to damn Fitday.com to see how many calories I’m eating, without putting on either bravura of “look at how daring I am by eating this cheeseburger” or “I’m so pious, restricting my fat intake so.”

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