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What is ‘Normal Eating’?

by | May 8, 2024 | Blog, Eating Disorder Recovery, Mindful Eating | 0 comments

When your relationship with food feels chaotic, fraught or out of control, it can be difficult to imagine what “Normal Eating” is. Perhaps even more so in a culture that tends to glamorise and uphold unrealistic standards on eating behaviours. A lot of what has become normalised in our Western culture, is actually pretty disordered eating behaviours.

And if you’ve done numerous diets, often with conflicting advice on what to eat and what to avoid? Well… How would you know what it is or feels like?

If you’ve experienced trauma, especially around feeding, then there can more challenges to contend with. Perhaps eating never felt ‘normal’?

Using the definition can support you disordered eating recovery

One thing that I see people struggle with when they are moving away from diets and dieting, is that I can be difficult to reclaim “healthy” foods, like fruit and vegetables. Bringing these back in after some time of giving yourself full permission to eat ALL foods, can make you feel like you are back dieting again.

Not necessarily. It is important to always remember that our eating behaviours and food choices take place within a specific context. Depending on the context and your intentions behind the choice, any food can be nourishing or punishing.

It isn’t about the food itself, it is about how you are thinking about it. This is why having some kind of definition of what ‘normal eating’ is can help you contextualise this nuance.

What is Normal Eating?

The best “definition” that I have found that explains what it is, is the definition by Ellyn Satter RD. A woman who has written books on child feeding and created the methodology Division of Responsibility (DOR).

Full discolsure; I have not read her books from cover to cover, and I am aware that there are some genuine criticism on parts of her work.

That said, I still feel like her “definition” is worthwhile to consider; not as something you have to be able to do at all times but because it offers a counter alternative to the diet and wellness focused culture we live in. It can be a helpful guide to let you know that your relationship with food and eating is healing.

Ellyn Satters Definition

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.

It 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.

It 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.

It is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.

It takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

In short, it is eating that is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

This is not about perfect eating

It is worth noting that this particular definition does not consider neurodiversity. With that in mind, I would like to add that “normal eating” is eating that ensures that your food intake is regular and adequate for your body’s, ever fluctuating needs. It is guilt free, shame free and compassionate.

This is not perfect or about perfection. It is eating in a way that serves, your body, your needs, your taste preferences, your skills and your accessibility to food.

Basically, normal eating is flexible, which I think is doing the best we can with where we are and what we’ve got.

I hope this helps give you some kind of parameters for how you might want your relationship with food to be. You can connect with me here if you are looking for some 1:1 support. Or join my weekly newsletter and online community here.

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Hey there, I´m Linn

This is my little corner of the internet where I share things related to our complex relationship with food, eating and our bodies.

I believe that eating ought to be nourishing and joyful instead of filled with fear, guilt and shame.

Your body, and all of you, is worthy of care and  food or eating should never need to be earned or justified.