What Is Normal Eating?

  Aug 27, 2018  |  #Intuitive Eating

Many of my clients’ come to me to become a “normal” eater. They feel like they’ve spiraled out of control, or they don’t know how to choose foods based on what they really want.

This is one reason why I made My Ebook about normal eating, hunger and fullness. It’s meant to simplify what society has turned into a complicated thing. 

What is Normal Eating with text overlay | Bucket List Tummy

Maybe, they hear diet culture whispering in their ears, “choose the salad, the burger is too fattening.” Or, “you shouldn’t eat that cookie, you had dessert last night.”

These negative voices do nothing but battle us down and lower our self-esteem. They set us up for feeling bad about ourselves.

They automatically put us in the mindset where we won’t enjoy our food, no matter what we enjoy.

When we talk about what normal eating means to them, they often say they want to think about food less. Food takes up too much space in their brains, so they want it to be less of a big deal. I totally get it, and I want that for everyone.

We have so many choices to make in a day – there’s no reason to spend x amount of time stressing about food.

Let’s think about all of the other things we have to decide in a day.

Choices We Make Every Day

  • Whether to press snooze or get up when your alarm goes off
  • What clothes to wear
  • Shower in the morning or at night?
  • Am I working out? Do I need to pack clothes for that?
  • Should I call mom/a friend on the way to work?
  • Do I have time to stop for coffee?
  • Should I have a 2nd/3rd coffee?
  • Should I go to happy hour after work? I’m really tired…
  • I think I’m going to go to bed early tonight. Do I really want to miss that show?
  • What do we need for this weekend’s tailgate
  • What errands do I need to run after work? Can I squeeze them in during lunch?
  • I need to reschedule that appointment…ugh
  • Do I need to order anything off Amazon? (<– Maybe that one is just me…)

…You get it…The list goes on. I explain it this way. Each little thought we have sets off a ding in our brain. Some dings are louder than others.

If you’re thinking about food constantly, well, then your brain is constantly dinging. How do you get anything done? More importantly, how do you get anything done well?

Rachael Hartley, an awesome dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating, shared this on her instagram weeks ago and I love it. 

The first photo shows how little brain space we have for other things when food takes up all of our thinking.

The second shows a more normal relationship with food, and hence, way more things we can think about.

Just imagine how much more present you can be in your life when food doesn’t take up 99% of your brain space.

What constitutes normal eatingWhat constitutes normal eating

While the term “normal” should always be in quotes (who says what’s normal for me is normal for you?!), here are some things to think about for “normal eating.”

Questions To Ask Yourself About Normal Eating

  • Are you eating foods you like?
  • Do you choose foods based on what you’re craving?
  • Do you eat when you’re hungry or based off a certain time?
  • Are you satisfied after eating or do you always want more?
  • Do you think about food more than 25% of your day?
  • Do you avoid certain foods that you deem as “bad,” inflammatory, too high in fat/calories/carbs, etc?
  • Have you ever eaten past fullness? Do you feel guilty about that?
  • Does eating certain foods bring about shame or guilt?
  • Do you focus on calories or fuel and enjoyment?
  • Can you go out to dinner without looking at the menu ahead of time and order something in the moment?
  • Do you not eat past a certain time?
  • Do you make rigid food choices, meaning you feel like you need to measure amounts, stop yourself before you “eat too much,” or avoid certain foods based on the time of day or calorie amount?

What Does Normal Eating Look Like?

To me, normal eating is…

  • Eating regular meals and snacks to fuel me for the day. I know how badly I feel if my blood sugar gets too low or I get too hungry.
  • Eating when I’m not hungry sometimes (and being okay with it). Eating past fullness at times, too. All of that is okay.
  • Being flexible with food choices. While I may have packed my lunch, being sporadic and being able to go out with coworkers shows flexibility.
  • NOT looking at a restaurant menu ahead of time and ordering what you want in the moment
  • Pushing calories aside and focusing on enjoyment and meal satisfaction. If this helps you, know that nutrition labels can often be 20% OFF anyway, so often times, when counting calories, you’re never going to be accurate anyway.
  • Not basing my food choices off of others, or what I ate yesterday. It’s okay to eat dessert two nights in a row, or five, or whatever.
  • Pushing feelings of guilt out of the picture. Food should never make you feel guilty if you’re eating based on what your body wants.
  • Understanding that some days will be off days, and I may not always eat “what I want,” or to fullness. Some days I may undereat unintentionally, and be more hungry the following day. Being at peace with this is normal.
  • Eating that cookie* when you want it, but stopping when you’ve had enough. Because you know you can eat it tomorrow (*insert fear food*)
  • Not stressing about the takeout I’m getting later, or the fact that I didn’t get any vegetables in today.

Sometimes, knowing (or stressing) too much about food and nutrition can backfire. You can overanalyze every food choice you make, and focus on the details, rather than the big picture.

And that can often lead to undereating and a tarnished relationship with food. 

Nutrition Is Big Picture

It doesn’t matter if you eat veggies at every meal, or get x amount of whole grains in per day. It doesn’t matter if you eat mostly carbs one day, and more fats the next.

Health is cumulative and we look at the big picture for health.

If you’re rarely eating vegetables throughout the week, maybe we come up with a plan to purposefully include more.

But if you have off days here and there, that’s okay and can be normal.

Our bodies are fluid, and similarly, our wants and needs are fluid. Maybe some days you need less carbs, and that’s okay. Other days, you need more protein, like after a workout.

Your body KNOWS what you need if you can tune in and listen to it. Diet culture tell us to ignore our cues – and they can become more dull over time. But, with practice (and working with someone), they CAN be re-established.

We know intuitive eating isn’t black and white – intuitive eating can be messy.

The bottom line is, normal eating is eating without really thinking about it. You sense hunger, so you eat. You sense yourself starting to get full, so you start to slow down and stop eating.

You’re not worrying about what you’re eating next but you know there will be food. It makes me smile to compare intuitive eating to babies because it’s so true.

Cam cries if she gets too hungry. She’ll push me away, or push the bottle away, when she doesn’t want anymore. Babies are so intuitive it’s amazing. But that’s a post for another day 🙂

More Intuitive Eating Posts?

Tell me the BEST thing you ate this weekend! I’d love to get some discussions going in the comments. Alot of you DM me and/or email me, but you can always feel free to chime in here too!


11 responses to “What Is Normal Eating?

  1. The best thing I ate this weekend was probably the buffalo chicken wrap I had that used chicken tenders. I love the crunch it gives the wrap! Then again I had steak and mashed potatoes last night which is always a delicious meal. Sometimes it’s hard to choose the absolute best! (Or maybe that’s just me)

  2. We made the fig & pig quiche from the Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook last night; SO GOOD. I didn’t think I was a huge quiche fan, but this one was a big hit in our household. Normal eating for me this past weekend meant consciously recognizing that I’ve been asking a lot of my body lately and, in turn, honoring hunger cues and subconscious cravings for satisfying, protein-rich meals.

    1. Is that from the first or second one? I have the first one and don’t remember ever seeing that recipe but I LOVE figs and that sounds very interesting. I’m happy to hear you’re gravitating towards satisfying, protein rich foods!

  3. Last night I had a bruschetta chicken burger on a ciabatta. So good!

    One thing I struggle with is that intuitive eating does not seem to equal normal eating. I mean, if you look at people who don’t really know about nutrition, some people drink soda all day or never eat fruits and veggies and while that may be normal in America, that’s not healthy at all. Would love to to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Eileen! Thank you for your comment. You bring up a great point, which is that some people don’t have access to foods like fruits and vegetables, which does make intuitive eating a little more nuanced and challenging. It’s not that they don’t like the foods, but maybe don’t have the money to buy them or transportation to get to the grocery store, etc. Maybe their culture or family drinks more soda, eats certain foods, etc etc. For the majority of us, we are privileged to have access to such foods when we want them, but it’s not the case for everyone, so intuitive eating does look a little different to them. However, by their standards, they are probably eating “normally” for what is their normal. Maybe I can expand on this in a future post.

      PS – I love ciabatta rolls.

  4. “Food should never make you feel guilty if you’re eating based on what your body wants.” —- this struck a new chord with me today. If you eat what your body wants. Huh.

    I think for a lot of people who struggle/have struggled with disordered eating, the question “but HOW!?” arrises when we talk about becoming a “normal eater.” I don’t know the answer to this, other than it takes a lot of time and lots of little shifts over and over again.

    Best thing I ate this weekend… hmm. I had a pretty delicious burrito/wrap from work that had tofu, tempeh bacon, garlic mayo and avocado. I tend to still not let myself have our burritos – a lingering fear food for me I guess – but I was able to fight past that this weekend.

    1. Hi Cora, Thanks for bringing this up! You’re right, often times people need assistance with HOW to integrate this into their current life and thoughts. I like to personalize that with each individual client based on where they are in their journey, but maybe I can write some sort of post on it!

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