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.
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 brainspace.
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.[click_to_tweet tweet=”Overanalyzing every food choice you make, and focusing too much on nutrition isn’t health. Healthy means flexibility within food choices and your lifestyle #rdchat #intuitiveeating” quote=”Overanalyzing every food choice you make, and focusing too much on nutrition isn’t health. Healthy means flexibility within food choices and your lifestyle #rdchat #intuitiveeating”]
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. 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 – it 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?
- A comprehensive list of intuitive eating resources
- Common intuitive eating questions
- 5 ways to incorporate intuitive eating
- How to eat intuitively while meal planning
- What is the wellness diet?
- How to spot diet culture thoughts
- Challenging your eating routine
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!