Do you feel confused or have no idea how to eat like a normal person? What does normal eating even look like? If you’ve been following diet after diet, you may have no idea. This post will walk you through how to enjoy eating again.
This post was originally published in August 2018 | Updated September, 2021
Many clients come to me wanting to learn how to eat like a normal person. Likely, diet culture has taken any sense of normalcy away from them, and they can’t fathom putting together their own meal without external guidance or validation.
In this post, we will discuss:
- What is diet culture and how does it impact us?
- What is normal eating?
- Food flexibility around food
- How to eat like a normal person
- What are the rules of normal eating?
- How to enjoy eating
What is Diet Culture?
To understand what normal eating is, we first have to understand diet culture and how that has impacted our views of normal eating.
Diet system is a belief system that equates thinness to health and moral superiority. Diet culture is all around us – it’s the media, companies looking to make a profit, magazines, models for clothing, etc
Because of the toxic diet culture we live in, people have lost any sense of competency around food.
They feel like they’ve spiraled out of control, or they don’t know how to choose foods based on what they really want. I have so much empathy for these people because fad diets don’t work.
The wellness diet, a term for the toxic culture we live in, is everywhere and it’s easy to be fooled into thinking it’s the secret to health. And rather than making us healthier, it’s actually contributing to more people having an unhealthy relationship with food.
This is one reason why I made My Ebook about normal eating, hunger and fullness. It’s meant to simplify normal eating, something that society has turned into a complicated thing.
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, known as the food police, do nothing but battle us down and lower our self-esteem.
They set us up for feeling bad about ourselves. For creating shame and guilt, and feeling out of control with food.
They automatically put us in the mindset where we won’t enjoy our food, no matter what we enjoy.
What is Normal Eating? I Just Want to Eat!
According to Ellyn Satter, normal eating is:
- Going to the table hungry, and eating until you are satisfied
- Being able to choose food you enjoy and to eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should
- 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
- Giving yourself permission to eat because you are happy, sad, bored or because it feels good
- Overeating at times, and feeling stuffed and uncomfortable, and undereating at times, and wishing you had more
- Leaving cookies on the plate because you will let yourself have cookies again tomorrow, or eating more now because they taste so good
- Mostly three meals a day – or four or five – or choosing to munch along the way. It may vary day by day!
Normal eating may look different for everyone, so how to eat like a normal person has no concrete answer. Learning to tune in to your body and listen to your hunger cues and feel your fullness is important!
Intuitive eating is a “normal” way of eating. It’s not a diet, it’s the complete opposite. Read more about why intuitive eating is not a diet.
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. Embracing food flexibility is key to a normal relationship with food.
Why Food Flexibility is Important
First, let’s think about all of the other choices we make on a daily basis
- 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…)
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.
Being flexible with food, eating outside of predetermined meal times, incorporating snacks because you’re hungry, enjoying a sweet treat when family comes to visit and more are just some powerful examples.
Just imagine how much more present you can be in your life when food doesn’t take up 99% of your brain space.
How to Eat Like a Normal Person
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” and what that may look like for you.
Ask yourself these questions to determine how to figure out what you want to eat and how you feel about it.
- 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 Are the Rules of Normal Eating?
First off, get rid of any notation of rules. There are no rules about food or eating. Every day is different!
You may be looking for how to eat normally after an eating disorder, in which the idea of eating without structure is chaotic and overwhelming.
Here are some things to think about when you’re confused about eating or what to eat when you don’t know what to eat.
Sometimes you may be thinking, “I just want to eat,” but you have an overload of voices in your head!
Ask Yourself, What Do I Want To Eat?
When deciding how to figure out what you want to eat, ask yourself some questions about flavor and texture.
- Is it something sweet?
- Salty? Savory?
- Crunchy? Creamy?
- Hot or cold?
- What sort of environment are you enjoying this in?
If calories did not matter, what would you truly choose to eat?
If you weren’t restricting any food groups (ie – following keto or a low carb diet, not eating “bad” foods, etc.), what would you truly choose to eat?
Aim For Consistency and Regularity
Don’t go too long without eating or skip meals and snacks. Often, stress and intense exercise can blunt hunger, so knowing other signs of hunger is important.
Physical hunger is just one type of hunger, so being aware of some of the other types is important, such as feeling dizzy, thinking about food, losing concentration, headaches and more.
Don’t Overthink It
We can get overly caught up in eating x amount of fruits and vegetables per day, x grams of protein per meal and more. And while yes, that is important, if we overly focus on that, we may overlook the foods that our body wants or needs in the moment.
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 only eating “clean foods,” which can lead to undereating and nutrient deficiencies, as well as a tarnished relationship with food. The effects of undereating go far beyond weight loss.
Oftentimes, only eating salads or low calorie foods leaves you feel unsatisfied, hungrier later on, and can lead to binges. More about food satisfaction here.
What to Eat When you Don’t Know What to Eat
If nothing above sounds appealing or you have zero appetite and you don’t know what to eat, aim for meals you normally enjoy and aim fr consistency.
Balance your plate with carbohydrates, protein, and color, and have some healthy fat in there. We don’t need to overly complicate it.
How to Enjoy Eating
One of the main drivers behind normal eating and intuitive eating is finding enjoyment in food. Food is so much more than fuel.
Food can be shared with others, memories are created around it, and it can nourish your soul and your body. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Food can make you happy, and remind you of happier times. Trying new foods, or cultural experiences can be lifetime memories.
Not looking at food beyond nutrients is quite robotic, and we are fluid human beings, not robots.
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.
Our bodies are smart, and if we enjoy food, listen to our bodies and incorporate variety, we will find a balance that works for us and helps us feel our best.
If you have off days here and there, that’s okay and can be normal. Remember, normal eating is sometimes overeating and sometimes undereating.
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 higher protein meals, 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.
Normal Eating: The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, normal eating is eating without really thinking about it. You sense hunger, so you eat and you don’t question it.
You sense yourself starting to get full, so you start to slow down and stop eating. And then you don’t think about food until your next eating occasion.
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 and promoting food neutrality among children can be challenging in this culture!
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