“I just want to eat like a normal person.”
“I don’t want food to dominate my life anymore.”
“All I think about is food.”
If you’ve ever had these thoughts, you might feel like making decisions about food has taken over your life. It dictates how your day goes and what activities you choose. Food and eating have become significant sources of stress for you.
Whether it’s online or at your doctor’s office, a plethora of information is available on which foods to eat, which foods to avoid, and the best diet to follow. All of these rules can make eating feel complicated and confusing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s get back to basics and focus on what it means to eat normally.
What is Normal Eating?
Normal eating is following your hunger and fullness signals and finding joy in food. The best way to describe normal eating is that it’s flexible. There are no rigid rules that you must follow; there is no “perfect diet.” 1
It is normal for your food intake to vary from day to day based on activity level, mood, cravings, schedule, illnesses, and more. Being a normal eater means that you can think about your food choices without feeling stressed and anxious. You don’t follow external rules to decide what to eat and when to stop eating – you listen to your body.
Normal eating can look like:
- Having a busy day at work and eating less than usual.
- Eating more than usual while traveling because there are so many fun and new foods to try.
- Feeling extra hungry after a hike.
- Eating a bowl of cereal for dinner because you’re too tired to cook.
- Choosing a salad when your body is craving fresh food.
Most of the time, you eat a portion that leaves you feeling content and satisfied. Sometimes you overeat and feel uncomfortable afterward. Other times you don’t eat enough and feel extra hungry. All of these scenarios fall under the umbrella of normal eating.1
Normal Eating is Not…
Whether we realize it or not, diet culture influences us all in one way or another. At a certain point, we start to lose trust in our instincts. We begin to feel like we need to follow a book of rules to “get it right.”
The truth is, we’re born knowing how to regulate our eating, but being exposed to diet culture from a very young age can make us lose touch with that intuition over time. Losing that natural ability can lead to disordered eating patterns, and some people can develop a perfectionist mindset around eating.
Normal eating is not attaching your value or worth to your food choices. Your food choices don’t determine whether you’re “good” or “bad.” Guilt and shame about food choices are so common in our society, but this is not part of normal eating.
Normal eating is not:
- Having rigid food rules.
- Feeling guilt anytime you eat something “unhealthy.”
- Intensively tracking every bite.
- Restricting food intake after overeating.
- Being obsessed with “clean eating.”
How to Eat Like a Normal Person
The thought of normal eating may sound so freeing, but how do you start? This will look different for everyone but here are a few tips to get started and help you find your normal.
Avoid Food Rules
Most people have an internal dialogue around food that shapes their choices. These internalized rules cause stress around eating and make us feel out of control when we don’t follow them. Thoughts shaped by diet culture may look like:
- “Don’t eat after 7 pm.”
- “Adding dressing to salad makes it unhealthy.”
- “Carbs are fattening.”
Shifting to normal eating means pushing back against the “rules” and letting your body guide your choices. If this sounds overwhelming, here are three questions to guide your food choices and help you feel satisfied mentally and physically after eating.
- What do I want? This one is simple - what sounds good to eat right now? Do you want something sweet or savory, chewy or crunchy, hot or cold?
- What does my body need? Listen to what your body is telling you. How hungry are you feeling? Maybe you had an active day, and your body is asking for dense fuel. Or, maybe you enjoyed a filling lunch with coworkers and aren’t hungry for your typical dinner.
- What is available to me? Normal eating allows you to be flexible across different food situations and changes of plans. Perhaps you’re at work and have limited snack options. Or maybe you’re at a restaurant. Your job is to choose the option that best meets your needs at that moment.
Nourish Your Body
Now, it is not possible or realistic to perfectly balance those three questions every time you eat. Remember, normal eating is not perfect eating.
Normal eating means eating when hungry and stopping when full – most of the time. Sometimes we might overeat or undereat. We eat when we’re not hungry. We eat when we’re stressed or celebrating. All of this is normal.1
The goal is to take a step back and look at the big picture rather than getting caught up in the details. We can be neutral observers if we remove the guilt and shame around eating. This means thinking about food and how it objectively makes you feel without imparting judgment.
Find Joy in Eating
Food is not purely for sustenance. It is intertwined with many parts of life – celebration, social interactions, happiness, and sadness.
When caught up in food rules and guilt, finding joy in the food you are eating can be challenging. Normal eating means enjoying your food and then moving on with your day – not dwelling on whether your choice was “good or bad.”
Enlist an Expert
Learning how to eat normally can be difficult, especially if you have a history of an eating disorder. It can be particularly difficult if you don’t feel consistent hunger and fullness cues or have a complicated medical history that influences your dietary needs.
Nourish offers virtual consults with registered dietitians that are covered by insurance. Our dietitians follow a non-diet approach and focus on the root cause of your concerns. You can achieve normal eating and find food freedom. Get started today with Nourish.
- “What-Is-Normal-Eating-Secure.pdf.” n.d. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/What-is-normal-eating-Secure.pdf
- Warren, Janet M., Nicola Smith, and Margaret Ashwell. 2017. “A Structured Literature Review on the Role of Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating in Changing Eating Behaviours: Effectiveness and Associated Potential Mechanisms.” Nutrition Research Reviews 30 (2): 272–83.
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