What is Normal Eating?

Does normal eating mean “dieting”, “restricting”, “willpower”, or “elimination”? Is normal eating abiding by “food rules”? Or is normal eating filled with “shoulds”? “I should eat this”. “I should not eat dessert”. “I should count calories”. “I should stay away from that”. This does not sound like a very satisfying or healthy way of eating. So is there such a thing as normal eating?

The following definition of normal eating is written by eating and feeding expert, Ellyn Satter.

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. Normal eating 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. Normal eating 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. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

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

Eating should be flexible and satisfying, NOT laced with judgement or ridicule. Sometimes situational eating occurs and that is perfectly alright.

Another description of normal eating I really like is by Karly Randolph Pitman, founder of First Ourselves. She describes normal eating as:

I eat foods that make me feel good. I like a steak every now and then. A pizza is a favorite treat. I love colorful salads. Risotto is my idea of heaven. These things make me feel good, so I eat them. Sugar makes me depressed and wacks me out. Fried eggs give me the willies. Too many fake foods—think lots of processing and packaging—make me feel icky. So I usually abstain.

I eat what I really want. What I want to eat today may be different tomorrow. What I want in the winter may be different than what I crave in the summer. How nice that I can choose; that I don’t have to eat the same four things from a “good foods” list over and over again. Right now I’m in a raw fruit and vegetable phase, stemming from the heat wave we’re currently experiencing. But as the weather cools I crave warm, cooked vegetables and hearty soups. A few weeks ago, when my baby was going through a growth spurt (I’m a nursing mother), I had a hankering for nuts and nut butter. I followed my craving, got a spoon, and dove into the almond butter, without any guilt, shame, remorse or thoughts of calories.

I enjoy my food. I love food. I always have. And I’ve come to glory in that, rather than feel ashamed by it. Who started the lie, anyway, that women shouldn’t have an appetite? I’ve always had a hearty appetite, especially when I’m exercising regularly and nursing, as I am now. I have no qualms about getting a second helping, rather than undereating to be socially acceptable.

How would you define normal eating?

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One Comment

  1. MaryJanuary 15, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I think this is such a great question! I am working on giving up dieting and doing “normal” eating, but it’s so hard to define. I think for me, normal eating is a way of eating that doesn’t make me feel crazed. And I am still making my way toward that, and it’s taking a lot of energy and a lot of help.

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About Gina
Gina Consalvo-Hassick, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, NCC is a registered dietitian and is actively involved in various food and nutrition communities. She has counseled and assessed a wide range of patients and has experience in outpatient, inpatient, and consulting. Areas of specialization include weight management, eating disorders, and wellness nutrition.
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Gina Hassick,
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