What is 'normal eating' anyway?
In a world where eating has become a complicated business, with confusion and contradictory messages daily about ‘what’ and ‘what not’ to eat, you cannot be blamed for feeling lost in the jungle of food choices.
And sadly, some disordered eating practices feel normalised under the guise of health. If you are losing weight, it can feel that the means to the end does not matter, with validating praise seeping from every corner. Never mind the ridiculous exercise regimes, avoidance of food groups or long periods of restrictive eating.
But frankly, this is far from normal. In fact, it can be acutely destructive for health, self-worth and your relationship with food.
So, what is normal eating anyway? Here are seven thoughts:
1. Food neutral
Eating should be broadly neutral towards pleasurable experience. You might feel ‘yum yum’ after enjoying a delicious cupcake or crunchy salad. It should not be producing rampant feelings of guilt and anxiety, rippling through your day and lowering your mood, because you broke the food rule or deviated from ‘the plan’.
2. Regular eating
Normal eating means eating regularly and including all food groups (unless you have a genuine intolerance). It does not involve prolonged periods of restriction and denial or eating only orange foods on a Tuesday.
Normal eating leaves you satiated and satisfied. You’re not still hungry after eating, whilst neither overfilling your tank to punishing levels. Having said this, there is no perfect eating, and a ‘normal eater’ will regularly slightly undereat or overeat, with a knowing trust that your body can balance things out.
4. Social eating
Normal eating means being able to go out with friends for a birthday meal, without anxious scanning of menus or bringing your own healthy food box. You can be present in conversations, without calorie counting or rule obsessing, spinning through your head.
5. No food rules
Normal eating involves an absence of rules and restrictions. You may have a self-care structure around eating, but no hard and fast lines are drawn in the sand. This means that a ‘normal eater’ is far less prone to the ‘I’ve blown it, so I might as well eat everything in sight’ effect as a ‘normal eater’ has no wagon to fall off in the first place.
Normal eating involves weight being roughly stable, although a ‘normal eater’ probably won’t pay much attention to weight anyway, as there are no rapid fluctuations or fixations with a number on the scales.
Normal eating involves food blurring into the background of life, instead of being a strong preoccupation. Food may bring immense amounts of pleasure and joy, but it is not at the forefront of decisions or taking up buckets of emotional energy. With food in its rightful place, you have greater focus and clarity for projects you love, meaningful relationships and inspiring hobbies or life adventures. Your values swing into focus, without everything revolving around food and your body.
If you are struggling with disordered eating, it can feel incredibly challenging to move towards a healthier relationship with food. What seems easy to talk about, can feel like an Everest to climb day-to-day. It can be deeply bewildering to navigate this journey, with the media bombardment of new regimes and body overhauls.
Put simply (although not always simple to implement) it’s about going within and listening to your body, rather than following an external rule book. Intuitive Eating principles can be a guide for you on this journey.
Be patient and compassionate with yourself in healing your relationship with food. You might wish to seek out further support through counselling.
This article was written by Harriet Frew.
Find a therapist dealing with Eating disorders
All therapists are verified professionals.