Wellness Wednesday: What Is Normal Eating?

In todays world where fad diets get all the press, we've gotten out of touch with the basic concept of normal eating. This post answers the question "What is normal eating?" and what it means to me. 

What Is Normal Eating?

Last week, while at a meeting for a charity group I'm involved with, I sat down with a new group of women and we all started chatting. One asked what I did for a living, and of course, always excited to talk about my profession, I told them all about my blog and business (and probably rambled on a bit too long! Oops!).

When I share what I do for a living, it's not unusual for people to then ask about my personal eating habits. Usually, I'm happy to talk about my intuitive and food-loving approach to eating. But sometimes, the questions are asked in such a way that I struggle to come up with the right words. This was one of those times.

"So you must be really health conscious. But maybe not, because you're tiny and I guess you don't have to be." 

Now, in her defense, I understand where she was coming from. Common thinking is that healthy eating is for dieters. Most people don't think about eating nutritious foods to feel great, stay healthy or (gasp) because they enjoy it.

On the spot, I couldn't think of a good response. Everything that ran through my mind sounded overly defensive or soapboxy. Also, I knew from previous meetings that the dinner served would be pretty gross and not at all nutritious. I'm all for splurging on something fried and cheesy and buttery...but not if it doesn't taste good! So, I drank a pretty filling smoothie (yum!) before the meeting, and planned to have a late dinner of leftover white bean, artichoke and kale stew. A totally rational approach, but I knew what me skipping out on dinner would look like to them. Plus, I thought it sounded judgmental if I labeled the food as gross and they enjoyed it.

Definition of Normal Eating

So, I sputtered out some awkward response and quickly changed the conversation. Then I ate a small plate of reheated frozen chicken tenders and overly sweet shrimp stew in an attempt to fit in.

Driving home, I rehashed the whole conversation over and over again in my head, thinking of all the things I wished I said. Admit it, you totally do that too. Of all the imaginary responses I came up with, I don't know if I came up with a perfect answer, but I know exactly what I wanted to say.

I'm a normal eater.

Of course, the concept of normal eating is new to most people, and upon hearing it, means different things to different people. So, because there's no time machine where I can go back and deliver the perfect response (if only!), today, I want to share what normal eating is to me.

Normal Eating and Intuitive Eating

Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It's being able to choose the 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. That's dietitian Ellyn Satter's definition, and I like it.

Normal eating is usually eating nutritiously, because you know you feel great when you do, and because you enjoy it. Normal eating tends to follow the 80/20 approach, but some days, it may be more like 50/50, or maybe 20/80. Heck, some days you might just eat cheese sticks, french fries and a fried shrimp po'boy. But it's okay, because you know over the long term, things will balance themselves out.

Normal eating is eating something sweet every day. Or once a week, if that's what you like. Maybe for you, it's just once a month (<-- kidding, that's weird!)

Normal eating means eating out of hunger most of the time, but not always. Normal eating is occasionally drowning your sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerrys or overeating donuts a coworker brought into work. You may feel a hint of guilt, but rather than saying "to hell with it" and binging on junk food, you are able to look at the situation objectively and brainstorm a better way of dealing with it in the future. Because there will always be bad days and coworkers with a Krispy Kreme habit.

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Normal eating is not being afraid to truly love food. It's driving an hour out of the way for the GREATEST BROWNIES OF ALL TIME. It's geeking out when you finally perfect your recipe for cashew nacho cheese. It's getting mad at your husband when he accidentally eats the rest of the smoked salmon you were planning on having with lunch (<---True story. Never get between this girl and her smoked fish). Normal eating is not being afraid to profess your love for avocado...or artisan cheese...or hey, maybe Kraft cheese!

Normal eating is experimenting with new diets, not because you want to drop 20 lbs in two weeks, but out of curiosity. Maybe you'll feel great without gluten, or animal foods, or dairy...or maybe not. Normal eaters know there's no ONE PERFECT DIET, but that different people thrive on different patterns of eating.

Mostly, normal eating is knowing food isn't your enemy. It's understanding food itself doesn't make you gain weight - it's eating habits, stress, lack of sleep, inactivity and many other factors.  Normal eaters know food is there to nourish your body, and your soul. Normal eating means that food is more than fuel, it's your friend.

What does normal eating mean to you?