We all eat. We have to for survival. But how many of us really enjoy the foods we eat and choose foods based on what we want and how they make us feel?
Did you know there is a definition of “normal eating?” Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian well known for her work helping parents teach their children to be competent eaters, defines normal eating as flexible eating. The full definition for this, including convenient printable handouts, is available at ellynsatterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/What-is-normal-eating-Secure.pdf.
If you are wondering how you can tell if you are a normal eater, ask yourself some of the following questions:
• Do you choose foods based on what you like and are craving?
• Do you eat until you are satisfied instead of just full or overly full?
• Do you avoid certain foods or food groups because you have heard they are bad, toxic or promote inflammation?
• Do you worry that you are an emotional eater or are addicted to a certain food?
• Do you ever feel guilty for eating certain foods, or for eating too much of a particular food?
• Do you worry that if you don’t eat as healthfully as possible, you will be unhealthy?
If any of this sounds like you, remember there is no perfect way to eat. We each have different preferences, schedules, cooking skills, financial resources and access to foods. So there is no one way to eat that works for everyone.
To me, normal eating means eating regular meals and snacks that include foods I like. I can plan my meals based on what sounds good and will be quick and easy to prepare. It also means that I try not to go too long without eating so that I don’t get a headache, become shaky or get hangry (so hungry that I become irritable). Normal eating for me also means I treat myself for special occasions, sometimes for comfort, or just on a random Tuesday if I want to. It says I decide what, when and how much to eat without feeling guilty. Sometimes I don’t eat enough and still feel hungry later, and sometimes I eat until I am stuffed. And it also means that I, too, get stuck in food ruts and don’t know what to make for dinner, or just eat leftovers to prevent food waste even if I really want something else. All of these things are part of normal eating because life happens and sometimes we need to adapt.
Nutrition is essential for health, but mental health is an equally significant part of our overall wellbeing. Our thoughts and behaviors around food influence this. By including a variety of foods that we genuinely enjoy and eating them without any guilt, eating can be an important part of the day without controlling our lives.
Julia Henry RD, LD, is a weight-inclusive registered dietitian at Capital Region Medical Center. She specializes in gastrointestinal issues and helping people heal their relationships with food and their bodies through a Health at Every Size approach to wellness.