mindful eating

Are You a Normal Eater?

I shared this post with my newsletter subscribers a few months back for National Eating Disorders Awareness week. For monthly emails with similar content sign up to receive my monthly newsletter here.

 
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In my practice, I try to emphasize that there is no right way to eat or a universal perfect diet. Everyone's bodies and nutrition needs are different. As women in particular (but men too) we can struggle with food and food rules and what 'healthy' and 'normal' 'should' look like. We get wrapped up in foods we label as 'good' or 'bad' or 'clean' or 'healthy' and go through periods of undereating and overeating. It's stressful. And to me, that's not 'healthy' and shouldn't be 'normal'.

Today, I wanted to share with you a definition of 'normal eating' from two of my esteemed colleagues. This happens to be National Eating Disorders Awareness week, so let's use it as a reminder to show a little self-respect, not judge our food choices or our bodies, ditch the food rules, the diet mentality, and the under eating/overeating cycle.

Ellyn Satter is a highly regarded dietitian known for her work with child nutrition and raising healthy eaters. Robyn Kievit Kirkman is a dietitian, certified eating disorder and sports nutrition specialist, nurse practitioner, and my mentor. Through years of experience in the nutrition field, they have both created definitions of Normal Eating. I combined my favorite parts from the two below. Visit their websites (linked above) for more practical tips and information.


NORMAL EATING

  • 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 under eating at times and wishing you had more.
  • Normal eating is relearning your own way and changing your thoughts, feelings, and actions around food and your body.
  • It is not letting the scale mandate your feelings for the day.
  • Normal eating is baking and eating cookies at 10 PM with a friend, or eating pasta or a leftover cheeseburger and fries for breakfast.
  • Normal eating is trying a food trend but knowing there are no ‘perfect’ foods.
  • Normal eating is maybe trying vegetarianism for a few years but then perhaps deciding animal protein really works well for you, your body, and your movement goals.
  • Normal eating is not what or how much others eat, it’s what YOUR body needs in that moment, that meal, that day.
  • Normal eating is knowing our appetites change meal to meal, day to day, and honoring this process.
  • Normal eating is keeping these words out of thoughts and conversations about food and your body: good, bad, sorry, should, can't, and healthy (or unhealthy, and certainly ‘clean’!).
  • In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

 
What does normal eating mean to you?
 

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What is 'Healthy'?

 
(This is the first pic that showed up when I typed 'healthy' into the stock photos site - I thought it was general, but fitting. Happiness can play a role in your healthy too, can't it?)

(This is the first pic that showed up when I typed 'healthy' into the stock photos site - I thought it was general, but fitting. Happiness can play a role in your healthy too, can't it?)

 

 

Everyone seems to have a different definition of 'healthy.' Which I think is great. There is no one definition and it is totally personal to your beliefs, health needs, lifestyle, and more. 

My healthy is a lot of different things. It means having the energy to do the things I love; being mindful and doing my best to listen to my hunger and fullness cues; choosing foods that make my body feel good most often; including lots of veggies; getting a good night's sleep on most nights; being active but choosing the types of activities I enjoy; being flexible around food and not having restrictions or labeling foods as 'good' or 'bad'; allowing myself to have chocolate or cookies or beer or fries if I want to.

I'm sure most people I see at my local co-op would include  'local' and 'organic' in their definition, while some of my patients at the hospital may include low saturated fat and sodium, and those with celiac may include gluten-free in their definition. I think this is great, and goes to show that there is no one perfect 'diet' or way of eating. Each person is unique and so are their health and nutrition needs.

 

 

You may or may not know that many of the food claims we read on food packages are regulated and defined by the FDA or USDA ('low-sodium', 'good source of', 'light' or 'lite', 'natural', 'organic', etc.)

In 2015, KIND bars were called out for labeling their bars as 'healthy.' Although they're made up of most poly and monounsaturated fats, the total fat content in the bars exceeded the amount allowed by the government's definition.

'Healthy' was originally defined back in the 90s when we all feared fat. Now that we know how essential fat is to our brain and body functions, and that different types of fat act differently in the body, we're taking another look at the word (20 years later!).

 

So, my question for you is...

How do you define 'healthy'? What does 'healthy' mean to you?

Is it based on certain nutrients or food groups? Does it have rules and regulations? Does it include exercise, movement, a good night's sleep? Is it your relationship with food? Let me know!

 

(btw...healthy can now be used on food labels if the fat content is primarily composed of mono and polyunsaturated fats or if the product contains at least 10% of the recommended daily value of either potassium or vitamin D)

When eating healthy becomes toxic...

Thankfully, 'healthy' eating is becoming more and more mainstream. People are looking for fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains more often than they used to. The constant creation of new fad diets and nutrition information coming at us from all directions is for sure overwhelming. 

We all know the friend who won't eat pasta or dairy, is constantly spitting up new nutrition news/trends/facts, and is completely wrapped up in eating 'clean'. (What does that even mean?!) So when does this seemingly well-intended desire to eat 'healthy' go too far?

It goes too far and is even detrimental to a person's health and wellbeing when it becomes an unhealthy obsession or when...

...it gets in the way of his/her social life
This person's strong desire to eat 'clean' or 'pure' may prevent them from attending certain social or food centered events This person may not feel comfortable being around certain foods or around people eating those certain foods.

...he/she judges others on their food choices
The person is in utter disgust that you could possibly eat almonds or olives or whatever it may be, and they let you know it. They want you to get on board with their 'clean' way of eating.

This past fall, I was lucky enough to attend FNCE. FNCE is a national conference where food and nutrition professionals from around the country get together to learn about the latest and greatest research in our field. At FNCE, I attended a session in which a few experts discussed a lesser known eating disorder- Orthorexia. (Heard of it?) Keep in mind, the adoption of a dietary theory is not an eating disorder. It is the unhealthy obsession that makes it so. With this type of disordered eating, the person does not necessarily have a desire to be thin. They often adopt an obsession of being pure or clean. Orthorexia literally means an "obsession with eating the right food." This person is sometimes trying to 'fix' something else in their life through the context of food. 

If you are concerned about yourself or someone you may know. It would be beneficial to reach out to your doctor or dietitian for advice.