I Just Want to Eat Like a Normal Person

A comment I often hear is:

“I just want to eat like a normal person.”

To better understand where someone is coming from, I always ask:

“What does normal eating mean to you?”

Of course, everyone responds differently depending upon the impact our diet culture and confusing food environment has had on a person's relationship with food.

However, almost all the answers are packed full of “shoulds” and “should nots,” such as:

  • I shouldn't eat so much.

  • I shouldn't think about food all the time.

  • I should eat fewer carbs.

  • I shouldn’t grab the chip bag when I’m stressed.

  • I should be able to control my sweet tooth.

  • I should eat more vegetables.

  • I should eat only whole foods; no processed foods.

  • I shouldn’t snack at night.  

  • I should avoid anything with added sugars.

  • I shouldn’t have seconds.

  • I should never keep chocolate or ice cream in my house.

  • I shouldn't be an emotional eater.

  • I should only eat dessert once a week.

  • I shouldn’t eat so much cheese and bread.

Normal to Not Eat Normally
Sadly, it’s pretty normal these days to not know what it means to eat normallyor how to do it.

The definition of normal (or healthy) eating for many people has come to include a lot of restrictions. The result: a disconnection from your body, a fraught relationship with food, and feelings of guilt and shame when you break the rules.

When my clients ask me what normal eating looks like, I often refer to Ellyn Satter, a well-known expert on feeding dynamics and eating competence. She created the following definition 35 years ago. Despite how much our food landscape and diet culture constantly changes, her words remain true.

Normal Eating is...
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.

It is being able to choose food you enjoy 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.

Truly Liberating
I love how Satter's interpretation of normal eating removes all the judgement, moralism, rigidity, rules, deprivation, willpower and perfectionism that are so common in our relationship with food these days.

Instead, her definition supports a way of eating that is intuitive, pleasurable, sustainable, nourishing and truly liberating.

You can access a PDF of Satter's definition to post on your fridge here. She also offers many helpful resources on her website

“Normal Eating is…” Copyright (c) 2018 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatterInstitute.org.