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.

Becoming a Food Anthropologist Helped End My Binge Eating

When I used to binge on peanut-butter chocolate-chunk cookies while hiding in my dark kitchen late at night, my internal dialogue afterward sounded something like this:

“I’m so disgusting. I have no self-control. My willpower sucks. I can’t be trusted to have cookies in the house. I should know better by now. Why can’t I eat like a normal person? Starting tomorrow, no more sugar; I'm addicted!”

These voices in my head were anything but helpful, especially since I would find myself back in the same place doing the same thing again just a few days later.

Unable to take this torturous binge-repent-repeat cycle anymore, I reached out for help. A very wise teacher taught me that I had a choice: I could either ban the cookies or ban the voices.

Since I loved the cookies and hated the voices, the decision was pretty easy—even though it seemed like an impossible feat considering how ingrained in my brain the voices were.

A Powerful Ally Voice
Making peace with food and your body requires silencing the voices in your head that are constantly critiquing, criticizing and condemning your eating.

Replacing these disempowering, unhelpful voices with empowering, supportive voices is key for reclaiming the Intuitive Eater within you.

One of the ally voices identified in Intuitive Eating that my clients and I really gravitate toward is the Food Anthropologist.

The Food Anthropologist is a neutral observer of your thoughts and actions.

It doesn’t make any judgments or emotionally react. Instead, it witnesses what’s going on from a place of pure objectivity.

Unlike your internal Food Police that dictate if you’re good or bad based on what or how you ate, the Food Anthropologist simply states the facts. It sounds like this:

  • I ate six cookies at 10:30 p.m. and experienced stomach pain and feelings of guilt, regret and shame.

  • I skipped lunch, which led to strong sugar cravings at 3 p.m.

  • My eating felt out of control with all the different food options at the party.

  • The uncomfortable pressure in my stomach indicated I was full, yet I continued eating. I was angry at myself for overeating.

  • When I felt anxious yesterday, I ate a pint of ice cream while watching TV.

Distant Perspective, Deeper Connection
The Food Anthropologist voice gives you much-needed distant perspective. Yet, it also helps you stay in touch with your physical and psychological cues by eliminating all the noise that typically disrupts this connection and clouds your thinking.

When coupled with curiosity, the Food Anthropologist helps you expand your self-awareness and empowers you to better understand and release beliefs and behaviors that are no longer serving you.

Not a Lack of Willpower
When I became an objective observer of my binge-repent-repeat cycle, I was able to see clearly what was driving my cookie binges. It didn’t have anything to do with a lack of discipline or willpower, a character flaw or a sugar addiction.

Instead, I discovered my binge eating was driven by multiple factors including a restrictive diet, rigid food rules, a false persona, perfectionism and a pleasure deficiency. By addressing the root causes of my behavior and amplifying my ally voices, my binge eating eventually stopped.

If the loudest voice in your head is a critical one, it can take time to shift to a neutral, nonjudgmental voice like the Food Anthropologist. If you would like help identifying and strengthening your ally voices, give me a shout.

What's Your Eating Personality?

What’s your eating personality?

Are you a Careful Planner, Unconscious Eater or Professional Dieter?  

Perhaps you’ve been all of these at some point. This isn’t unusual as your eating patterns can shift depending upon what’s going on in your life.

If you’d like to return to the Intuitive Eater you came into this world as, it’s helpful to understand what your predominant eating style is.

The Unconscious Eater
Let’s take a look at the Unconscious Eater. This eating style is rooted in a lack of attention, awareness and attunement, and can take many different forms. Following are three ways it has shown up in my life. 

1/ Refuse-Not Unconscious Eater
When I worked in the corporate world, I’d mindlessly eat whatever food came into the office whether it was pizza a sales rep brought for a lunchtime presentation, mini-chocolate bars from the candy jar, leftover cookies from an afternoon meeting, or bagels that had been sitting in the kitchen for eight hours.

While there’s nothing wrong with eating any of these foods, I rarely ate them because I was hungry or truly wanted them. Instead, I was vulnerable to their mere presence, not attuned to my body’s needs, and unable to refuse free food.

This behavior showed up outside the office as well, whether it was with party fare, holiday food gifts or grocery store samples.

2/ Distracted Unconscious Eater
I used to be embarrassed if anyone used my computer because of the crumb-covered keyboard and sticky keys. If this sounds like your computer, it’s a sure sign you’re a distracted diner, too.

A Distracted Unconscious Eater typically eats while multitasking whether it’s responding to emails, scrolling through social media, driving to work or texting with friends.

Perhaps you feel there’s no time to stop and just eat, or that it’s more productive to be doing another activity while eating, or that just eating is boring.

I’m definitely not saying you should never enjoy a movie while eating popcorn or takeout! However, if you regularly eat while distracted, you’re likely to derive less pleasure and satisfaction from your food and more likely to overeat.

3/ Waste-Not Unconscious Eater
I grew up in a Clean Your Plate Club and continue to struggle sometimes with this hardwired habit.

The fact that someone would actually choose to leave food on his or her plate or throw away perfectly good food can still astound me today despite all the work I’ve done with identifying my attunement disruptors.

If you’re a Waste-Not Unconscious Eater, you believe it’s better to finish something even if you’re full rather than toss it or save the last few bites. If you’re a parent or partner, you likely clean the remaining food off your children’s or partner’s plates, too.

The challenge with this eating personality is that you prioritize the value of food over your body, which can lead to chronic overconsumption and subsequent discomfort.

Understanding Your Eating Personality
There are other types of Unconscious Eaters, such as the Chaotic Unconscious Eater and the Emotional Unconscious Eater, that you might relate to more strongly.

Having a better understanding of your eating personality, whether it's an Unconscious Eater or Professional Dieter, can be very insightful and helpful as you work toward shedding the beliefs and behaviors that disconnect you from your body’s wisdom, cues and needs.


Source: These eating personalities were created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the originators of Intuitive Eating and authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.