Everyone has an idea of normal eating, though they may not know it. Often the way a person has been brought up to eat, will constitute their normal eating pattern. But of course, we are all brought up to eat quite differently. We eat for so many different reasons. We eat for health and to give our bodies energy to do things. We eat for fun and to celebrate joyful events. We eat when we are sad and need comfort. We eat when we are bored. And of course… we eat when we are hungry. Almost forgot : )
But what is normal eating?
Normal eating is what’s considered acceptable in terms of eating patterns, not just to ourselves, but also to society. For a dietitian, there are many different aspects of eating to cover when supporting an individual through an eating disorder. What is ‘normal’ is likely to have become increasingly skewed overtime as the eating disorder has progressed.
Eating certain foods at different times of the day, not eating when hungry, eating only foods that are on a safe list, eating only certain amounts of different foods. Some individuals restrict foods so much, the eating disorder drives a binge, perhaps a purge, or other weight control behaviour. Changes to eating behaviours can become insidious as little by little the individual changes how they cope with food. Trying to change a skewed idea of eating is the challenge of the dietitian working in eating disorders. This is what normal eating should look like.
We want to:
- Eat regularly e.g. 3 times per day plus a snack or two
- Consume foods we know are good for us like fruits and vegetables
- Enjoy foods we like e.g. chocolate or cheese
- Choose from all the food groups
- Feel confident to choose to be vegan or vegetarian but not because it’s offering us opportunity to restrict our foods
- Feel confident we can eat in front of other people and participate in social events based around food
We also want it to be okay to occasionally
- Treat ourselves to super processed foods like food from a fast food joint
- Overeat and need to rest afterwards – think Diwali, or Christmas or Hannukah
- Undereat because we are going out to dinner later and want to save space to have more than one course
We don’t want to
- Spend our lives counting calories though this can sometimes be helpful
- Weigh ourselves more than once a day – and for some this could be once per week
- Become obsessed with health
- Avoid treat foods such as crisps or chocolate because we are told they are bad for us
- Play games – pretending we have an allergy when we are trying to restrict our intake
We need to understand that
- Our bodies are fuelled by the food we eat
- We need lots of different kinds of foods to carry out the functions of normal living
- If we deprive our bodies of food we will experience surges of appetite hormones
- Our brains are involved in all of our decisions around food
- Our gut and the microbiome affect our mental health so we need to nourish our gut
Eating normally is about so many different things. There is a lot to work through when trying to get better from a state where how you eat is really not normal. Eating according to proteins or carbohydrate or fat content can be fine – but really that’s for dietitians to guide you through. Fasting, then over-eating, then fasting again really doesn’t work. Dietitians work to find your happy place where it’s food that you are eating, not nutrients. Eating normally is about ticking the bullets above, and eating in a healthful way. No food is off limits. Food is fun and can have a wonderful place in your life… if you can let it.