32 Comments to
What Is Normal Eating?

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  1. Wow, this article was the first time I´ve seen such an honest, common sense approach to eating. I think the real problem is that we have tied our selfworth with our image so tightly, that we have warped the way we look at basic things such as food. Food really has two purposes, nurishing and satisfying, and we should keep them in mind. If we are only meeting one of them, it is very likely we are not going to have a healthy relationship with food, or ourselves. I have managed to (sort of) accept that I can´t really be a size 2 unless I deprive myself all the time, so I have to strive for healthy eating, even if it means I won´t ever fit back in those jeans.
    Thank you for that wonderfull definition of what normal eating means.

  2. The article is full of good information, but it is hard to get past the sensationalistic picture which seems at first glance to reinforce the idea of eating, at least certain foods, as “bad”.

    • Dr Kathllen Says:–

      The article is full of good information, but it is hard to get past the sensationalistic picture which seems at first glance to reinforce the idea of eating, at least certain foods, as “bad”.

      Yes, to indicate that it is fine to, really, eat so that we feel good inside, rather than to just eat enough to sustain our tiny birdlike figure, the picture should have been of a larger sized woman, not so pretty, digging into a large piece of cream cake, or a slice of pizza. This picture of a model eating a green salad hardly supports the notion of not treating food as good or bad

  3. While I definitely think its crazy to WORRY about what you are putting in your mouth and how much, I do think America’s health issues are linked to the lack of THINKING about what we put in our mouth and how much. Notice I capitalize both letters to show the difference in the approach to food.

    I notice the article uses the example of using a peice of chocolate as a snack before dinner. Wouldnt a peice of chocolate be a treat? Not a snack? Snack are reguality items between meals-the things that we dont eat alot of but are still good for us-hence the regular use of them. Treats are the wonderfully tasty “junk foods” that are our guilty pleasure that we partake maybe once or twice a week-otherwise we wind up with the problems we now face in society:obesity, heart issues, diabetes, cancer.

    Think I am crazy by suggesting this? Coca cola used to be a treat, now it is a snack or even a staple of the American diet. How about chips, sugar laden yogurts, aspertame “no sugar” products, sodas, “vitamin” waters, sugar/starch/additive laden breakfast cereals, etc, etc, etc. Again, I dont worry about these products, but look at them and realize they certainly dont resemble food (at least not what our bodies were biologically meant to process on a regular basis), but they are being consumed like they are a three squares a day type of food. And, it is taking its tole on our society-with most folks not even knowing the difference.

    As for eating as much as you want until you feel full and portion control-it is important, too. Many of us dont even know when to stop. The fast eater regularly eats too much, and before the stomach can register its fullness to your brain. This phenomenon is not something manufactured in America. Many cultures in the world have practices of stepping away from their dinner before fullness sets in-and its an old practice-centuries old.

    I liked the approach the love of food that the article talked about, however, the food landscape in America needs more communication and discussion.

    Good books are:

    “What To Eat” by Marion Nestle
    “The Ominvores Dilemma” by Michael Pollan
    “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Scholosser

    Go see “Food, Inc.” at your local theatre or rent it when it comes out on video


  4. Normal eating as defined by this article used to work for me. Now it doesn’t. Last week, I bought my triplet 6-year-olds a big bag of dried fruit and nuts from Costco to pack in their lunches — an attempt to get them off the crackers and chips they seem to want all the time. To me, the fruit was beautiful and delicious; they hated it. So I ate a handful of dried fruit and nuts every day, which was a change to my currently strict low-carb diet (directed by a bariatric physician so I can somehow cease to be obese). When I went to my weekly weigh-in, I had gained 2 lbs. Just from adding a little fruit to my diet. Very disheartening.

  5. I do not believe in a regimented, scheduled diet – it’s not how our bodies are designed to work. The focus on what we eat shouldn’t be a daily thing, more like a weekly one – if you feel like pasta 3 days in a row, gor for it, as long as you also then eat an abundance of veggies over another set of days. While I agree we should eat when we are hungry and what we are hungry for, I would like to point out that the biological purpose of consuming food is to a) stay alive and b) remain healthy.
    We North Americans eat much more than we need to for these purposes.
    As to eating what you want, I have to agree with a previous post pointing out that the problem here is that people tend not to think about what they are eating, as well as the difference between a “snack” and a “treat”.
    Because I live in poverty, my choices are limited, and sadly, healthy food is more expensive than junk. So I have no problems with excess weight, my problem is keeping my weight up and doing so with healthy foods that are not full of sodium, aspartame, MSG, highly processed, etc. We need to teach children about and feed them a healthy diet (fresh fruit and veggies, lean meat, whole wheat breads, etc.) so they are both aware and used to those foods – the junk targetted to children is appalling, and hooks them on bright colours, sweet and salt extremes, and high-fat (this is what hooks our taste-buds) at a very young age, so of course they don’t want to eat “good food” as they get older.
    I also think there should be less focus on diet/calorie-counting, and more on fitness and overall health.

  6. i am dismayed that this article on Psych Central did not discuss medications that affect weight.
    Those of us who have gained weight not by poor choice or bad habits have had to deal with the agnony of unwanted and unhealty weight gain. We also have to deal with prediabtes protocols. Once again I feel we need to work more for cure and prevention rather than symptom control. I still haven’t met a dietician who is coznigant of psych meds and diet. Please address this in other articles.

  7. I’ve struggled with weight and food issues all my life (48 yrs). I had gastric bypass surgery 6 years ago and lost 170 pounds. The struggle continues. The surgery changed my stomach but not my brain. Eating when I’m stressed or bored hasn’t gone away, although the portion sizes and the choices are different.
    Food keeps us alive and can torture us at the same time. I can’t think of one person that I know that has a “normal” food relationship. There always seems to be some sort of punishment phase going on, i.e. “i’m having this even though I know I shouldn’t” “This is bad but I can’t resist” “I HAVE to lose weight.. I hate myself fat”
    And these are comments from THIN PEOPLE !

    I’m a work in progress as far as my weight and food issues go and that will never change. I have to accept it that way in order to not hate myself any longer.
    Hating yourself because you ate a brownie, Dorito, etc is so sad. What have we done to ourselves?

  8. I gained 30 pounds taking anti-psychotics and mood stablizers, most notably Olanzapine (Zyprexa), as markat mentioned. It didn’t seem to matter what I ate or what I did for excersize, and I began to feel horrible about my self. I recently told my pdoc that I won’t take it any more, went off the drug, had a depressive relapse, and have lost the entire thirty pounds.

    My appetite has changed so much in the last two months that I hardly know what “normal” is any more when it comes to eating, which is why this article caught my eye. But I must say that even before this landslide weight loss I would have disagreed with much of this article.

    As skeletonmom said, we do need to put some thought into what we are eating, not just satisfy every craving that comes along; I think that is disordered eating. Take a hint from the Food Guide, and pare it down to what you think you will be able to eat in healthy proportions. Of course it is important to enjoy what you are eating, but healthy choices will help to avoid the spiral of being overweight and feeling badly about yourself and, as skeletonmom also said, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

    Melissa, dried fruit is actually concentrated carbohydrates – you might as well be eating candy. Remember that one piece of dried apricot, for instance, is half of a fresh one. So if you are eating a handful of dried apricots, you may be eating the sugar contained in numerous fruits. If you want to eat fruit, eat it fresh, or limit the amount of dried fruits to a couple of pieces.

    Another thing I learned from my diabetic friend is to look at the carbohydrate content of food instead of the calories. Carbohydrates are what make us gain weight, if we eat more than our bodies will use. Take a look at the carbohydrate content on a sports drink, for instance. Probably about 35 grams of carbohydrate. You might as well eat two pieces of cheesecake. Yet these drinks are being marketed to us as “healthy”. Fruit juices also contain a lot of carbohydrates.

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with using artificial sweeteners. There has been a lot of media fear-mongering concerning these basically harmless chemicals that make foods taste sweet without having any added carbohydrates; this means they are healthier than the exorbitant amount of sugar in a sports drink. The myths about aspartame causing cancer, for instance, are falsehoods based on one study involving mice and what would be considered overdose levels of aspartame over an extended period of time. There has NEVER been a case of humans getting cancer from use of aspartame, nor any harm caused by MSG or suphites, unless one has a specific sensitivity or allergy to those chemicals.

    Poverty, as many North American studies have shown, is a great contributer to obesity. The reason is, as Tammy Mackenzie mentioned, that healthier foods tend to be more expensive – IF you don’t pay attention to prices of fresh foods, make meal plans, and buy accordingly. It comes down to laziness and lack of education about healthy eating, in some cases, and it seems simpler to eat a box of cheap Kraft Dinner for supper than to prepare fresh foods that contain far fewer carbohydrates. I remember what it was like to live in poverty, and pasta and rice were cheap, so I would eat nothing but penne noodles or home-made rice pudding for days. This is totally unhealthy eating.

    “Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable.” ~ Ellyn Satter

    “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.” ~ Ellyn Satter

    I think these ideas CONTRIBUTE to eating disorders, and smack of self-medicating through food. If you don’t have the self control to stop eating when you are getting full and eat so much that you are physically uncomfortable, there is something wrong.

    The bottom line here is HEALTH, and eating habits undeniably have a great deal to do with that. If one is so confused and scared about food, they should talk to a dietician/nutritionist and take their experienced advice.

  9. I like the point the article makes about not feeling guilty when you eat for reasons other than hunger or eat more than you need to feel satisfied. I do, however, agree with other posters who argue that, as a society, most of us eat more than is healthy at the same time as we obsess too much and are too judgmental about these issues. I have been slowly losing weight, but losing, by reducing high-calorie/low-nutrient foods and increasing low-calorie/high-nutrient foods, as well as exercising. If I “stray,” though, I do not beat myself up — I remind myself that my current mental health is even more important than my long-term physical health.

    I am fortunate enough to be stable on Lamictal alone but I sympathize with those who have gained weight due to psych med.s. That’s one reason we need to be non-judgmental about weight, eating and food. It must be extremely frustrating when dietitians, and others, don’t get it.

    I liked Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food:” “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” (Food being stuff our grandmothers might recognize.)

  10. It really is an interesting subject, and indicates that the times have changed dramatically, and now the depression is much stronger than before, is also the lifestyle that we lived for two generations, very different indeed, as to the medicines should be very careful as they can be very dangerous if not performed adequately, because we have many cases where people have come to impair their lives by these drugs (as findrxonline, trusted source, and there are more than thousand cases in United States) it is required to be very careful and take an appropriate and prescribed by the doctor, never self that is much more dangerous still.

  11. Normal eating means eating according to body wisdom. But there are two factors that can prevent this: (1) emotional eating, and (2) processed foods. Processed foods are actually designed to use body wisdom against us:


    If you are an emotional eater or you eat a lot of processed foods, you probably are overweight. If you are a dieter, you also probably are overweight since diets don’t work. 95% of dieters regain any weight they lost, plus some. The only strategy that works is to eat normally – to eat according to body wisdom.

    But how do you do that? Not so easy for an emotional eater. “Normal Eating” is also the name of a method to overcome emotional eating. Once you do that, you are free to make food choices and eat according to body wisdom. Freedom from compulsion and obsession is a wonderful thing.

    Sheryl Canter
    Author of “Normal Eating for Normal Weight”

  12. Great, positive article on the possibilities and flexibility of eating healthy! Trying to be natural, sugar-free, splenda-free and aspartame-free but still want a soda or pop sometimes? There is an alternative soda! Its Zevia, first all natural, 0 calorie stevia sweetened soda in the world! No ASPARTAME & no Splenda. It tastes very good and its at Whole Foods. Six delicious flavors including Cola, Twist, Root Beer, Ginger Ale and Black Cherry.
    – Margaret
    PS If anyone wants to try ZEVIA to review it on their website please feel free to email me at margaret at zevia dot com.

  13. I feel the media often makes eating more confusing that it should be.

    We see a great looking celebrity and immediately think, “what did they do so I can look like that?”

    Often enough, we get information from someone in a magazine who’s not even an expert in the field.

  14. For “normal” folks without eating disorders, all this is just fine. But the fact is, I know that I have used food and an addictive substance for most of my life and there are some foods that I cannot eat, because they trigger my binge eating. I am finding that there are fewer for them than I thought, because I am also aware that there are “trigger” situations just as much as foods, where it doesn’t matter what food it is, I am at risk of overeating. What I most strongly disagree with in this article, however, is that it states that emotional eating is okay. For someone that has a lifelong history of compulsively overating, that idea would be death to me. I simply cannot eat to make me feel good or because I am sad. Maybe there are lots of folks that can – but I am not one of them. To do so, suppresses the drive to deal with those feelings and address what is going on with me. I used to eat whenever I felt uncomfortable (thus hitting 330 pounds) – I never even waited long enough to know whether I was sad, angry, lonely or what was going on. I agree that there are way too many food nazis and there is too much “evil food” talk out there – but I strenuously argue with my own nutritionist that there are some foods I should never eat (although the list is short). The thought that “all food is wonderful and natural” -just is not right in my opinion. When a plate of fried chicken delivers you 1500 calories in transfats in one sitting, it just isn’t good for anybody.

  15. I saw this article referenced on the New York Times website and I had to come here to read the source.

    Normal is such a slippery concept. Normal has to be what works for you. Normal is the way to eat and the foods to eat that add to your happiness and doesn’t subtract from it. Normal eating is freeing, not confining. Normal eating is walking away satisfied with your meal and yourself.

    These are the things I’ve learned over the last few years. I used to weigh in at a bit over 300 pounds. Today and for the past 6 years, I’ve stayed at 170 pounds (I check, once a month, even if my pants still fit). I have a plan of eating (NOT a diet, a plan) that works for me. I happen to weigh my food when I’m at home. I eat food I love. I avoid sugar. I’m not afraid to try new things nor do I get tired of the tried and true. I cook from ingredients somebody’s grandmother would recognize (maybe not mine).

    I didn’t learn these things on my own. I got desperate and joined Overeaters Anonymous (OA). By working OAs program of recovery, I’ve uncovered many of the issues that drove me to food for comfort. I don’t claim this can work for everybody who needs it but it does work for those who want it.

    I speak for nobody but myself. There is no one normal. Everybody deserves to be happy.

  16. Wow, Steve! Your definition strikes me as much more true then the articles!

    Bravo to everyone that posted such thoughtful and inspiring extensions to this article.

    Perhaps normal is so dangerous because we are all so different. Some of us facing nasty side effects and others of us, issues with addiction.

    I think the article actually speaks to an ideal more then a norm. It would be ideal if I could eat to the point of stuffed and assume my body would figure it out for me. Or that I will never feel guilty about food or limit myself.

    The truth is, we live in a world abundant with choice and variety. It is the heaven of eating, but it can also be hell. What irony for us, that we would no longer face starvation, but come up with all these other problems to face. It’s a tragedy, but is certainly a reality not going away anytime soon.

    I wish everyone the best of luck finding your normal. Just because something worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you. It also doesn’t mean that the fight is not worth fighting. Keep trying to find peace and find a satisfying relationship with your body and food.

  17. I think the article says that all your eating habits are “normal”. I can hardly agree especially since the definition is so loose. And it is so easy to interpret any way it suits…”at times” can be twice a day or twice a year, getting stuffed can be hardly normal if it is on regular basis. Normal would be eating that provides good nutrition, no stress and no weight gain (if you are on your healthy weight) any way you can achieve this. I found that not eating snacks or treats (either one with exception of fresh fruit and vegetables), but just full meals, works for me, as snacks and treats usually carry a lot of calories.

  18. Rock on Ms. Satter — one of the sanest, healthiest definitions of healthy eating I’ve ever seen.

    Ms. Pitman, though, seems to have a couple of eating disorders and/or odd food prejudices. But hey, eating IS pretty personal.

  19. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments! Like Steve said, “normal is a slippery concept,” and it’ll differ for each person. What I appreciated about both definitions is that there’s room for flexibility. There’s no “all or nothing” thinking. There’s no guilt and there’s no judgment.

    We’re living in an age where dieting is the norm, and by dieting, I mean scrupulously counting calories, cutting out food groups and heavily restricting what you eat. I think these definitions emphasize moderation and they don’t vilify foods.

    Yes, veggies are healthier than fried foods, but eating fries and fried chicken once in a while doesn’t mean you’re out of control and doing something “bad.”

    I also think there’s this idea that people, when left to their own devices, aren’t capable of making decisions about what they eat; that we need a gimmick to manipulate our brains, like eating on smaller plates and bringing a clutch to a party so you don’t have free hands to grab food (I read this during the holidays in a women’s magazine). There’s a fine line between useful strategies to eat healthy, and ridiculous, unrealistic tips (some of which seem to encourage disordered eating).

    What works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for another person, but I want to enjoy what I eat. I actually enjoy fruit as much as I enjoy a piece of dark chocolate. I try to follow the Food Pyramid and get my daily intake of fruits, veggies, fats, protein and carbs. The problem is when people are made to feel bad because they’d like to eat something yummy instead of a four ounce piece of bland, boneless, skinless chicken with a small side of veggies every single day.

    @ E. Well put: “Normal would be eating that provides good nutrition, no stress and no weight gain (if you are on your healthy weight) any way you can achieve this.”

    @ Niel, I absolutely agree! One example is Gwyneth Paltrow, and her GOOP newsletters, where she goes on and on about doing fasts and detoxes. It’s dangerous when celebrities extol their various diet plans, because usually they’re aggressive, strict and unhealthy. I also think with a new diet popping up every day, it can be difficult to distinguish what’s a gimmick and what’s a healthy way to eat.

    @ Denis A., Thank you for your candid response. That’s wonderful that you’ve taken the time to learn your triggers and do your best to avoid them. There will be many variations on normal eating. What I get from the definition is that comfort food once in a while is OK, so is savoring your meal and eating a piece of cake (instead of taking three bites and then throwing it away because “it’ll go straight to your hips”), but eating to numb emotions isn’t. It’s great that you’re taking steps to be healthy and know what works for you.

    @ Amanda Chapman, You touched on a point that really annoys me :) That’s when some dietitians and other experts promote a very one-sided, restrictive way of eating. It’s awesome that you don’t beat yourself up. I think that’s a great attitude! In our society, I often see an all-or-nothing attitude; people are either eating high-calorie, high-fat foods every day or watching every morsel, afraid to eat a piece of chocolate or a potato (because of the supposed plethora of carbs). And I wonder if part of that is because we think we either have to diet, and if we’re not willing to heavily restrict, then there’s nothing left but to eat whatever, whenever.

    @ Pink_Lotus, You took the words right out of my mouth! :) Dried fruit is tricky, because you think you’re eating something with loads of nutrients, but instead you get loads of sugar. Eating the real deal (the actual fruit) is always your best bet. I do disagree about your point that Satter’s definition contributes to eating disorders. To me, the danger is in perfection. We’ve all, at some point in our lives, eaten past the point of comfort. Maybe we’ve overeaten, because the food was delicious or because we ate too fast and didn’t realize how full we were. You have good days, and bad ones. It isn’t that she’s suggesting you throw all caution and nutrition to the wind, but instead, be flexible. An aside: I just don’t like the idea of a magazine telling me that I can’t eat a variety of foods because I can’t handle the freedom of choice.

    @Tammy, The comments you mention are all too common! Whenever I’m at someone’s house for dinner, it’s inevitable that at least one person will say, “I shouldn’t have that” or “This has so many calories, maybe I should put it down.” Eating when you’re bored or stressed is another common problem for many people. What’s important is that you’re leading a healthy lifestyle and you accept that it’s a challenge. Everyone has ups and downs. I think the key is to be kind to yourself along the way.

    @Markat, You bring up an important point. We’ll definitely address the subject of medication and weight gain. Thank you! What do you wish dieticians knew about medication and diet? Any specific questions you’d like as to explore?

    @ Tammy MacKenzie, I love your comment about changing the focus from calorie counting to overall health. For instance, I see this often in mainstream media: If you’ve eaten a big dessert, you better work harder at the gym the next day to shed those calories or they’ll ruin your routine and you’ll pack on the pounds. Junk food and processed foods are typically more affordable than fruit, veggies and other nutritious foods. That’s a huge problem and for many people price drives their dining decisions.

    @ Skeletonmom, Thanks for your book recommendations! That’s why I like the idea of intuitive eating (http://www.intuitiveeating.com/), which focuses on paying attention to your hunger cues, because many of us don’t know when we’re hungry. We’re either so used to an empty stomach because we restrict our intake; or we’re so used to eating on the go and ignoring our satiety signals, because we’re slamming food into our mouths.

    @ Dr. Kathleen Young, Thank you, and I absolutely agree. We’ve made the change.

    @ Luisa F. Toledo, Great point about the purpose of food. Nowadays, how you look determines the kind of person you are and your self-worth, which is, of course, ridiculous. Societies have always focused on appearances but now, at least to me, it seems like we’ve reached the pinnacle. How often have you seen an article that talks about baby boomers getting cosmetic surgery for the sole purpose of staying competitive in the corporate world? Being healthy doesn’t equal a size 2. A woman who’s a size 12 can be much healthier than a woman who’s a size 2. That’s great that you have such a positive, healthy attitude! :)

    Like Rachel, I also want to wish everyone luck in finding their “normal.” Thanks again for taking the time to share your insightful thoughts!

  20. The defintion of “normal eating” has to be quite individual. Certainly for people like myself with eating disorders (I am a compursive overeater) eating what I want, when I want is not going to work. That being said, for me a degree of flexibility in my plan of eating helps keep me on the path. But I do need to plan and I do need to watch quatities, even weigh and measure some foods. But I agree that too much rigidity is not a good thing and that guilt over eating is a very bad thing. Eating must be part of living and enjoyable. But having a plan, making sure that healthy choices are at hand, watching quantities, making sure that a meal includes a sufficient volume to satisfy, are necessary to bring a degree of “normalcy” in my eating.

  21. I am excited to see that you changed the original picture! Thanks for being so responsive!

  22. I only realized how “abnormal” American eating is after coming back to the US after teaching English in China for a year. In China all of my students were slim and healthy, and they had a hearty appetite. They ate foods like noodles, rice, vegetables,fish and all sorts of meat at every meal. I never heard a girl comment about “carb” content in the noodles or rice, or how much fat was in her meat entree. What they didn’t eat a lot of dessert, because of cultural preference. Whereas Americans (esp. American women) eat at least one dessert a day, my students might have one a week. Also, they rarely, rarely drank alcoholic drinks. In addition to this, none of them owned cars, so they walked everywhere.

    In short, normal eating to me is how I ate when my students, friends and I ate when I was in China.

  23. I, too, gained weight on an anti-psychotic medication for bipolar 1. In 12 yrs. I gained 50 lbs. so now I have to take medication for high blood pressure & cholesterol & am testing in the diabetic range (both my parents were diabetic & I don’t want to end up on another medication). Mother also bipolar & committed suicide so I take the disorder seriously.

    Plus, the little self-esteem I had is in the gutter now due to the excess weight. I isolate myself as I used to be very active w/running & tennis, etc. People are very judgmental when you gain weight. The people at the tennis club are very “gossipy” about people like me “who let themselves go.” I have not told anyone about my bipolar condition or suicide attempts.

    I’m taking a Diabetes Educ. course & one of the biggest problems for me was eating too much fat. My medication made it so that I never felt satiety (acc. to my doc that is one of the problems w/the med I was on; unfortunately, it worked very well on my severe bipolar symptoms, but I had to get off it for health reasons).

    So I had to go off the offending medication. Acc. to the diabetes nurse educator I should have 44 grams of fat maximum a day. Some days had 85!!! So for me, I have to look at what I am eating & balance the protein, carbs, dairy,etc. etc.–but especially FAT.

    Also, adding more exercise, though w/back problems some days I’m in too much pain despite trying all sorts of muscle relaxants (didn’t work) or a Lidoderm patch (didn’t work). Have degenerative disc disease so no “cure”, but going to a pain management doc to try to get some relief.

    Also, do some emotional eating since quitting smoking 12 yrs. ago…

  24. If this is about normal eating, why are there comments about weight gain/loss? I regularly eat the same breakfast: o.j., cereal with 1/2 banana & milk and coffee or tea. Lunch is optional soup and/or sandwich, or not — depends on level of activity. Afternoon snack some fruit. Dinner a large salad and maybe fish or chicken or meat.
    Again, tea or coffee. Eat when I’m hungry; drink when I’m thirsty. At 80 plus, I weigh exactly ten pounds more than at 25. (124) That’s normal eating. When I was very young, I did eat lots of sweets. Danced it off or walked it off. Keep active and use food to nourish your body not your emotions. Then you’ll eat normally.

  25. I wish the article had ended before the FITNESS ARTICLE. it was perfect until then and disappointing to hear what SHAPE, etc has to say about food.

    Another thing that really bothers me, and that is so typical, (and, I am not criticizing the author here, OK, because her ideas and attitude are really good, and not the typical at all)..anyway, what really bothers me is the picture/photo of this skinny, beautiful woman, and who is definitely not average looking, nibbling at her green salad, and totally ‘fake’ expressions of pleasure.

    It’s like the catalogs I get for fat people, which are for fat people above size 14. (and which is itself an insult, or a joke that you are fat when you are a size 14) I am not even fat and I wear everything extra large.

    Anyway, so these magazines tell you that you can be beautiful and wear great clothes even when you are fat. Except, all the models are size 10’s, and maybe a fat size 12 squeezed in. On top of that, and I admit, there has been improvement lately, the clothes are ugly. so, if you are fat, you are not allowed to wear, or deserving, of nice cotton but have to wear gross synthetics with gross colors and huge black flowers on the blouses to take the focus of YOU?

    OK, I always exaggerate, and I like the article a lot and the definitions the author also likes, especially. It’s not something you hear often.

    I don’t understand the comments from the people who bring up their medication problems. this article is not about medications and weight gain and when you write an article, you write about a small piece and do not include every single possibility as well?

    Thanks, KATRIN

    PS: I hope I was not too vague; it’s just the way I am. (kidding)

  26. I guess my question from here is: What now? Satter’s definition is so simple as to seem revolutionary — but I’m not sure what to do with it, being, as I am, a product of a damaged food culture. We turn to food rules because it’s one way to navigate that damaged culture; to find our way out of it requires something else. I’m just not sure what — and am trying to figure it out.

  27. No, I don’t agree with these definitions of normal eating.

    I don’t think it’s normal to ignore the signals your body is sending you to stop eating when you get full and keep eating. And, the food is almost devoid of taste by then, so you’re not eating for the pleasure of how it tastes. What ARE you eating for, at that point? And WHAT are you eating – usually food that is “highly palatable” but not highly nutritious.

    A lot of people have mentioned the distinction between “normal” people and “food-addicted” people, and I think that distinction is completely valid. Cigarettes are addictive to roughly 33% of people that smoke (source: Koob & LeMoal); judging by the obesity statistics, food is addictive to over half of the population.

    I think David Kessler’s book “The End of Overeating” is a very good look at how food is addictive to susceptible people.

    People assume that just because food is “natural” and “biological,” it can’t be addictive. That’s not true – the food we’re regularly eating these days is quite different from the food we regularly ate 50-100 years ago. And regularity of exposure matters, as any addiction researcher will tell you.

  28. Agreed that the article does not need to take into account every possibility, but now that it’s been mentioned… if there were to be an article on medication and diet, it would be interesting to me to know what the healthy response is to medications that cause weight gain.

    The weight I gained from the medication I take seemed to sneak up on me and I’ve only recently started to make an effort to push that back. I did, yes, begin calorie counting… (more useful because it woke me up to some sneaky high calorie foods–I’m in the “thinking” not “worrying” camp) and this revealed that I “normally” eat about the right number of calories to maintain weight, in normal circumstances. Should those of us on these meds be eating for weight loss from the start?

  29. I LOVE the first 2 Definitions of NORMAL! (Pittman and Satter) Also, healthy, trusting, loving, and kind….these are other words to describe what they described…life affirming eating habits. These habits do take practice and skill I think…learning to trust ourselves, our wants. our needs, listening to ourselves-when to start and when to stop….when we are hungry and when we are satisfied….I learned a lot about food from a book called “When Food is Love” which really addresses the emotional component of eating….and over eating….this book and the above definitions are in line with how I feel. the others who comment I think miss the point…and medication that causes weight gain is a whole other matter that does not fit in this discussion in my opinion.

  30. Completely forgot! This post made me think of a great book I read, related: “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”–mainly saying, enjoy the food you eat and don’t feel bad about enjoying it. But also, think about what you eat–buy things to make that will make you excited to eat healthily–colorful salads, a complex soup, etc…

  31. I think there’s too much focus on weight and eating. Sure, you might gain some weight while eating, but you can lose it through exercise. I never really understood the obsession with being thin…the magazine and model images are fairly unrealistic.

    For eating right, I would turn to cooking. There was a brilliant NY Times article about how people don’t cook enough and that’s why they’re obese. I think the general rule of “If you want it, cook it (and in the case of lobsters and other live food) and kill it yourself” is best.

    Ready made meals DO make it too easy to overeat because there is no effort involved, and the taste tends to be…industrialized. Cooking is much more satisfying because you’re smelling, tasting, and touching and experiencing the food for a very long time.

    Now, this is by no means a way to become a thin supermodel, but you can live a modestly healthy lifestyle. Afterall, Julia Child and the staff on the food network might be on the plump side, but I bet they don’t have food addiction problems.

  32. Our bodies are naturally designed to gather body weight in times of plenty and store this weight as fat for times of less plenty. This has served our ancestors well for millions of years. Being a plumper individual helps the survival of your babies, especially when the food supply is not constant. Unfortunately for us, we want to live over a hundred years, and being a plumper individual means you’re more likely to die out long before then.

    The bigger problem, as I see it is that we attach moral judgments to this very natural process of overeating, that we give ourselves complexes over it, that we call ourselves weak for overeating. When we try to become leaner, we are fighting a natural biological process, we certainly shouldn’t demean ourselves for not being successful 100% of the time.

  33. “Normal eating” is definitely difficult when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. It’s interesting that the phrase can mean slightly different things to different people. In the end though, the goals are the same…. to be able to eat and enjoy food without over-analyzing or judging yourself.

  34. I believe Diet plans are the way to go and you cannot exchange a good diet plan with a work out with any magic pill.

    But, what i noticed is that it helps to get a shift in your routine and to get a positive feeling mentally and physically.

    So see if you are having problems losing weight and no diet plans work for you, try something that gets you out of your routine.

    Some of the different supplements will give you a boost, help you cleanse, detox and give you more energy. I think they are good to jump start your mood and mental change so you can stay on a good diet plan and weight loss plan.


  35. You fat pig! You MUST be punished! If you don’t start restricting, the fat police will wire your jaws shut! 50 lashes for each calorie! Eaters, flagellate yourselves! We need a new flagellants movement to curb the epidemic of abominable gluttony. Parents need to stop feeding their children anything except raw spinach, raw carrots, other zero-calorie veggies, and a few kiwis or grapefruits for vitamin C. Maybe a little fat-free yogurt or skim milk or egg whites or whey for some protein. Plus an iron supplement. Better yet, serve Optifast!

    Restrict! Restrict! Restrict! Restrict! Because Michelle Obama needs her mega-expensive vacation in Spain! AIG, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup need their bailouts! Al Gore and Barack Obama need their mansions! Al Gore also needs his call girls and a top-ranked attorney!

  36. This is a beautiful article on what constitutes normal eating. I think so many of us have lost sight of the big picture and no longer know what is acceptable eating behaviour. This just summarises it perfectly for us.
    As we know our actions stem from the thoughts in our minds, the holy grail to managing our weight is to find out what works for us and this is totally personal. This is where weight management gets tricky as it has to be specially customised to suit our lifestyle and likes and dislikes.
    At the end of the day, it is the beautiful mind that creates the beautiful body.
    As they say, “The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”

  37. People with a history of compulsive eating are often so disconnected from their natural internal controls that they don’t even know when they’re hungry. A primary goal of Normal Eating is to put you back in touch with your own inner wisdom, and show you that you can trust it.

  38. Like many others, I agree and disagree with the definition of normal. First, I agree we need to not obsess about our food. However, we do need to think about what we are putting in our mouth.

    For example, I, like another poster, feel bad when I eat processed food. Therefore, I steer clear of it. However, I can go nuts on fruit and must watch myself that I do not mindlessly eat a pound of grapes in one sitting.

    My biggest struggle is not eating healthy but eating healthy around my parents. My family will eat healthy all year round and spend one week with my parents and we all gain weight. I do not call this normal eating but my parents do it over and over again.

  39. Hi Margarita, that’s an excellent set of healthy eating principles. Everyone has their own particular (and sometimes peculiar) rules they know they need to follow in order to stay off the overeat/diet cycle but I agree these apply across the board. Too bad many people overcomplicate things (often by following advice from magazines or celebrities it seems).

    Personally I would attribute your last rule in particular to helping me stick to a better diet. I’m busier than ever at the moment, which means when I’m done eating I usually dive straight into my tasks leaving little time to dwell on what I’ve just eaten or would like to eat. This makes me think ‘not having enough time’ to stick to a healthy diet is a very poor excuse!

  40. Interesting article, but how do fast and furious over eaters overcome the satiating aura?

    When I am my ideal weight, I treat myself 1-2 times a month a to a food I wouldn’t normally include in my diet. The overweight eater will treat themselves everyday and spout “the diet article I read said to eat whatever I want to eat”.

    I like Dr. Beck’s comment on before meal hunger. When I prepare the next meal I leave the finished portions out, like the salad. As I finish the other portions, I sneak one or two pieces of leaf lettuce.

    The best resolution I have found is exercise before a meal. Boosts the metabolism in another direction. A good 15-20 minute fast walk passes excess gastric juices right on through. Then the meal portions become pleasantly adequate.

  41. What a great post. I love it. A reader sent me over here after I wrote a post on spending a day with a ‘normal eater.’ Good call!!

  42. I love this post ad the definition given. It is so important to promote the idea that “normal eating” and intuitive eating IS possible and that we do not have to give in to the popular diet culture. I have been a normal eater for 4 years and through it I recovered from all eating disorders.

  43. The amount of food taken in depends on a person’s metabolism and his willingness to eat. There are people that would eat a lot, far more than an average man but that’s just him. If he’s comfortable with that, that would still be normal, for him. There are also people that would eat less but still their body can accommodate the energy needed to keep going. Diet what really counts. If you’re used to eat a lot, then it would be very difficult for you to lessen your food intake because you’re used to that. It would take about 30 days to make a habit, which would actually help you to take on a diet. Do not change your diet immediately, let your body understand that you’re going to take lesser food.

  44. I really enjoyed your article. I think it will help a lot of people to get away from a heavy guilt feeling that many may have while eating.

    I love eating, I really love it. I want to feel good as well, so I do have restrictions on what I eat.

    I don’t just want to “enjoy” today, but tomorrow as well.

    What I do is that when I want to eat something that could be a “sin”, for example a cake, I find ways, recipes that make the cake tasty and healthy as far as possible.

    I “hunt” for healthy alternatives. The combination of “good taste” and “health” is at times a challenge, so I try to get as close as possible to it.

    If I do eat something that was a “sin”, I don’t allow myself to feel guilty. I accept the choice I have made, and will “pay” the price by restricting a bit the next day… doing some more exercise and eating healthier the next day.

    This is then not a real restriction, because I choose to do it and I enjoy doing it.

  45. I’m glad I came across this article, Margarita. I really enjoyed it. It goes to the core of my own insights about eating well. I think “normal eating” is a very personal and individual thing: what’s “normal” for you may be abnormal for me, and vice-versa.

    Our “one size fits all” mindset in America rears its ugly head with food. Not only does this destroy our sense of uniqueness, it keeps us from fostering a real and meaningful connection with food.

    That said, “normal eating” for me is any food that gives me pleasure. Healthy or not, if I ain’t finding pleasure in what I eat, it’s not normal.

  46. I believe one of the buzzwords that may be most telling, or buzzphraze I suppose, is “emotional eating.” It seems as though what you’re referring to as “normal eating” stands in direct contrast to eating for emotions. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a piece of cake now and then, or a slice of pizza – in fact, doing so now and then would probably fit very nicely in the “normal eating” parameters – but when some of the unhealthier foods feel “necessary” on a regular basis, particularly as a response to a daily or near daily event, that may well be indicative of a problem. There is no question to me that food is addictive to some, and when it is then that is when “normal eating” becomes a difficult thing to achieve regularly. I believe this is because of the way the mind has been trained to view food, and to be able to eat normally, comfortable, healthfully, and occasionally decadently again the mind would need to be retrained…Just my thoughts, thanks for the article.

  47. Wonderful article. I spend many consultations with patients helping them to get back to a ‘normal’ way of eating.



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