Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What is "Normal" Eating?

It's hard to be a part of our culture without adopting some disordered eating beliefs, attitudes, and/or behaviors. Half of the commercials on television promote diet or weight loss products. TV shows such as "The Biggest Loser" portray hard-core dieting. Even the "news media" spends a good chunk of time on diet, and whatever the newest diet fad may be. And all of this attention is driven primarily by dollars.

Why is this kind of information so profitable? Not because it's good for us, but because, as a culture, we have become chronically dissatisfied with our bodies. We have an unrealistic ideal about what the body should look like, and believe (in part because of what we see on TV) that we could get our bodies to look like that if we just follow a magic diet and exercise plan. The magic solution changes over time, of course, because it's never quite magic enough.

The result is that many or most people are very misinformed when it comes to what it means to eat "normally." Carbohydrates, for example, have received a bad rap over the last decade. However, carbohydrates are crucial to the body, and particularly to the brain. They are the body's main energy source, and the only type of energy the brain can use. 45-65% of one's diet should be made up of carbohydrates.

Dietary fats are also much maligned, based on the simplistic notion that fat in the diet becomes fat on the body. That's just not true. It happens to have the same word, but that doesn't make it the same thing! Dietary fats are important for many things. They keep us from getting hungry again too quickly, because they get digested more slowly than carbohydrates. They help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and help to protect our internal organs. They are a vital ingredient for healthy hair, skin, and nails. They also help produce the myelon sheathes on our nerve cells, allowing our brain to send messages efficiently.

So much for low-fat, low-carb diets! If that's not the answer, what is "normal eating?" The best answer to this question that I have ever come across is that offered by Ellyn Satter:

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 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.

For more about eating competence (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see to purchase books and to review other resources.

Copyright © 2012 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

No comments:

Post a Comment