Whatever happened to normal eating?

A few years ago I heard a life-changing definition of ‘normal eating’

I’d like to share it with you here, so if you have a moment, take the time to really savour these words and their meaning…


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.

©2015 by Ellyn Satter published at EllynSatterInstitute.org. 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.

What do you think? Is this true for you?

When I first heard this definition, it made me realise just how far my approach to eating had swayed. Although I had a pretty good handle on healthy, unprocessed food and how to prepare it, I still didn’t approach it in a way that put the trust in my body and allowed me the freedom and confidence to just eat, without all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ whispering in my ear.

To me, there is something very child-like and innocent about this definition. It actually made me breathe a sigh of relief when I read it.

I love that…

  • it emphasises enjoyment of food
  • it allows for eating in tune with your feelings (and that’s ok!)
  • over eating (or under eating) at times is normal and nothing to feel guilty about
  • mistakes are ok, but trusting and listening to your body is key
  • eating is only one important area of your life
  • eating should be flexible (as it doesn’t always go to plan)

Think of how much we are bombarded with messages about food – what we should be eating (superfoods!), what we shouldn’t be eating (carbs, sugar, fat!), how much we should be eating, when we should be eating it, how we should be eating…and the list goes on. No doubt much of this is well intended, but the end result of trying to take it all in is that we lose the power to make decisions for ourselves. The simple act of eating can become restricted, frustrating and at its worst, something to be feared. That’s not what I call normal.

Can you remember a time when you weren’t following some sort of meal plan, regime or advice? When you weren’t counting calories or other assigned food values? When you weren’t eating according to a schedule, eating with guilt or being completely consumed by food to the exclusion of all else?

I don’t know about you, but the whole concept of normal eating gives me an enormous sense of relief, freedom and power. It gives permission for us to re-connect with that tiny (often buried-deep) inner voice that says ‘you can do it’ or ‘I know what’s best for you’. And for those who have their doubts, as long as you listen REALLY well, then (most of the time) that little voice won’t let you eat the entire tray of freshly baked brownies! I promise.

In an age where orthorexia (an obsession with eating healthy food) is now commonplace, and we are becoming increasingly disconnected from our food by putting our trust in external influences rather than ourselves…

I’m voting for NORMAL EATING to become the next HOT NEW EATING TREND!

Are you with me? Hmmm… I’m thinking we may need to change its name to something a little more catchy, though! Any suggestions?

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