I’ve been thinking a lot about eating and been trying to figure out how it all became so hard. As a child, you’d eat when you were hungry, stop when you were full (well, unless your parents made you eat everything on your plate…) and you’d feel so special when you got given a yummy treat. Fast forward to teenage years and for many people, things start to derail. Body image becomes your focus. You stop listening to your hunger signals, you worry about your body shape and eating a treat sends you into a guilty panic. Food becomes good and bad, and you’re either on plan or off plan. Unfortunately, this leads to binge eating and for some, a life time of dieting, and weight cycling.
This was me through all my teen years and some of my early 20s. I had a terrible relationship with food and disordered eating/exercise patterns. I was a binge eater. Eating became my way of coping with anything. Couldn’t do chemistry assignment? Then I’d go binge eat. Bad day? Binge eat. If I ate something that I thought was unhealthy, then I thought I may as well keep eating. I can remember being up at midnight skipping one night too, to burn off calories. There’s more to this story which I’ll share one day, but you get the picture.
I think I must have been about 22 when things changed. I hated being this way – I felt like food controlled me. It was a very private battle that I never talked about, and I still haven’t much really. In fact I feel nervous even publishing this post! I can remember making a concious decision one day that I wasn’t going to be like that anymore. I had recently graduated as a nutritionist. I needed to change my relationship with food. Part of it was stopping obsessing about having the perfect body, and that there was actually no such thing. I realised it didn’t matter if my thighs touched at the top. I realised I’ll always have a voluptuous bum and that was ok.
The other part was I needed to eat normally again. Not extremely healthy with patches of terribly unhealthy. Slowly but surely, I changed my ways. I focused on nourishing my body. I allowed treats. I stopped thinking in diet mode. I stopped feeling guilty about eating. I found new ways to manage my stress. I saw exercise in terms of health and wellbeing rather than just burning calories. It took time but I can honestly say now I eat normally, and have done for quite a few years now. I eat foods that nourish my body. I eat treats. I eat sugar sometimes. I don’t get hung up on rules around food and eating.
I commented at work once how I had been out for brunch with mum and I also took home a brown sugar brioche for an afternoon treat. Someone said “And you’re a nutritionist!”. Yes I am. And it’s totally ok to do that sometimes. If you choose not to ever have foods that don’t fall in the “healthy food arena” and have a great relationship with food, then that’s great. But if avoiding treats then leads to binges – eat them! Eat them in moderation and in context of a healthy diet.
I found this definition of “Normal Eating” online. The things that resonate with me the most are point 1,2 and 6. Are you a normal eater? I balance these principals with a baseline of nutrient rich foods and it works great for me. It does take time to fix disordered habits and learn to eat normally again. Want help with eating normally again? Contact me here
Normal eating by Ellyn Satter
1*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.
2• 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.
3• 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 three meals a day, or four or five–or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
4• Normal eating is leaving some cookies on the plate now because you know you can have some again tomorrow–or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
5• Normal eating is overeating at times; feeling stuffed and uncomfortable–or it can be under eating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating trusts your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.
6• Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
7• In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.
Is it time to start learning how to eat normally again? What are your thoughts on this?