Have You Found Your Inner 'Normal Eater'?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/12/2013 12:00 PM   :  370 comments   :  91,220 Views

One of the goals of making a “lifestyle change” (as opposed to going on a diet) is to develop a healthy relationship with food and eating that feels normal, comfortable, usually enjoyable, and relatively easy to maintain over time.

No elaborate eating rules, no worries about “good” foods and “bad” foods, no guilt feelings or verbal self-abuse for breaking the rules, no getting obsessed with weigh-ins or calorie counting, no restricting your social life so you can avoid people/situations that might make you blow your diet. Just a little common sense, some basic nutritional knowledge, and a willingness to trust your body to make up for your occasional dietary “mistakes” and balance out your calorie and nutrient intake over time to match your needs.

According to this article, this desirable state is called “normal eating,” and it’s something all of us can achieve by simply eating when we’re hungry, eating the things we like, and stopping when we’re satisfied.

But just how realistic is this notion, especially for those of us who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight? Can things really be this simple?

This approach also goes by other names, like mindful eating or intuitive eating. But the basic idea is simple: we’ve all got an innate, evolved appetite regulation system (or, if you prefer, an “inner normal eater”) that is capable of maintaining a balance between energy in and energy out over time, and predisposing us to eat and enjoy the foods we need for good health.

I don’t know about you, but a few years ago, when I weighed almost 400 pounds, this made about as much sense to me as claiming that the two essential food groups are chocolate/peanut butter brownies and beer (oh, wait—I think I did believe that at the time). I felt like I had little or no control over my appetite or my eating, and was probably allergic to vegetables (quite possibly to vitamins in general). For my inner normal eater, “normal” meant about 5000 calories/day worth of mostly junk food.

Since then, I’ve learned that in fact, I really do have something that at least resembles an inner normal eater—maybe a normal-eater-in-training would be more accurate. Trying to cooperate with this healthy part of myself really does make life a lot better and easier, compared to all those years I spent believing that my real self was the problem, not the solution.

But it took a while and a lot of hard work to overcome my problems with emotional eating and negative thinking to find and establish contact with my inner normal eater. The first step, for me, was recognizing that my feelings of being out of control and powerless over food and eating weren’t reality—they were part of a mental and emotional pattern called learned helplessness that I had developed over many years.

Then I had to work hard at dismantling that state of mind and replacing it with a positive and realistic sense of self-efficacy, one decision and one day at a time.

I still struggle with these issues to some extent today, and I can’t say that I’m comfortable with totally trusting my appetite to maintain a healthy weight. Right now, for example, my effort to lose the 30 pounds I regained over the past year isn’t going very well because the combination of new physical limitations and a few medications that affect my metabolism has apparently changed how many calories I need in one direction (down), and my appetite in the other direction. What feels “normal” to me at this point is making the scale go up, not down.

So, I’m also counting calories and watching the scale pretty closely for a while again, until I get a better idea of what it actually takes for me to lose this weight. But this feels normal to me, too. There’s nothing abnormal about using appropriate tools to get and apply the knowledge you need to accomplish your goals, as long as you’re mindfully using the tools and they’re not controlling your feelings or running your life. And there’s nothing to be gained by becoming a fanatic or a perfectionist about mindful or intuitive eating, to the point that you become compulsive about not using tools or adopting reasonable food rules to accomplish your goals.

Or so it seems to me. The key is to trust yourself to be able to do the right thing, for the right reason, and in the right way often enough to accomplish your goals.

What do you think? Do you feel like you have an inner normal eater you can trust?


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Comments

  • 370
    I can't quite get there. I don't "diet" but I do track my food and pay attention to calories. I also listen to myself and for the most part eat what I want when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full. - 1/25/2016   9:20:40 PM
  • 369
    I had been an intuitive eater having lost over 100 lbs and keeping it off for over two years, but the last 18 months things have changed. I haven't been able to exercise as much as previously and we have been traveling more. I have gained 27 lbs which I am determined to lose again. I am working on getting back to being an intuitive eater as well exercising more. - 1/24/2016   7:17:20 PM
  • 368
    I think I'm going to try, because I eat too fast and don't even think about the food that is going into my body....... - 1/22/2016   12:02:06 AM
  • 367
    You made some very thought provoking suggestions. As an elderly member I have often wondered how 8 prescription meds effect Weight gain, bodily function and how they effect our personality. My loss is slow, but definitely joyful. - 1/21/2016   11:08:13 PM
  • ALWAYSCENTERED
    366
    Really liked this article. I too go through periods of normal eating, and then that ravenous beast comes out (like it did two nights ago) and I eat everything in sight. As I get older, I realize that no method is perfect. Some times I need to count calories, or white knuckle it through a surge of sugar cravings. Other times, like tonight, I left half my dinner uneaten because I just wasn't hungry. After all these years, my appetite and binges are still a mystery to me. But luckily sparkpeople seems to have a vast assortment of tools to fit my many moods. - 1/21/2016   10:33:40 PM
  • 365
    I tried intuitive eating in 2014. I planned for it to be a one year experiment. I originally achieved my goal weight in March of 2009, 80 pounds below my all time high. I did pretty well for six months or so in 2014, but abandoned my experiment in November when my weight was up about 6 pounds. And I must admit, even when I was eating "intuitively" I weighed myself and when I was near the top of my goal weight range, I'd cut back. Sometimes I kind of counted calories in my head, too. So perhaps it wasn't pure intuitive eating.
    I got the 6 pounds off by tracking in 2015. Not planning to try it again this year. - 1/21/2016   5:21:43 PM
  • 364
    Iíve discovered that Iím just NOT a ďnormal eater.Ē

    Iíve discovered that when I eat a clean diet Ė no processed food, organic foods, no wheat (gluten), no dairy, drinking only reverse osmosis filtered water, no beef/pork, no sugar, no caffeine, no alcoholic beverages, and no unhealthy fats Ė Iím quieter on the inside. That means I can be more conscious of not only when Iím hungry, but also of what kind of food my body needs at any given moment. [I also noticed that eating a clean diet had a significant effect on any cravings I might have had for unhealthy ďfoodĒ items. They might still reappear, but Iím much more able to make a different choice most of the time.]

    After a lifetime of disordered eating, I also feel supported when I monitor the quantity of what Iím choosing to eat. I canít always trust that old patterns will stay away, so I have a kitchen scale which I use often enough.

    Exercise also helps me to stay in tune. When I donít exercise, I may feel vulnerable to those old patterns again.

    So, being a ďnormal eaterĒ is not my goal.

    Iím interested in continuing to learn how to take care of myself. That included what Iím eating to be sure, but it also includes the kinds of company I keep, the way I chose to spend my time, the work/service I provide for others, etc.

    Iím striving to be at ease with wherever I might be in my life. I trust that Iím always learning.
    - 1/21/2016   2:50:17 PM
  • 363
    I can trust my body on how much food I need as long as I eat low carb and don't touch trigger foods
    - 1/21/2016   1:05:01 PM
  • 362
    I hope to get to this point, but first I have to make some real changes with my relationship to food. Although I "get it" that we have to think of food as fuel, and not as something we consume simply for pleasure, to combat stress or boredom, or as a reward. These attitudes were developed over many years, and aren't going away easily. Right now it feels like my weight issues are going to be a lifelong struggle, because when I lost weight in the past, I could not keep it off. - 1/21/2016   12:47:59 PM
  • 361
    I don't think I'll ever hear that "intuitive voice". Will probably have to pre-plan and record food from now on. I think it's something I just don't have or it's so tiny it can't be heard. - 1/21/2016   12:33:06 PM
  • MRUTHIE
    360
    Good article but I'm getting discouraged because I have been going to the gym 5 days a week and watching my calories and the scale just isn't moving. this post menopause weight is very discouraging. What do I do? - 1/21/2016   11:57:17 AM
  • 359
    This is a great article and reminds me of the things I learned from the ThinWithin book that helped me develop my inner normal eater. - 1/21/2016   11:46:14 AM
  • 358
    Would love to have a "Inner Normal Eater". I think I will have to build that trust issue with my mind and body. Right now they do not agree on what "Normal" is. - 1/21/2016   11:44:07 AM
  • 357
    All this time on SparkPeople has helped retrain my brain and tastes so that I could see a time this can work for me. Possibly not without some pitfalls though, such as holiday eating. I think I'll always look in here for tracking, support and inspiration at least from time to time after I've reached my goal. - 1/21/2016   11:34:01 AM
  • 356
    If I trusted my inner-eater, I wouldn't be on SP, reading this article. You're preaching to the choir. - 1/21/2016   11:17:07 AM
  • 355
    My inner-eater is a ravenous bog-troll who'd eat us in to handicapped status in about six months.
    I have learned to shout her down. - 1/21/2016   10:46:08 AM
  • 354
    Great article. I have not found my inner normal eater. But I do take one day at a time setting small goals that I can achieve. Drinking 8 to 12 glasses of water, tracking my nutrition and exercise are just three of them. Each week I try to add yet another so that it will become a habit! I say you never really learn something after the first read. Sometimes you need to read and re-read! - 1/21/2016   9:47:47 AM
  • 353
    This is a great article, but some of us will have problems with it. I do not have an inner "normal" eater I can trust. I found this out when I tried to follow intuitive eating methods, and dropped 60 pounds relatively quickly... to the point loved ones expressed concern. Then one day, after declining to eat when my beloved was eating, he asked when I'd last eaten. I thought back and it was over 24 hours.

    For most of my adult life, I'd been eating when my children were hungry, when it was lunch break at work, or for emotional or social reasons. In my youth, of course, I ate when it was school lunch time or when my family ate. When my daughter turned 18 and got her own place, I no longer had that cue, and dropped weight effortlessly but not in a healthy way. I literally do not know what hungry feels like. Exploring this, I found I have sensory processing issues and I am still working on work-arounds. My beloved passed away while we were working on my trying to identify hunger, fatigue, etc. Now I have set time-frames when I have meals or snacks, nothing rigid -- I rebel against that because it is too anxiety-producing when life requires flexibility.

    I encourage anyone to try this, but don't panic -- as I did -- if you discover you have sensory issues! Just work with what you can. - 1/21/2016   9:28:32 AM
  • TANEE-1900
    352
    I found that cutting out my trigger foods really helped on cravings. Now, even though I love them, I won't eat them even on so called "cheat days". - 1/21/2016   9:07:51 AM
  • 351
    I in no way feel that I am at a point where I can trust my inner normal eater. I think after I get more fit I will have to keep tracking my calories until I can trust my mind and body to monitor my food intake. - 1/21/2016   8:03:42 AM
  • 350
    I would LOVE to reach that state of 'normal' eating as described in the first two paragraphs of this article. I am not sure that it is possible, though - well, not for me anyway.
    However, I'm going to continue to pursue it. - 1/21/2016   7:25:18 AM
  • 349
    Oh my goodness, I always love your articles. This one is fantastic! Yes! It makes perfect sense. I am counting calories and trying to lose the last 13 pounds of almost 100 that I had to lose. I've started trying to stop eating when I'm satisfied at our weekly restaurant visit (cooking at home the rest of the week). I only eat about 60% of what I used to eat. The rest I take home for another meal and I'm happy with it. I still get the satisfaction of getting to dine out and eat what I really like to eat. - 1/21/2016   2:20:51 AM
  • 348
    Having struggled with anorexia for the last 17/18 years, I don't think I'll ever be an intuitive eater. I will always need to track to make sure I'm getting enough calories and nutrients and that I'm not binging or over-exercising. - 1/20/2016   9:39:59 AM
  • FRABBIT
    347
    Great blog! It is definitely about finding the right balance. I don't yet trust my inner self and need to learn more about nutrition. I am a numbers person so counting calories is easiest but doesn't always lead to the right choices - 7/19/2015   10:48:28 AM
  • CEVIZAGACE
    346
    After 45 years of disordered eating, it's hard to know when I'm satisfied: I either feel starved or stuffed. I tried 'normal eating' and found that when I trusted my intuition, ate healthy foods until I felt full enough and avoided binge eating, I gained some 20 lbs in a month's time. I realise I can't do it without tracking. - 6/24/2015   4:17:16 AM
  • 345
    My inner "normal eater" works if there is limited sugar or salt involved and if I am not feeling stressed. It is unfortunately ignored at those times, which is when I gain the weight. - 3/18/2015   7:33:00 AM
  • 344
    Intuitive eating sounds wonderful, and I can manage it to some extent.
    But planning my food in advance works better for me.
    Making a simple list of what I'm going to eat on the next day protects me against cravings and overeating, and I value this more than the joy of eating intuitively. - 3/15/2015   4:55:13 AM
  • FOXGLOVE999
    343
    To a certain extent, this is what I've always done. I've never been a compulsive over eater. My diet just needed a few tweaks, and I added some activity. And the weight is coming off seamlessly. I'm constantly shocked at the way people say they used to eat, why would anyone have ever thought that was okay? - 10/7/2014   8:46:46 AM
  • 342
    Thank you! I know I've got a normal eater in me somewhere! I'm on the path of finding her. I don't eat nearly as much as I used to - overeat. But about 1/3 of the time am still eating too much! I am slowly but surely getting there! - 8/16/2014   1:38:16 PM
  • 341
    I think that ultimately intuitive eating is the way to go. The less you trust your body, the more you impose eating restrictions, the more out of control your eating becomes. It's been that way for me at least. I think being obsessed with the scale and food is such a waste of energy. I look forward to the day when I have a completely sane relationship with food. - 7/29/2014   9:19:34 PM
  • 340
    I am very impressed that Dean has done so well with intuitive eating. I was almost 400 pounds, now @ 250 and because I am a compulsive eater, never trusted the concept. But to see someone else who's been very large be successful is very encouraging to me. I'm taking Topomax to control my appetite and developing a problem with it and am going to have to go off it. Before I read this blog, I would not have considered this -- now, I'm all for it. Thanks for sharing this! - 6/28/2014   9:11:42 AM
  • 339
    I take snippets of what Dean Anderson writes and put them into my goals because they are so well written. - 5/7/2014   12:06:41 AM
  • 338
    I have been trying this for the first time in my life for the past few weeks. I made a deal with myself that I could have "normal" food with my friends with only one main caveat: I stop when before I feel uncomfortably full. I have been losing weight and having a lot of good times too, so I think it works for me! - 5/6/2014   11:15:19 PM
  • 337
    I've lost 50 lbs, and have maintained for 4 years now, and I can finally say "Yes", I am a "normal" eater. It's just natural now eating healthy, nutritious foods. I think the key is once you begin eating healthy, you have to spend a lot of time experimenting new ways to really enjoy the food you like. It's been a process, but it's been worth it. I look at the shopping cart and feel proud of what's in it. I never go down cookie isles, or the bakery, but I don't get excited over that stuff much anymore, and when I do, I get the icky sugar rush and get a quick reminder. I indulge in a rich meal at times, I just eat a little bit, have a salad, and DH eats the rest. It is about moderation, and knowing when to stop. Sometimes now I just stop eating even if I'm not satisfied yet, and wait a little bit, and generally don't eat anymore. I don't want the stuffed or uncomfortable. Healthy snacks are important regularly in order to let yourself get to the starving point. It's definitely do-able. Another key I believe, is to not eat the same things over and over, cooked the same way. Simplicity is good, as long as you don't let yourself get bored and turn to the wrong foods. I feel good the way I eat, and I'm not afraid of a hamburger and french fries on occasion, or a small amount of ice cream. - 5/6/2014   9:28:57 AM
  • 336
    I believe this - the problem is paying attention to it, instead of letting emotion/stress/past history override the messages my body is giving me. Certain things I have gotten much, much better about - i.e. chocolate. I have no problem keeping a pound of dark chocolate in the house, and limiting myself to 1, sometimes 2 squares a day. Other things, like pasta, are much harder. I'll go along fine limiting my servings, and a bump in the road sends me off track. It's a work in progress, I guess. - 5/6/2014   7:02:07 AM
  • 335
    I'm starting to believe this is true....finally. It was mind over matter for me. If I stop and think about it and listen to my body, I realize that I'm satisfied and it's become much easier for me to stop overeating. I'm savoring my food more and not feeling deprived. The weight loss is slow, but I'm much happier than doing some quick fad diet that I always gain more weight back than I lost. - 4/3/2014   12:31:22 AM
  • 334
    Over the last 9 months or so I have been educating my "normal eater" and teaching her what is healthy and best for me, instead of just relying on what I have always eaten (which landed me at obese until this point in my adult life). I believe that over time, with continued education and training my "normal eater" is going to guide me through the rest of my healthy life.
    - 2/22/2014   2:36:34 PM
  • KATZNBEEDS
    333
    My 'normal inside eater' is still a work in progress. Reminding myself to put half of any restaurant meal in a takeaway box before I eat, being aware of fullness and stopping when I am aware of fullness would be a huge help for me. I have found that skipping meals or waiting too long before eating are the worst for me, even at home. - 2/21/2014   5:35:52 PM
  • 332
    I love the part about cooperating with " the healthy part of myself. " I know it's there, I just don't listen to it. This is a journey of learning to listen. - 2/8/2014   8:06:38 AM
  • 331
    My inner normal eater has become outer and I've lost 11 lbs (and counting) without trying. It's quite amazing really. - 1/3/2014   8:39:03 PM
  • 330
    yeah, there is definitely a normal eater inside of me, but since I've been an obese little girl, I've learnt to gauge that eater with food, so she has forgotten she even exists... but she is there and each time i make mindful choices, her voice grows a little bit louder. Someday I will wake up this Sleeping Beauty. Someday she'll live and reign inside of me. But for now I must focus on taming the wild Beast inside of me... the Beast and the Beauty must make peace with each other for this whole thing to work... :) - 11/25/2013   5:20:31 PM
  • DELLMEL
    329
    Great article. - 9/2/2013   1:07:51 PM
  • KIRGAN
    328
    I don't feel alone now. It's so nice to be able to get on Spark People and find help and encouragement at any time. Good luck. - 8/26/2013   4:07:11 PM
  • 327
    This sound like my story.
    - 8/23/2013   3:51:24 PM
  • MOMPOIRIER
    326
    Really like what you have to say. I've tried before then got caught up with all the weighing and measuring. I'm trying to get back to eating as my inner self tells me. - 8/23/2013   9:48:52 AM
  • 325
    Very insightful... Thanks for sharing! - 8/23/2013   9:40:21 AM
  • 324
    Yes, this is an excellent article. Thank you. - 8/23/2013   9:00:41 AM
  • LOULENE
    323
    Excellent article - 8/23/2013   3:58:02 AM
  • LINZDAI
    322
    This is a beautiful article, it really resonated with me. I also learned the meaning of a word I've seen many times but was never sure what it meant: efficacy. I think I'll use it in a sentence tomorrow! :) Thanks so much for this, I love the way you framed intuitive eating. I'm going to study this concept more as I feel it could really be a helpful tool for me. I truly do believe I have a capacity to eat normally, it's just a matter of learning and embracing mindfulness and applying it to each day. ♥ - 8/22/2013   10:20:37 PM
  • TINKLYBINK
    321
    I also need to (in the words of this article) recognize "that my feelings of being out of control and powerless over food and eating werenít realityóthey were part of a mental and emotional pattern called learned helplessness that I had developed over many years" I can really relate to this statement and is definitely a big part of the initial progress for me. I think I have become out of touch with my inner healthy eater. Also enjoyed the paragraph about "no elaborate eating rules", sounds like a really healthy way to eat! - 8/22/2013   8:30:42 PM

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