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What is ''Normal Eating''? --Part 1

Test Your Knowledge with the Normal Eating Quiz
  -- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
Do you often wonder how “normal” your eating habits are, or how they compare to what experts consider to be a “healthy” approach?

If you’ve adopted SparkPeople's philosophy of a "lifestyle” approach to weight loss, then you know that a crash diet—or any other temporary diet—isn’t a good idea. But what does “normal” eating look like, especially when you have quite a bit of weight to lose? Do you sometimes wonder where to draw the line between doing what’s necessary to lose weight, and becoming too focused on what you eat? Are you confused about whether normal eating is something you start doing after you’ve lost the weight, or something you should aim for now as part of your weight loss program? And can you recognize the difference between normal eating behaviors and attitudes, disordered eating, and full-fledged clinical eating disorders—and determine when you or a family member might benefit from professional help?

If you feel a little confused about all this, you’re not alone. There are a lot of confusing and contradictory claims floating around about what’s “normal” when it comes to food.

This article, the first in a series of three articles discussing "normal" and abnormal eating habits, contains a quiz that will help you identify your own eating behaviors, attitudes and assumptions. When scoring your quiz, you'll learn how your behaviors stack up against what the experts say about healthy, normal weight loss and effective long-term weight maintenance.

Quiz: Are Your Eating Normally?
 
The six statements below discuss common eating behaviors and attitudes. If you agree or mostly agree with the statement, mark it True; if you disagree or mostly disagree, mark it False. Write down your answers as you go along so that you can compare your responses with the explanations below.

1. True or False: It is normal to eat when you are hungry and stop when you feel satisfied.

2. True or False: People should trust their food preferences to guide them in making healthy food choices.

3. True or False: To lose weight, you must adhere to strict goals for daily calorie intake and exercise.

4. True or False: It is abnormal to eat for any reason other than meeting your body's nutrition and energy needs.

5. True or False: "Good" foods should be eaten regularly and "bad" foods should be avoided as much as possible.

6. True or False: Since you have to eat fewer calories than you burn to lose weight, you should expect to be a little hungry most of the time. <pagebreak>

Answers


1. True—It is normal to eat when you are hungry and stop when you feel satisfied. Every healthy person has an innate, biochemical system that regulates hunger and satisfaction in response to your body's actual needs. Problems such as emotional eating or poor impulse control may have led you to lose contact with this system over time. But you can reconnect with it and use it to establish normal eating behaviors and patterns that you can rely on, even while you are working to lose weight.

2. True—You should use your food preferences as a guide when making choices. We all have innate tastes and preferences, such as a “sweet tooth” or a preference for salty and fatty foods. Under normal circumstances, these preferences enable you to make food choices that meet your nutritional needs. Unfortunately, most of us live in a food environment that provides many food choices that appeal to our innate preferences, but provide empty calories (soda) or have excessive calories, salt, fat or sugar for their nutritional value (candy bars). This means you will need to beef up and use your nutritional knowledge to navigate your way to “normal” food choices. Trying to deny your desire for sweet, fatty or salty foods will usually cause more problems than it solves.

3. False—To lose weight you must maintain a calorie deficit over time. Your body does not operate like a bank account with cutoff times and daily account balancing. It is always in the process of using or storing energy, based on what you're doing at the moment. Tracking calories eaten and burned over a 24-hour period is merely one convenient way for us to monitor things. Going “over” on calories on any one day does NOT mean you have blown it. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should continue overeating and start over later, or that you should go to the opposite extreme of restricting food the next day. It is simply a very small bump in a very long road.

4. False—It is normal to eat for other reasons besides nutrition. Food is never just fuel. Our bodies react to foods in many ways, producing feelings of pleasure and relief from unpleasant physiological states such as anxiety, stress, and low mood. We learn from our earliest moments to associate eating with comfort, caring, and human connection. Likewise, human cultures have always given many deep, social, and even spiritual meanings to food and eating. It is completely normal to use food for all these purposes. However, it's not normal to use food as your primary way of meeting these needs, or to push away uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.

5. False—There are no "good" or "bad" foods. A healthy, active body can utilize a certain amount of virtually all kinds of nutrients, including refined sugar and saturated fat—it’s simply a question of reasonable amounts. Normal eating does not abide by strict or inflexible rules, or even “healthy” ones. It is about finding your own balance between pleasure, health & fitness, good nutrition and meeting your weight goals.

6. False—You should not feel hungry all the time. As long as you have surplus fat to burn, your body should be able to handle a reasonable caloric deficit without experiencing chronic hunger. If you are eating normally, you can expect to feel hungry every 4 hours or so, which is when your regulatory system typically wants you to eat something. If you are hungry more often than that, you may be eating too little, aiming to lose weight too quickly, eating unbalanced meals, or mistaking appetite (the desire to eat for reasons other than satisfying your body's needs) for hunger.