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“You’ll sometimes eat too much, you’ll sometimes eat cake for breakfast, and at times you’ll choose unhealthy foods. That’s called normal eating”, I told my client. “In nutrition, there is no such thing as perfection.”

My client looked at me with relief, as they usually do when we have this conversation. It’s one I’ve had with many, many clients over the years, and one that I could have benefitted from someone having with me when I was younger and afraid to eat.

The concept of normal eating is so foreign these days, probably because ‘just eating’ without restricting something or feeling guilty is somewhat of a lost art. Between the thousands of fad diets, images of extra-thin models, and a general hysteria over what’s ‘toxic’ in our diet, we’ve lost our taste for the enjoyment of food. We’ve also lost our hunger cues, thanks to calorie trackers and smartphones and busy lifestyles and eating in our cars and at our desks and being constantly inundated with food at every turn.

It starts early, too – kids in 3 hour day care classes still get a snacktime. We need to get back not only our understanding of what normal eating is, but also our comfort with it. Food feeds the soul as well as the body. It can be beautiful, even and especially when it’s simple and whole. And relinquishing our discomfort around food can ease our anxiety about it, as well as nourish our whole selves.

Normal eating is eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are full. It’s sometimes eating too much, and sometimes eating ‘unhealthy’ foods. It’s mostly choosing what you want to eat because that’s what you feel like eating and not because you’re depriving yourself. Normal eating is eating without guilt and shame, because those things have no place in nutrition. It’s having a good understanding of what you’re putting into your body, and how it affects your mood, your health, and your overall wellbeing. But you might have your own idea of what normal eating is. You know, as with everything, ‘normal’ is all relative.

Here is what some other dietitians had to say about what their idea of normal eating is:

Normal eating is finding joy in your eating experiences, mostly choosing foods that nourish, leaving room for some indulgences, not being afraid of any foods, and not obsessing whether every food decision was “right” or “wrong”.

Jessica Penner ‪www.smartnutrition.ca

Normal eating is choosing to eat when we are hungry, and continuing until we are satisfied. It is choosing foods not only become they are nourishing, but because we enjoy them. It doesn’t require overthinking, it is flexible and it does not cause us distress, guilt or shame.

Josee Sovinsky ‪www.joseesovinskynutrition.com

To me, “normal eating” is eating without guilt, enjoying a wide variety of foods, including those that are more “indulgent”, not feeling the need to overeat/binge because you know you can eat whatever you want {i.e. the food will always be there tomorrow!}, and NOT thinking about food all of the time {for me this is huge-when I was younger and dabbled in different diets, it seems like “the next meal” was always on my mind, and it’s so freeing not to think about food all of the time :-)}

EA Stewart www.eastewart.com

I think normal eating is listening to your body, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full and satisfied. And the foods you eat are varied and can include anything you desire. Not obsessing over it and trying not to eat to a standard or diet. Eating to be social and even sometimes eating for comfort. It’s all normal.

Julie Przybyla www.momrd.com

I believe it’s helpful to encourage them to think about “normal” and “healthy” in the context of a loved one. For example, “What would it look like for your child to eat ‘normally’?” Or your mother, best friend, or sister? When thinking of others, it’s easier to extract the fears, guilt, and other emotions we struggle with personally, and instead focus more objectively on their best interests, long term health, fulfillment, etc. This naturally leads to self-evaluation: If I believe this is true for someone I love, why would is it not true for myself?

Dena Norton ‪www.backtothebooknutrition.com

Try to take the negative feelings and emotions out of eating and focus on the positive – the beauty of whole, fresh foods, and the way that feeding and treating yourself well makes you feel.

Know that absolutely nothing is going to happen to you if you overindulge occasionally. You won’t gain an appreciable amount of weight from a huge dinner, because your body doesn’t work like that. If you feel heavier the next morning, it’s probably water. Resume your life and healthy eating habits, and you’re golden. There’s nothing ‘bad’ about including all foods in your diet.

Relax. Take a breath. Focus on the beauty of food and enjoying it,.

And above all else, nourish your whole self.


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