Written by Lucy Walton
At this time of year, diets and weight loss trends are at an all-time high. Everyone wants to label their diet, whether it be vegan, paleo, keto, gluten free, dairy free or eating ‘clean’.
However, we know that restrictive diets are not successful in the long run (for multiple reasons) and can have many negative consequences. Sadly, that doesn't make them easy to avoid.
What is normal eating?
In our world of diet culture, weight stigma and the thin ideal, a normal eater is getting harder to find. Abnormal eating behaviours are becoming normalised.
Ellyn Satter, a U.S based Dietitian has a beautiful definition of normal eating (1):
Going to the table hungry, and eating until you are satisfied
Being able to choose food you enjoy and to eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should
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
Giving yourself permission to eat because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good
Mostly three meals a day – or four or five – or it can be choosing to munch along the way
Leaving cookies on the plate because you will let yourself have cookies again tomorrow or eating now because they taste so great!
Overeating at times, and feeling stuffed and uncomfortable… and undereating at times, and wishing you had more
Trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating
Something that takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life
In summary, normal eating is flexible and varies in response to your hunger, lifestyle, environment, and feelings (1). It means making decisions based on what you want and need in the moment and what is available to you.
What are some signs of abnormal (or disordered) eating behaviours?
Living in a society which normalises disordered eating can make it difficult to identify eating patterns which are not normal. Some signs that you might not be eating normally are:
Skipping meals or snacks to ‘save’ for another meal
Avoiding an entire food group e.g. carbohydrates or fats
Labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’
Fasting or following a restrictive diet
Ignoring your hunger
Following food rules e.g. no carbohydrates after 6pm
Eating foods or meals based on the calorie content or nutrient profile rather than you actual want
Feeling you must earn or compensate for your food
Avoiding eating with others or social occasions due to fear of what is being served
Feeling guilty or anxious about eating certain foods
How can I become a normal eater?
If you have lived with an eating disorder or disordered eating, returning to normal eating behaviours doesn't happen overnight. It can also be more difficult than some might think as we must challenge diet culture, break food rules and overcome previous beliefs. Although the process might be a long one, it is possible. Registered dietitian, Shane Jeffrey sets out a three-phase model (RAVES), which outlines a step-by-step approach to returning to a eating intuitively (2).
RAVES stands for (3):
1. Phase One (Regularity & Adequacy)
The aim of this step is to establish a regular pattern of eating (e.g. 3 meals and 2-3 snacks) and intake to meet your nutrition goals.
Eating regularly has many benefits including:
Helps to improve digestive functioning
Stimulates metabolic efficiency
Helps to maintain blood sugar levels
Once you have established a regular eating pattern and are eating enough, you can focus on moving on to phase two.
2. Phase Two (Variety, Eating Socially and Spontaneity)
This phase is focused on variety of food as well as eating socially and spontaneity (flexibility and ease of decision-making around food). Eating disorders and disordered eating can be incredibly isolating. The aim is to begin to enjoy food, experience improvements in quality of life and reconnect socially with friends and family. This helps to build a flexible platform for trusting decisions you make around food. Variety doesn't just mean eating some food from the core food groups, but reintroducing all foods back into the diet, overcoming food fears and breaking diet rules.
3. Phase Three (Intuitive Eating)
In the final phase, intuitive eating practices are developed. The aim is to bring it back to basics, not stress or think too much about food but to focus on your inherent intuition. Through this you learn to develop a positive relationship with food and increase your confidence to listen to your body and trust your bodies signals.
How long will it take for me to eat normally?
Moving through these steps could take 6-12 months (or more). It is important to be patient as you re-learn to eat intuitively again and return to normal eating. It will take trial and error, lots of repetition and you might even discover new foods or flavours you like along the way!
Normal eating looks different for everyone. We all have different food preferences, cultural influence, nutritional needs, social surroundings and access to food. What is important to remember is the WHY behind the reasons you choose to eat in the way that you do. Do they come from a healthy place? For example, choosing to replace pasta with zucchini noodles because your afraid of carbohydrates is disordered eating. Choosing to eat zucchini noodles to bulk up the fibre in your diet and mix them through your pasta, or because you enjoy the taste, or you ran out of pasta and needed to finish the zucchini in your fridge all come from a healthy place.
Normal eating on some days might include a higher ratio of more nutrient dense foods and other days you might not eat a vegetable. Normal eating isn't perfect.
If you need support or help to improve your relationship with food please reach out and connect with us by completing an enquiry form.
Lucy is a Registered Associate Nutritionist and intern at TCN! With Lucy's background in nutrition and psychology, her aim is to help you become more confident in your food choices and enrich your mindset. You can find Lucy on instagram @lutritionw and her website here
 Ellynsatterinstitute.org. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/What-is-normal-eating-Secure.pdf> [Accessed 30 December 2021]
 Approach, R., 2021. RAVES Approach - Myrtle Oak Clinic. [online] Myrtle Oak Clinic. Available at: <https://myrtleoakclinic.com.au/resources/raves-approach/> [Accessed 30 December 2021]
 Ceed.org.au. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://ceed.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CEED_Handout_RAVES_Jeffrey-1.pdf> [Accessed 30 December 2021]
Talia Cecchele Nutrition is a team of registered dietitians specialising in eating disorder recovery, disordered eating, gut health and sports nutrition. We aim to bring balance back to nutrition, help you to break free from food rules and find food freedom. We offer virtual consultations and group programs so whether you are based in London, the United Kingdom or around the world we would love to support you. To enquire about a private consultation please fill out a contact form.
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