The Problem With Calling it Normal Eating

I hesitantly write this because I want women to strengthen women, especially within a niche career (nutrition). And especially when it’s someone whose writing voice and overall demeanor is on-par with the RD world I want to live in. But I read this recent post, calling “normal eaters” the “healthiest”, and something about it seemed really off to me — in a way I really don’t think the author meant it to. So much so that I’m here now, typing out something that might seem a little harsh.

But I can’t not say it.

Before I do, please know this, internet people: I don’t mean to throw darts of blame, shame, or condemnation. That’s not my intent, any more than I think it was hers. I mean to clear the air for anyone who read that and felt a little bit worse — “abnormal,” if you will.

The post outlined and compared “healthy eating” to “normal eating,” describing the former as an (often) extreme dieter, and the latter as a more relaxed, carefree eater. Each paragraph pointed out ways a “healthy” eater might approach a situation, compared to the ease with which a “normal” eater navigates meals and snacks. Having had an eating disorder, I recognize triggers in those statements.

So I’m writing this to the reader who felt a little like they’re doing it all wrong, yet again.

The reader who might never be “normal” because fuck, that normal seems a long way from their current normal. To that reader, it’s OK if it all feels far off, but it’s not out of your reach. I promise.

Normal or not, if you put green chile on anything I’m ordering THAT.

Normal is just another average.

Technically, by definition, normal is conforming to a standard. The usual. The average. Another standard that we hold ourselves to, unnecessarily.

There isn’t one normal way to eat, just like there isn’t one normal way to live your life.

And even if there were, would we even want to? Few people want to think of themselves as average, or conformists, or living up to a standard. It feels either exhausting, artificial, or some really uncomfortable combination of both.

Neither “normal” eating nor “healthy” eating feels right.

We cannot simply call it healthy or normal eating, because no one gets to decide exactly what’s normal or healthy for you.

It’s not a secret that I believe the word “healthy” is, at this point, a virtually meaningless descriptor. It conforms to the writer’s view of what is or is not improving someone’s health. As the author notes, when the word “healthy” arrives, it never travels alone. Reliably tagging along are the groupies — shame, guilt, fear, and judgment. You want to believe that healthy will make you feel good, but usually it has this cocky air about it, like you need its stamp of approval to make any future decisions, lest they not be “healthy” enough.

This may or may not be a “healthy” lunch, depending on who you ask.

I know that this dietitian wanted to paint a picture of a life where food isn’t always on the mind, where it feels effortless to eat mindfully — only when you’re hungry, to just the right satiety, overeat sometimes but not always if life happens, eat but don’t think about eating all the time — and a world where sometimes there are more sweets than vegetables, and that’s OK. That might be a nice world to be in. There are a lot of things about that world that sound, and are, lovely. Some people are there, some people want to be there, some people are working to get there in their own ways. And then some people are like, “What fucking world are you talking about?!”

If we consider that “normal” means “average,” then sure. Maybe the normal eaters, in the ways she outlined, are the exact midpoint of all possible eating habits in the world. But if standard was actually our norm, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

So, it’s OK if you’re not in that world right now. It’s OK if that world seems like another fucking planet that you can’t even imagine might be inhabitable. It’s also OK if you are reading all of this and thinking, “Does anyone actually think about food and eating THIS much?!” (A to your Q: Yes. Yes, they do. Many people. Every day. But not all people. And not every day for some people. It’s complicated.)

Real talk

I’m still not in that place 100 percent of the time, but I think about it every day. I strive for it. I’m closer to it now than I was a few years ago. But I wouldn’t call my new place “normal,” healthy, or just-right.

Instead, I’d say it’s eating in a way that feels pretty good most, if not all, of the time. Good in a way that there’s little-to-no guilt about what and when I choose to eat; that I eat in a way that feels more energizing than fatiguing, both for my mind and body.

“Pretty-good-feeling-eating” isn’t as catchy

But I believe it’s better to strive for than “normal” or “healthy.” It requires an awareness of your body, mind, and soul. (Yep, all of ‘em.) It requires moments of mindfulness, checking in with yourself, and learning what works for you. It takes real work — more for some of us than for others. Sometimes it takes a little professional help.

If you feel like you have never been able to eat in a way that actually, truly, REALLY felt good (or even just pretty good)? Let’s chat. Let’s be real with each other, and then get you to a place that does feel good. There’s no right, wrong, or normal way to go about it.

To reach me, click here.

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