Have You Found Your Inner 'Normal Eater'?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/12/2013 12:00 PM   :  347 comments   :  81,507 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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    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
    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
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    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
    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
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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
    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
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    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
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    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
    Great article. - 9/2/2013   1:07:51 PM
    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
    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
    Excellent article - 8/23/2013   3:58:02 AM
    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
    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 weren’t reality—they 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
    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. - 8/22/2013   8:25:49 PM
  • 319
    I am one of those eaters in training, but I am making changes that are easy to maintain because no food groups are cut out of what I eat. I do eat a lot healthier and cook at home often. I have lost over 30 pounds and have been stuck for what seems like a very, very long while. However, I focus more on my fitness minutes and exercise victories. - 8/22/2013   4:19:56 PM
  • 318
    I am sorry to those who feel that this site should just cater to them and only print new articles. There are many of us who just recently joined SparkPeople and have not had the opportunity to read some of these articles. I am enjoying this site tremendously and it will not bother me in the least to reread an article. It just may stick better the second time around.

    That being said, I hope to find my inner intuitive eater. I am doing very well with the eating part, I have lost 23 lbs so far. But, its the exercise thing I can't get down. I hate exercising. Once I find my "inner-exerciser", I may find this balance. - 8/22/2013   3:48:04 PM
  • 317
    I think after 60 years of eating too much and living on junk food I feel my inner voices are buried or warped. I'm working on bringing them back into my life but right now I need all the tools I can get. I have an inner voice telling me to eat because I'm bored, upset, happy, etc. - 8/22/2013   2:39:01 PM
  • 316
    Your question, "do you feel like you have an inner normal eater you can trust?" is loaded for me. At this point, the answer would be no. I'm NEVER full but I no longer aim for full but satisfied. After losing 83 pounds, at times I live in terror of regaining, and don't trust myself to eat normally. I'm still counting those calories. Like you stated in the article, it's okay to use the tools available to us to make sure we stay on track. - 8/22/2013   1:11:22 PM
    I just returned from a vacation where I did not have access to a computer or Sparkpeople for over a week. I was with my whole family and we were just hanging out and enjoying being together. This was not a time when I wanted to be focused on my weight. But, because I have been Sparking for almost a year, I now have a pretty good idea what calories things are and what works for me. So I told myself that I would eat anything everyone else would have in moderation and ONLY if I was hungry. I used my stomach and my brain as my guide. I have to say that I gained two pounds. I also have to say I had a great time, enjoyed my children and spouse to the max, and I do not feel bad about those two pounds at all. I think that I can lose those pounds without too much trouble. I probably would have gained more if I was not being mindful but I am not sure that I am intuitive.

    Thanks for getting me thinking! - 8/22/2013   1:05:52 PM
  • 314
    I just take one day at a time of healthy eating. I track everything because of a need for low sugar and sodium for health reasons. The scales do not control my happiness and well being anymore. I don't weigh except at the doctor's office and I see him every 3 months. I am much happier like this. I too am an evening eater and always allow for an evening snack. I have lost 50 pounds since Feb of this year. - 8/22/2013   1:00:32 PM
  • 313
    Talk about mindless eating - I'm struggling with after dinner and night time. I can eat a perfectly balanced dinner and feel "hungry" within 1 1/2 hours. Daytime is not a problem. I'm not losing weight for the past several weeks for going over my limit and indulging with too much healthy snacks (nuts, dry popcorn, Triscuits, dark chocolate). - 8/22/2013   12:20:04 PM
  • 312
    I have been sparking for 8 months now and have lost 47 pounds. Personally I feel like counting calories helps me stay on track not be fanatical. I have decided that some people, including myself just need more help when it comes to healthy eating and weight. It works for me, so I say count on my friends, count on. - 8/22/2013   11:18:46 AM
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    Thank you very much for running this blog again. My purpose in belonging to Spark People is to learn how to get and maintain a healthy relationship with food. It is not to amass as many Spark points as I can. - 8/22/2013   10:32:32 AM
  • 310
    I think this is probably the idea way to eat. The Eden Diet is based on this as well. But the catch is deciding when you are hungry. If you can get that figured out then it works great. - 8/22/2013   9:20:29 AM
  • 309
    I struggle every day. I eat sometimes because it's there, not because I'm hungry. Examples include picking off others plates, eating something because it's in my fridge (usually it's just fruit or veggies that's open, but that still has calories. I pick at whatever I'm cooking. I think I probably consume more calories than I think from picking... - 8/22/2013   8:55:18 AM
  • 308
    I am at maintenance now, but still eat at the low end of my Spark recommendation which isn't enough now. I'm training myself to eat toward the higher end but I'm still going to watch it until it become normal. I was a successful, intuitive eater years ago and then my body changed, and it's been a learning process ever since. - 8/22/2013   7:54:46 AM
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    I am So glad you ran this blog again! I missed it when it first ran . I am getting very close to my goal weight and it gave me a lot to think about. I am always glad to be reminded that no matter how many positive lifestyle changes I have made it is so easy to regain with life's ever changing circumstances. Great blog! Much success! - 8/22/2013   7:40:11 AM
  • 306
    Sometimes it does us good to re-read something, whether we can earn points for it or not. It's easy to forget the good lessons we read, and a reminder is a good thing.

    Of course, if you don't like re-reading past articles that you can't earn points for on this TOTALLY FREE TO YOU website, you can always go to one that charges you a monthly fee and after a while begin re-reading their "recycled" articles, because I'm sure they do the same thing, except they charge you for it! - 8/22/2013   7:13:03 AM
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    So true Learn to eat in moderation and stop when satisfied - 8/22/2013   7:01:37 AM
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    I agree that it never hurts to read a blog over and over. It's the same stuff that counts to help you lose weight. - 5/20/2013   6:22:34 PM
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    i really think this is my hardest obstacle... but im working on it. thanks for sharing the blog, very helpful! - 5/15/2013   2:39:23 PM
  • 302
    I understand that perhaps you have read this blog before and it doesn't help that you have already gotten your sparkpoints for doing so. I know that you can reset your points from reading blogs and articles so if reading a blog for points is your motivation, that's great-I always find something new to read for the same reason. I get new information and learn. I would like to say just one thing on the comments that expressed displeasure at a reposted blog..it's like when I talk to someone who has to say the same thing everyday perhaps 100 times..it may be the 100th time for you but it is the first time for me. I had not read this blog before and it gave me pause to see where it was coming from to forgive the slips and just move forward. I like that we can express our feelings about an article or blog but if it is a repeat for you, there are a lot more blogs out there to explore and gain inspiration. Be good to yourselves today....you deserve it! Stay focused to succeed. - 5/15/2013   12:51:02 PM
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    Actually, most of these recent blog entries are recycled from articles.

    Too bad for those of us who have been on the site long enough to know, read and often commented on the originals.

    Maybe they need new bloggers who are able to keep up with the news developing daily - 5/4/2013   1:24:37 AM
  • 300
    Wow, another recycled blog from 2010 without being able to get points! - 4/26/2013   12:53:20 PM
    This was a really interesting article to read, I completely agree people should be able to live their lives without stressing about "good" foods or "bad" foods. Many people do find it hard to eat only when they are hungry as our cultures have based so many occasions around food. For example birthdays, Christmas, Easter, celebrating special events are predominantly celebrated by breakfasts, lunches or dinners. These meals are, more often than not, high in carbs and fat, as well as protein. It can be hard to avoid the "bad" foods at these special occasions, however if we train ourselves to become a "normal-eater" these times can be acceptable as they only come around now and then. Essentially, we should not deprive ourselves of the food we like to eat, for example chocolate, but if we eat these foods in small portions occasionally we will enjoy them more and we wont feel the "guilt" this article mentioned. - 4/24/2013   12:31:08 AM
  • 298
    I did until I found Spark. I'd just gained some weight over about the last four years (not like I haven't had experience losing weight after having five kids and never once blaming 'baby fat'-so abusive to children). But then, I needed support this time or more towards a social outlet. But it seems like 'tracking' has rather taken over..and, I need to find a balance for the social. Oh boy, new things to combat with obsessive compulsive tendencies, YAY! LOL - 4/22/2013   1:48:31 AM

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