Nutrition Articles

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

Test Your Knowledge with the Normal Eating Quiz

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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.

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.

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Member Comments

  • This article left me a wee bit confused on some, cleared up on other points. Guess what it comes down to is moderation and listening to your body. Also, research. Since I joined SparkPeople, I have learned quite a wee bit from reading articles as well as comments/blogs. The challenges major help!
  • This is another old article posted on this site....11 years old! Egads!
  • I was 4 out of 6. I was lucky most times.
    Honestly the wording was not very clear, if this gets done somewhere else. Please this was written for professionals and some of us are not pros.
    Make it simple so we can get some correct.Pat in Maine
  • I think this quiz needs multiple choice answers or more descriptive questions. I got very confused by the questions and even though I had answers like there are certain foods which should be restricted there was only a true or false answer to give! When I had finished the answers I gave were similar if not exactly the same as the answers in the article.
    Great article defo needs more concise answer options though!
  • "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."
    As far as I know treatment for BED tells patients to NOT try to lose weight when learning to overcome their disordered eating. First stop the emotional eating and the poor impulse control - only AFTERWARDS, it is stated, can one - very carefully and slowly - try to lose weight.
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  • CHRISTINA-TODAY
    Very good article, thanks.
  • MRSPRINCESS2007
    There was a time not too long ago that I would have gotten most, if not all of the questions wrong.

    It's interesting to see the comments. You can see those that have had an epiphany, those that have had their intuition validated, and others still that haven't embraced the idea of Normal Eating. Everyone has to come to it in their own way at their own time. Unfortunately, not everyone will get to that point. Luckily though, many of us have or will and that IS something to celebrate! Food, ANY food, is not the enemy.
  • This is brilliant. I've always intuitively known this but always thought I was wrong. The more I listen and trust my body the more I AM doing whats right for myself. If we allow the diet industry to over ride our own voices we lose. Deep down we know whats best for ourselves
  • Well, dang. I'm disordered again. I got one of the questions right. I guess I better study up, then.

    *looks over meal plan and starts putting together everything on it for tomorrow*
  • TWEE3MI
    There are obviously good and bad foods. It is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

    A fast food burger is one example of a bad food. It is coated in chemicals isn't just high in fat and calories, it has added chemicals for flavor, and hormones, antibiotics and pesticides from the cow was cared for.



  • Good article! The author is doing a good job debunking the popular myths out there. There is solid science backing up everything stated in the article. I'm glad he addressed the fact that you do not have to be hungry all the time to lose weight. That doesn't mean you don't experience some hunger now and then on a weight loss plan, but most of the time you don't have to be plagued by it. I've lost 35 lbs. in six months by eating a healthy diet with filling meals and avoiding refined carbs and high glycemic foods and eating a satisfying amount of protein, veggies, and healthy fats.
  • JULIESJOURNEY71
    I've talked to a couple of friends and family members who have never had weight issues about their eating habits, and one thing we talked about was the "good" and "bad" foods. They didn't seem to view food as good and bad like I do...just healthy and not so healthy. Not one of them deprives themselves of something that they want to eat - like ice cream, potato chips, pizza, etc. - and they don't feel guilty about eating it.

    I believe that is where the mind comes into play. I know that as soon as I label a food as "bad," I crave it something terrible, and then if I eat it, I beat myself up, which usually end in a binge. I really want to get to the point that I don't label foods as good and bad so tha I can eat 1 cookie instead of feeling like a failure and wanting to eat the rest of the bag.
  • I don't agree on most of the quiz's answers. One thing is the theoretical part of those questions and the other is the practical part to them. NO NO. That's like "in a perfect world there would be peace"... Come on, that's not true! Everyone who has lost weight knows for a fact that you'll feel a little hungry most of the time, that you have to say NO to BAD food, etc, etc.
  • @nightowl62 I think what he's trying to get at is don't make yourself feel like you're being a criminal for eating white bread and other less healthy foods. I know a big part of people learning to eat healthy is learning not to punish themselves for eating processed or refined foods. If people are living healthy lives while enjoying a piece of cake, good for them for finding that balance. That's the important part of the message.

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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