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Nutrition Articles  ›  Special Concerns

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

Test Your Knowledge with the Normal Eating Quiz

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
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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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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.

Member Comments

  • TOUMIX23
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  • Very good article, thanks. - 1/22/2014 3:38:55 PM
  • 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. - 10/3/2013 4:05:47 PM
  • 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 - 6/10/2013 3:10:01 PM
  • 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* - 12/13/2012 2:47:57 AM
  • 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.



    - 5/14/2012 3:12:43 AM
  • 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. - 2/7/2012 7:42:27 PM
  • 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. - 10/20/2011 2:13:53 PM
  • 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. - 10/18/2011 1:32:23 PM
  • @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. - 8/21/2011 9:54:16 PM
  • RECLAIM2012
    Great article! It is all about balance and not going to extremes. Our favorite foods can be included in reasonable amounts - its when we overeat that the problems occur. - 8/14/2011 11:46:11 PM
  • totally disagree with answer to question 5...

    5. False—There are no "good" or "bad" foods. PLEASE! YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS! - 2/25/2011 1:20:50 PM
  • I thought I did well on the little "quiz". but I only got 2 right!! This was really great, I can't wait to read the rest in the series! Thanks Dean. - 10/19/2010 9:31:04 AM
  • This article explained all the things I believe about eating "properly" but that I have always had a hard time putting into words.! - 10/18/2010 2:43:14 PM
  • As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for all of my adult life, Spark People has been an INCREDIBLE resource for learning how to eat "normal". Thank you SP!! - 9/9/2010 9:55:43 PM