Have You Found Your Inner

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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DEE107 10/27/2018
thank you for the info Report
EVILCECIL 5/27/2018
Good to know, thanks. Report
I was there a few years ago, for quite awhile, actually. But gained a lot of the weight back after several incredibly tough life events. Am now back on SP and so motivated to get back there! I truly believe in tracking food and exercise, and think for most of us it's important even after getting to goal, if only a few times a week/month (whatever works best for you), just to stay on track. Report
I haven't found it. ;-) Report
I don't know if I could ever trust myself. I'm tracking food now and counting calories. Something I've never done before. As long as I keep junk food out of the house, I'm ok. One day at a time. Report
This is what people used to call "overcoming gluttony" gluttony being defined as 'the desired to eat more food them is healthy for your body' God made our bodies and knows better how to keep them then we do. So after we have developed good habits and overcome the temptation to sin, it is very reasonable that we can eat what feels right while staying in his love. Also if or when we sin byou over eating we need to seek and accept forgiveness to experience his strength in our weakness. Report
Hehe I bought a book on intuitive eating and read it up until the point where it says "Eat what you love and love what you eat". That was the title 😁😁 Anyhow, When I eat clean and do my endurance cardio four times a week, I'm starving even though I'm bang on the money with calories, sometimes I'm over my calories. So I'm trying to figure it out too 😊 I bought an endurance athlete diet book as well. I may have to reread that and crack open my intuitive eating book. Great article and wish you all the best 👍 Report
I think there is merit to this article. Just like we all have an inner child. I am on a quest that right now requires the regimen of tracking, weighing and recording. I am findingout test I like exercise do much thst I miss it if I don't get an adequate amount. The same with a healthy balance of nutrients. I believe that yhis is that inner healthy person waking me up to my needs and supplanting my wants. Started Spark and this quest at 229 and now I am 205, so I believe it is working. Report
I think it's a good goal, but emotional eating - like the author mentioned - is a problem for me with this approach. For now, my best plan is counting the calories and sticking with the nut stats approach. Maybe at some point... Report
Great article. This year I've decided to go low carb and mostly sugar free. I've been using the principle of intuitive eating, along with the tools on Sparkpeople and current research on nutrition, to trace the effect of various foods on my metabolism, emotions, mindset, and health. I've discovered that if I don't start eating those foods (chips, cookies, m&m's, etc.), I'm good, no problem. If I start, then look out! For a treat, fruit (fresh or dried) and nuts are the way to go for me -- but I only have one serving and don't get cravings to eat more, more, more! Report
I would love to realistically tap into my intuitive eating prowess, yet I know that for now it is waaaay off in the maybe one day category! This is such an interesting article, and being able to read the comments of others is honestly one of the things I appreciate the most about spark. For now I am content with trying to determine and tap into hunger signals and understand what "comfortably full" feels like. This alone is progress... Report
I haven't found my inner normal yet I guess. I stress eat, especially that time of the month (Seriously want to devour chocolate and chips). I pack my lunch to try to limit what I can eat at work, but I get home and have to figure what everyone in my house will eat. My body just isn't very good at telling me when/how much to eat, sometimes I'll just forget to eat, but over the last 3 years I've gained about 45-50 pounds that just don't want to budge. I've been trying to cut back on processed food but it's difficult when short on time and money. Report
I'm on a bunch of meds now. I'm sure at least one of them is not helping with my weight issues (to put it mildly.) One of them has also turned off my "trigger" to determine when I'm hungry and when I'm full. The only way that I know that I've eaten too much is that I'm miserable for the next two days. I'm trying to use portion control and menu planning to help determine when and when to eat. It does get really hard when I'm sitting down in front of something that is really, really good. Report
I don't trust myself yet. I'm tracking my food and eating in the calorie range that's been suggested by SparkPeople to learn how much food is enough food. Right now, I feel hungry quite often, even though I'm eating close to 1500 calories/day. This is week one for me, so I'm interested in seeing whether I'm eating enough or just right. I'm hoping that the inner normal eater will start to take over. Report
I can't quite get there. I don't "diet" but I do track my food and pay attention to calories. I also listen to myself and for the most part eat what I want when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full. Report
I had been an intuitive eater having lost over 100 lbs and keeping it off for over two years, but the last 18 months things have changed. I haven't been able to exercise as much as previously and we have been traveling more. I have gained 27 lbs which I am determined to lose again. I am working on getting back to being an intuitive eater as well exercising more. Report
I think I'm going to try, because I eat too fast and don't even think about the food that is going into my body....... Report
You made some very thought provoking suggestions. As an elderly member I have often wondered how 8 prescription meds effect Weight gain, bodily function and how they effect our personality. My loss is slow, but definitely joyful. Report
Really liked this article. I too go through periods of normal eating, and then that ravenous beast comes out (like it did two nights ago) and I eat everything in sight. As I get older, I realize that no method is perfect. Some times I need to count calories, or white knuckle it through a surge of sugar cravings. Other times, like tonight, I left half my dinner uneaten because I just wasn't hungry. After all these years, my appetite and binges are still a mystery to me. But luckily sparkpeople seems to have a vast assortment of tools to fit my many moods. Report
I tried intuitive eating in 2014. I planned for it to be a one year experiment. I originally achieved my goal weight in March of 2009, 80 pounds below my all time high. I did pretty well for six months or so in 2014, but abandoned my experiment in November when my weight was up about 6 pounds. And I must admit, even when I was eating "intuitively" I weighed myself and when I was near the top of my goal weight range, I'd cut back. Sometimes I kind of counted calories in my head, too. So perhaps it wasn't pure intuitive eating.
I got the 6 pounds off by tracking in 2015. Not planning to try it again this year. Report
I’ve discovered that I’m just NOT a “normal eater.”

I’ve discovered that when I eat a clean diet – no processed food, organic foods, no wheat (gluten), no dairy, drinking only reverse osmosis filtered water, no beef/pork, no sugar, no caffeine, no alcoholic beverages, and no unhealthy fats – I’m quieter on the inside. That means I can be more conscious of not only when I’m hungry, but also of what kind of food my body needs at any given moment. [I also noticed that eating a clean diet had a significant effect on any cravings I might have had for unhealthy “food” items. They might still reappear, but I’m much more able to make a different choice most of the time.]

After a lifetime of disordered eating, I also feel supported when I monitor the quantity of what I’m choosing to eat. I can’t always trust that old patterns will stay away, so I have a kitchen scale which I use often enough.

Exercise also helps me to stay in tune. When I don’t exercise, I may feel vulnerable to those old patterns again.

So, being a “normal eater” is not my goal.

I’m interested in continuing to learn how to take care of myself. That included what I’m eating to be sure, but it also includes the kinds of company I keep, the way I chose to spend my time, the work/service I provide for others, etc.

I’m striving to be at ease with wherever I might be in my life. I trust that I’m always learning.
I can trust my body on how much food I need as long as I eat low carb and don't touch trigger foods
I hope to get to this point, but first I have to make some real changes with my relationship to food. Although I "get it" that we have to think of food as fuel, and not as something we consume simply for pleasure, to combat stress or boredom, or as a reward. These attitudes were developed over many years, and aren't going away easily. Right now it feels like my weight issues are going to be a lifelong struggle, because when I lost weight in the past, I could not keep it off. Report
I don't think I'll ever hear that "intuitive voice". Will probably have to pre-plan and record food from now on. I think it's something I just don't have or it's so tiny it can't be heard. Report
Good article but I'm getting discouraged because I have been going to the gym 5 days a week and watching my calories and the scale just isn't moving. this post menopause weight is very discouraging. What do I do? Report
This is a great article and reminds me of the things I learned from the ThinWithin book that helped me develop my inner normal eater. Report
Would love to have a "Inner Normal Eater". I think I will have to build that trust issue with my mind and body. Right now they do not agree on what "Normal" is. Report
All this time on SparkPeople has helped retrain my brain and tastes so that I could see a time this can work for me. Possibly not without some pitfalls though, such as holiday eating. I think I'll always look in here for tracking, support and inspiration at least from time to time after I've reached my goal. Report
If I trusted my inner-eater, I wouldn't be on SP, reading this article. You're preaching to the choir. Report
My inner-eater is a ravenous bog-troll who'd eat us in to handicapped status in about six months.
I have learned to shout her down. Report
Great article. I have not found my inner normal eater. But I do take one day at a time setting small goals that I can achieve. Drinking 8 to 12 glasses of water, tracking my nutrition and exercise are just three of them. Each week I try to add yet another so that it will become a habit! I say you never really learn something after the first read. Sometimes you need to read and re-read! Report
This is a great article, but some of us will have problems with it. I do not have an inner "normal" eater I can trust. I found this out when I tried to follow intuitive eating methods, and dropped 60 pounds relatively quickly... to the point loved ones expressed concern. Then one day, after declining to eat when my beloved was eating, he asked when I'd last eaten. I thought back and it was over 24 hours.

For most of my adult life, I'd been eating when my children were hungry, when it was lunch break at work, or for emotional or social reasons. In my youth, of course, I ate when it was school lunch time or when my family ate. When my daughter turned 18 and got her own place, I no longer had that cue, and dropped weight effortlessly but not in a healthy way. I literally do not know what hungry feels like. Exploring this, I found I have sensory processing issues and I am still working on work-arounds. My beloved passed away while we were working on my trying to identify hunger, fatigue, etc. Now I have set time-frames when I have meals or snacks, nothing rigid -- I rebel against that because it is too anxiety-producing when life requires flexibility.

I encourage anyone to try this, but don't panic -- as I did -- if you discover you have sensory issues! Just work with what you can. Report
I found that cutting out my trigger foods really helped on cravings. Now, even though I love them, I won't eat them even on so called "cheat days". Report
I in no way feel that I am at a point where I can trust my inner normal eater. I think after I get more fit I will have to keep tracking my calories until I can trust my mind and body to monitor my food intake. Report
I would LOVE to reach that state of 'normal' eating as described in the first two paragraphs of this article. I am not sure that it is possible, though - well, not for me anyway.
However, I'm going to continue to pursue it. Report
Oh my goodness, I always love your articles. This one is fantastic! Yes! It makes perfect sense. I am counting calories and trying to lose the last 13 pounds of almost 100 that I had to lose. I've started trying to stop eating when I'm satisfied at our weekly restaurant visit (cooking at home the rest of the week). I only eat about 60% of what I used to eat. The rest I take home for another meal and I'm happy with it. I still get the satisfaction of getting to dine out and eat what I really like to eat. Report
Having struggled with anorexia for the last 17/18 years, I don't think I'll ever be an intuitive eater. I will always need to track to make sure I'm getting enough calories and nutrients and that I'm not binging or over-exercising. Report
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 Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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? Report
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! Report
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. Report
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! Report
I take snippets of what Dean Anderson writes and put them into my goals because they are so well written. Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report