What is ''Normal Eating''? --Part 2

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 "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?

This article is the second in a series of three that discuss "normal" and abnormal eating habits. (Part one looked at some of the basic characteristics of normal eating.) This article contains a checklist of behaviors and thought patterns that are often associated with disordered eating. Chances are that you will find some of your own habits on this list, but before you reach for the panic button, here are some important things to keep in mind:
  • “Disordered eating” includes many behaviors and attitudes that are extremely common and not always a signs of a significant problem. The difference between normal and disordered usually comes down to a question of frequency, degree, the extent to which the behavior causes problems or distress for the individual, and the amount of control the individual has over the behavior.
  • Wherever you find yourself on the normal-to-disordered spectrum, these problems do not define you as a person, nor do they determine or limit your potential for achieving a healthy weight and creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself. You are not a disordered person. You are simply a person with particular challenges to overcome on your way to establishing a healthy relationship with food.
  • This list does not include most of the formal symptoms of clinical eating disorders. Rather, these are the “diet-mentality” behaviors and attitudes that are usually behind such common experiences as failure to lose weight or maintain weight loss; chronic motivation problems; emotional eating; excessive hunger and cravings; inability to manage the ups and downs of weight loss without significant distress; and lifelong yo-yo dieting.
By recognizing that these behaviors and attitudes are “disordered,” and choosing to change them now, you can prevent yourself from developing a full-fledged eating disorder, and make the transition from chronic, unhappy dieting to a satisfying lifestyle change.

Checklist of Disordered Eating Behaviors and Attitudes
Note how many of the following statements sound like you.
  1. Eating (or restricting) food provides immediate relief from unpleasant negative feelings.
  2. Your eating behaviors frequently make you very unhappy.
  3. You weigh (or are afraid to weigh) yourself very frequently, and become significantly distressed when you don’t see the results you hope for.
  4. You frequently avoid eating because you are afraid that you may not be able to stop once you start.
  5. You believe there are “bad” or “forbidden” foods that you shouldn’t eat, and eating them makes you feel guilty or ashamed.
  6. You very strictly count calories and track of everything you eat, and feel that going over your limit means you have failed, at least for that day.
  7. When you eat a "forbidden" food or go over your calorie limit, you often decide to continue overeating, since you have blown it.
  8. You frequently think that people are talking (or thinking) poorly about you because of your weight, even when nothing is said.
  9. You are trying to lose weight because you think it will influence how other people think or feel about you and treat you.
  10. Being at your current weight makes it very hard for you to feel good about yourself and you believe that will change when you lose the weight.
  11. The main reason you exercise is to burn calories, and/or offset the calories you have eaten or plan to eat.
  12. You feel like you have to avoid certain foods entirely because you can’t control how much you'll eat once you start.
  13. You frequently think about food and eating, much more than necessary.
  14. You eat secretly (to avoid embarrassment if others found out about it) or keep hidden food stashes that you eat only when you're alone.
  15. You believe that many of the problems in your life (work, relationships, etc) are due to your weight, and will improve once you reach a normal weight.
  16. You frequently eat when you aren’t hungry or feel like you can’t stop yourself, but don't understand why.
  17. Even though your weight is considered healthy or normal, you are not satisfied, and want to keep losing.
  18. You have many rules about what, when, and how much to eat, and breaking these rules causes you to feel anxious, guilty, or negative about yourself.
  19. You tend to follow your eating and exercise plan for days or weeks at a time, but then seem to go on strike, rebelling against your own plans.
  20. The closer you get to an intermediate or long term weight goal, the more you seem to engage in self-sabotage.
  21. You sometimes use overeating, food deprivation, or excessive exercise to “punish” yourself.
  22. You spend a great deal of time and energy tracking your nutrition, and feel very uncomfortable eating food when you don’t know what’s in it.
  23. You sometimes go to extreme measures like using laxatives, diuretics, diet pills or supplements, enemas, or other measures to achieve weight loss or offset calories you’ve eaten.
  24. You find yourself doing things you know aren’t healthy or advisable (skipping meals, over-exercising, eating very few calories) in order to make up for going over your calorie limit, or to speed up your weight loss.
  25. You base your food choices primarily on calorie content, rather than nutritional concerns or personal taste.
As mentioned above, you have probably found some of your own eating practices or ideas about weight loss on this list. The more of them apply to you, and the more frequent or severe they are, the more at risk you may be for developing a clinical eating disorder. And, of course, they are all potential obstacles to safely losing weight and developing a healthy lifestyle that will enable you to maintain that loss permanently.

But the good news is that all of these problems can be overcome with the right combination of willingness, knowledge, skillful effort, support, and (if necessary) professional help.

Future articles in this series will discuss strategies and self-help solutions that can help you learn, develop skills, and put forth the necessary effort to change your habits, as well as information about when to seek professional help. You can take advantage of all the support our Message Boards have to offer. After all, there’s no time like the present to begin helping yourself improve and reach your goals.
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Member Comments

Thanks for giving me a lot to think about! Report
Seriously, I just had a friend tell me that I am getting alittle bit too focused on my food. The first person in taking charge of my health is me. Tracking food(how else will I know the calories) measuring(eyeball
ing doesn't work for a person who thinks a baseball is what you sports people call a softball) and not going out to eat all the time because of a salt issue that can cause an ER trip labels me with a disorder so be it. Report
I seriously have the need to avoid certain foods to not over eat them one and need to track nutrition or I eat the wrong foods, because I am not paying as much attention and if I don't count calories, I find I go over, so, yes, by dinner I look at how many calories I have left and eat within the range.

I thought tracking food and knowing our calories and eating healthier foods, instead of empty calories was part of what this whole program actually is.

All I know is that each time I stopped Sparkpeople, I stopped tracking and ended up eating too many calories and ended up doing junk food versus healthy food.

I find when I eat junk food or drink soda, things like fruit and vegetables and water taste different and I don't eat them. When I eat fruits and vegetables and water, junk food tastes too sweet and soda tastes sickening. So I think avoiding the junk is helping me the most. Report
And yet, SP tells people to eat only 1200 calories per day... that is not disordered? Report
That was an eye opener Report
thought i was doing well since joining SP, but my habits are all over this list. Report
I think this ridiculous. Especially #12 I think? Ah I can't remember the number.... not eating a certain food because you can't stop? yeah, that's me. And I'm glad I stopped eating those certain foods, that really weren't healthy for me anyway. I mean, why tell an alcoholic to learn to have just a drink or two? Seriously. Not gonna happen. Or they WILL have hidden stashes that they only consume in private (just like another thing on here). Seriously people... not all foods we call food are actually healthy to eat. It's okay to take them out completely. It's perfectly okay. *sigh* Report
Wow. This article met me right where I am and have been. Although many of the statements nailed my weaknesses, I have to admit for some odd reason I feel encouraged all the same. And it's not an odd reason, really. It's simply the more I am on this site, the more I put to use the things I am reading, the more I feel "the wind beneath my wings." Sounds mushy but I haven't felt this encouraged in a looooong time. Report
I would not have thought some of these were disordered thinking, but it makes sense the more I think about it. Report
I acknowledge that I still participate in a few of the "disordered eating" patterns; however, I'm stumped at how #22 ["You spend a great deal of time and energy tracking your nutrition, and feel very uncomfortable eating food when you donít know whatís in it" could be a bad thing], UNLESS of course it's really obsessive. Personally, if it weren't for #22, I would eat MANY not so healthy things versus having just the occasional bite to taste. And to think ...... I've been so proud of myself for using the smart phone app to keep myself accountable!!!! Report
Didn't know there were SO many MENTAL disorders regarding eating and not eating, it's is so complex. I'm more simple than this. Report
Thank you so much for addressing this issue. I hope that I can learn some better skills to deal with your checklist topics. I haven't yet found the right support or much about how to better deal with these issues. I particularily struggle with doing well for awhile and then striking & rebelling as well as constant food planning and irritating desire for particular foods and the want to secretly get my fill of. Looking forward to your next article. Report
I plan to share this in a TOPS meeting if permissable. This is magnificent. Report
I thank you Dean Anderson for writing this and I know I will benefit by your writings. Thanks you. SO MUCH. Report
I'm wondering how this behavioral expert would handle the autistic young man featured on you tube under cdfoakley account. Seems this family had their share of experts who didn't know much, weren't sure, were working on it and would get back to them. The kid's 20 now. Most bizzare behavior my partner and I have ever seen in an autistic kid. Didn't know it could be that serious. Anyway, like the stuff about diet. Report


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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