I remember when I was at university and struggling with food and my body image, I shared a house with a group of girls who just seemed so normal around food!
I was always so envious of how they could go shopping without spending hours looking at the labels. How they could cook a meal in a flash that involved pasta and bread. They just didn’t seem to stress about it, would eat when they were hungry, leave food on their plates and even cook for each other. They would often ask me to get involved but I would always have an excuse and I ate when they weren’t around.
I mean, they didn’t even know how much they weighed and didn’t lose sleep if their clothes got tighter.
They knew I had issues and they tried to support me but we drifted apart after university as I became more insular.
Then I got married and again was living with someone who had a pretty normal relationship with food. But it was tough - we couldn’t enjoy takeaways or spontaneous meals out together.
What is ‘normal’ eating?
OK, so when I talk about a ‘normal’ relationship with food, what do I mean?
Well, I mean eating without a set of rules or restrictions. I mean making choices that are aligned with your wants, needs and desires. We are living in a world where diet culture is rife. Literally everywhere we look, someone is telling us to avoid this, eat more of that, only eat at certain times of the day….
All of this conflicting information confuses us and leaves us stuck in our heads rather than listening to our own bodies, to our own intuition. It creates fear, shame and guilt.
We have become so consumed with the belief that a healthy diet is all about what we eat, the quality of our food, but the truth is, the ‘what’ matters very little. Normal eating is much more about how we eat. It is about our relationship with food and how we connect with it socially, emotionally and spiritually. It means eating with freedom and having more positive experiences with food than negative ones.
We are all born intuitive eaters
For me, normal eating means intuitive eating. This looks different for everyone, there is no one size fits all - nothing in nutrition is ever black and white so please run a mile from anyone who says so!
We are all born with the innate ability to eat normally. Look at babies, they know exactly when they need to eat and when to stop. They are able to listen to and trust their bodies effortlessly. Yet as parents, we think we know better. We tell them to ‘have one more bite’, ‘just try this once’, ‘not eat too much of that’ etc etc etc… outside influences erode the natural connection we have with our bodies which leave us vulnerable to fad diets and unnecessary calorie counting - trust me, your body is the best calorie counter you will ever have if you just listen to it!
And herein lies the problem! Most of us have spent years, decades even, living with strict diet rules and terrified of ever feeling full and satisfied with food. We fight our natural hunger cues like our life depends on it and praise ourselves for our insane willpower….
All of this means that rebuilding a healthy, normal and positive relationship with food takes time and patience, not something our quick fix society finds attractive. This is why juice diets and Keto are so popular - they seem to give instant results but at what cost and for how long for?
How do you know you have a poor relationship with food?
Often, we don’t even realise we are engaging in negative behaviours around food because we are ‘praised’ for doing so. Seriously, just take a moment to realise how messed up that this is…how damaging it is to equate starving yourself and skipping meals with your self worth!
Here are just a few signs you don’t have a normal relationship with food:
You feel guilty about eating.
You avoid or restrict foods that are “bad” for you.
You have developed a long list of rules surrounding the foods you can and cannot eat.
You rely on calorie counters or apps to tell you when you’re done eating for the day.
You ignore your body’s natural hunger cues.
You have a history of yo yo dieting
You feel stressed or anxious eating around others
You find yourself restricting and/or binging food.
You don’t have to engage in all of these but if you ever feel guilt, shame, fear or out of control around food then you need to do some work on your relationship with it.
How can you improve your relationship with food?
One thing that always amazes clients who work with me is how little emphasis I put on them eating ‘healthily’. This is because we focus on how healthy their relationship with eating is, the rest then just falls into place. Balance, moderation, good nutrition .. it all happens effortlessly when you heal our relationship with food. And it really isn’t as complicated as society makes it out to be!
Normal eating is about a mindset, an attitude and it comprises of the following:
Trusting your body and honouring your hunger and fullness cues.
Mostly eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full and recognising that there will be times when you don’t!
Accepting that emotional eating will happen. Sometimes you will eat cake because you are bored, upset, annoyed..the key is to not use food as your only coping mechanism
Not beating yourself up about eating food that society says is too much or bad.
Understanding that you are not what you eat and you’re not defined by your diet (or your weight).
Eating out or with others without stressing about how many calories or carbs they contain.
Normal eating is about being flexible and recognising that we eat for enjoyment and to benefit from a healthy body. It is also about respecting that our food choices and appetite will vary day to day. And understanding that our relationship with food is ever evolving.