What does "Normal Eating" mean anyway?

Although there are many definitions of "normal eating" out there, I strongly identify with the definitions by Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, MSSW, a Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist, who is widely recognized for her work and research in feeding and eating dynamics. 

When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.
— Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, MSSW


What normal eating is

  • Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
  • Normal eating is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should.
  • Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
  • Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good.
  • Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
  • Normal eating is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
  • Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more.
  • Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.
  • Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

* See more at Ellyn Satter Institute


Most importantly, normal eating is flexible.

Also, for "normal" eaters, saying yes or no to food is no big deal, because they are able to say yes and no to food in just the right balance.  Essentially, food is "just food" and doesn't take over every minute of your day.  

When eating becomes "Disordered Eating" 

When your thoughts and attitudes about food, weight and body size lead you to have very rigid eating rules (i.e. "I can/I can't", "I should/shouldn't") and start creating a preoccupation towards food, weight, and eating, it may be that you've become a disordered eater that may put you at risk for jeopardizing your health and happiness. 

Do you identify with any of the following?

  • I am constantly calculating numbers of fat grams and calories
  • I weigh myself often and am obsessed with the number on the scale
  • I exercising to burn off calories and not for health and enjoyment
  • I feeling ashamed, disgusted or guilty after eating
  • I constantly worry about weight, shape and size of my body
  • I obsess over weight loss, dieting and controlling food
  • I constantly eat for reasons other than hunger or true cravings
  • I eat in order to avoid dealing with uncomfortable emotions
  • I believe that one’s identity and self worth is based on how you look or how much you weigh

When you start having disordered eating patterns, although you may fit into the clinical criteria of an eating disorder yet, when left untreated, there is great risk for developing full-blown eating disorders.

You can take the free Eating Disorders Risk quiz.