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NJ Dietitian Discusses The Concept of Normal Eating

Last Updated: December 12, 2023

Have you been thinking about food more during the past year of the pandemic? Are you eating more comfort foods? As a New Jersey Dietitian, I know you are not alone and it doesn’t mean that you are not eating “normally”. The formal definition of “normal eating” goes back to 1983 when dietitian and family-feeding expert Ellyn Satter wrote about nutrition and released her rules of “What is Normal Eating?”, found in Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.

Satter writes “Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose the 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. It 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. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food, and your feelings.”

I love this explanation! Why can’t eating be adaptable and fun? Some days, you may eat a lot of salad and vegetables; other days, you may bake more, and reach for that big piece of cake. Normal eating shouldn’t be judgmental either. Now more than ever, most dietitians agree, we need to be easy on ourselves and eat food that makes us feel good. These can be balanced meals that include carbohydrates, protein, fruit, vegetables, and fat or it can be having chocolate chip pancakes for dinner!

Normal eating means adapting to what food is available in the situation. How meaningful has this become in the past year? Maybe that means eating different foods because you couldn’t get your usual items at the grocery store. Maybe that means ordering takeout because you don’t have time or don’t want to cook. Maybe that means having a bunch of snacks that will make a meal and, even though it isn’t super-satisfying, you know you have plenty of opportunities for more “proper” and nutritious meals in the future.

Unfortunately, in a world that is filled with disordered eating and diet culture. This definition of normal eating has become abnormal. It is much more likely that most people are focusing on dieting and controlling their weight, instead of being in tune with their body and listening to its wants and needs. Normal eating allows room for eating a pint of ice cream after a breakup or a stressful day of work, but also allows us to not have to compensate for this after, but instead to consider a different path the next day or the next meal. If we take some time and focus on these principles of Normal Eating, we can learn that food isn’t our enemy.

So the question on everybody’s mind is – how do I become a normal eater. Here are a few tips to get you started on the pathway to normal eating · Learn to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. · Try to eat mindfully. Even if that means starting with one meal a day, sitting down without distractions, and focusing on the sensations associated with eating. · Eat foods you enjoy and AVOID deprivation.

If you need help, you may want to reach out to a New Jersey Eating Disorder Therapist

Have you ever gathered around a table with your family in order to enjoy their wonderful conversation and a great abundance of food? We love these types of gatherings in New Jersey. While this may remind you of a joyous occasion related to life events such as holidays, birthdays, major celebrations, etc, not everyone enjoys moments focused on food. As a collective, we don’t often consider those who struggle around food.

Those with eating disorders often tend to hide what they are doing as they are not willing or ready to seek the treatment that is needed and have their own reasons for engaging in behavior that is not socially accepted. Eating disorders regardless of type, affect several million people at any given moment. Those most susceptible are women who fall between the ages of 12 to 35.

While it may seem that eating disorders are all about the food, the underlying cause is often mental health-related and falls closely with an obsession with body image or ultimately body weight. If professional help such as a therapist is not sought out, eating disorders can ultimately lead to death.

Anorexia Nervosa The most commonly known disorder focuses on how one views themself. They may view themself as overweight even when they are healthy or even worse dangerously underweight. They have a fear of gaining weight. They may limit their food take or may engage in various purging behaviors causing their body to go into starvation mode. Anorexia Nervosa can cause the following:

  • Menstrual periods cease
  • Osteopenia or osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) through loss of calcium
  • Hair/nails become brittle
  • Skin dries and can take on a yellowish cast
  • Mild anemia; and muscles, including the heart muscle, waste away
  • Severe constipation
  • Drop in blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse rates
  • Internal body temperature falls, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Depression and lethargy

Bulimia Nervosa Another commonly known disorder. An individual who is “bulimic” may frequently overeat within a specific time period, at times causing themself to feel painfully full. Once they are done eating, they may attempt to purge in order to eliminate some of the calories that they have ingested. While it is hard to know who engages in this behavior, there are some signs to observe.

Inflamed and sore throat

  • Salivary glands in the neck and below the jaw become swollen; cheeks and face often become puffy, causing sufferers to develop a “chipmunk” looking face
  • Tooth enamel wears off; teeth begin to decay from exposure to stomach acids
  • Constant vomiting causes gastroesophageal reflux disorder
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids

Binge-Eating Disorder One of the most common eating disorders that are slightly different from the two mentioned prior. When an individual is battling a binge-eating disorder, they typically eat an unusually large amount of food and often feel a lack of control while doing so. They do not focus on calorie restriction or use any purging behaviors to compensate for overeating. These individuals are often overweight or obese and at risk for type 2 diabetes and other medical conditions. The most commonly observed behaviors related to binge-eating disorders include the following.

  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward
  • While the three mentioned disorders are all a bit different, they have one major thing in common, treatment is needed.

How to Identify an Eating Disorder Therapist in NJ

  • Reach out to your insurance to find who is within your network
  • Talk to a doctor with who you have a relationship with such as your primary doctor
  • Do your research. Look for someone who meets your qualifications.
  • Read reviews about your potential therapist to see how others feel about them.
  • Feel comfortable with their qualifications.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a meeting with them. The first meeting is the most important in building good relations.
  • Make sure that you are comfortable. Therapy is not easy and can be a big step out of your comfort zone.

As eating disorders clearly show a link between emotional and physical health, it is ultimately important to not only treat the physical body but the mental and emotional triggers that lead to these behaviors. This can be achieved by working with a therapist to address the different approaches that can be used. Therapists have specific ways in which they approach eating disorders.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Is an evidence-based treatment that is the leading framework for therapists to follow for the treatment. CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach that helps individuals understand the interactions between their thoughts and feelings and the behaviors those cause. Therapists then work to help put together strategies to change the negative self-talk in order to ultimately change the thoughts that are occurring.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Therapists use this rather than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, when the focus is more about changing actions as opposed to thoughts and feelings, Those that are working with therapists and engaging in ACT are asked to examine their core values. This is a viable treatment but unlike Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, may not be a form of therapy that provides long-term changes.

Family-Based Treatment (FBT) – This is a therapy method that also includes family members and often most used for those that are younger. Therapists view the family as a system rather than individual parts and use that to help build healthy habits. This is a treatment method that therapists find works best with those who battle Bulimia Nervosa.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – This therapy method focuses on handling difficult emotions while learning skills to change behaviors associated with the specific eating disorder. Unlike Cognitive Behavioral therapy, therapists use these sessions for learning as opposed to the talk method of CBT.

Working with a therapist is important and each session will help towards the ultimate goal. While there are many forms of therapy that can be done, it is important to focus on the reason and what the desired outcome is. Help someone close to you get the help that they need before it is too late.