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A while ago a question came up on my Food and Feelings Workbook message board about whether counting calories and fat grams makes a person a dieter. Do “normal” eaters never count calories? Do they ever think about the amount of fat contained in food in making choices? Merely because a person considers caloric or fat content, does that automatically make them a dieter rather than a “normal” eater? Does eating intuitively preclude eating intelligently?
This subject is complex and requires letting go of black-and-white thinking. Attending to nutritional information is not a question of always focusing on calories and fat or never noting them. The difference between dieters and “normal” eaters is how the information is used to make satisfying, healthy eating decisions. In a nutshell, dieters and restrictive eaters base food decisions exclusively on whether a food is high or low in calories or fat. If it’s high, they avoid it even if they crave it. “Normal” eaters, on the other hand, consider the fat or calorie value of foods, but only as one factor among many, including what they’re in the mood for, how hungry they are, what they ate earlier in the day, when and what they might eat later, and the quality and cost of food.
Not only do “normal” eaters factor in other considerations, they don’t always finish everything that’s in front of them. They might have full-fat ice cream, but eat only half the dish or order lasagna and take the equivalent of another meal home with them. Because a food is high in fat and, therefore, more filling, there’s a good chance they’ll consume less because they’re ready to stop eating more quickly. This approach serves them better than dieters who make low-fat and low-calorie choices, but feel deprived and unsatisfied and, consequently, eat more. Remember, our satiation mechanism, developed through evolution to respond to fat and calories, sends us a signal that when we ingest enough of them, it’s time to shut down appetite.
Another difference between dieters and “normal” eaters is that the former don’t generally derive genuine pleasure from food. They feel guilty or feel false pride due to the “virtue of healthy eating”; conversely, most “normal” eaters eat with joy and gusto. No matter how you look at it, “normal” eating beats chronic dieting hands down any day of the week. Dieting fosters rigidity, deprivation and dependence on external appetite cues. “Normal” eating reinforces body centeredness, flexibility, and enjoyment. The goal is to be calorie- and fat-wise (as well as nutrition savvy), but to use the information in a way that makes eating more pleasurable, healthy, and satisfying.
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