Nature or Nurture
Do you believe that “normal” eating means you never have to engage your brain and make hard choices with food because your appetite will automatically do what’s right by you—signal the perfect time to feed your hunger, flash a bulletin about what food will satisfy you, focus on eating well while your mind is elsewhere, and fling out its arms like a crossing guard to warn you to put down your fork because you’re done? If you believe your appetite needs no help from your better judgment, think again.
It’s the old nature versus nurture debate. Are “normal” eaters born or raised? The answer is a little of both. We have evidence that genetics and biology play a major role in appetite regulation, as does stress and trauma in early childhood. We also know that the role models we pattern our eating after and how we’re trained to relate to food and our bodies shape our eating habits. We’re dealt a hand, taught certain rules about how to play it, then take those rules on the road and implement them.
If you believe that “normal” eaters always, instinctively, automatically eat perfectly, it’s time to dispel some myths. They occasionally ignore hunger for good reason and postpone eating (or eating enough). They also sometimes eat when they’re not hungry, especially at breakfast time. In fact, whether you’re hungry or not, studies show that eating breakfast is not only essential for energy, but that people who are successful at weight loss and healthy weight maintenance start the day with food.
Moreover, health-minded “normal” eaters think about which foods are nutritious and which aren’t. They consider what they’ve eaten during the day and may eat later. They deliberate and say “no” to themselves. They start with cravings about what might satisfy them and go from there. They even may be in the mood for fried clams but choose the broiled tilapia for health reasons.
They consciously, intermittently commune with their bodies about whether they’re enjoying food, knowing that being human means they might eat past satisfaction and fullness if they’re not tuned in to appetite. Because they want to stay connected to bodily signals, they pay attention to when they’re approaching full or satisfied. They may wish to eat more and do so but they do it consciously—and rarely. Equally, they may force themselves to stop eating because they don’t want to be stuffed. They depend on judgment along with innate appetite signals to determine how much to eat. “Normal” eating means staying actively, consciously engaged in the eating process.