“Normal” Eating Means Following All Four Rules
A complaint I often hear when dysregulated eaters embark on “normal” eating is that, once they give themselves permission to eat whatever they want, they eat without restraint and gain weight. I turns out that they’re following rule #2, choosing foods they think they’ll enjoy, but not rules #1, 2, and 4. So, here’s a mini-refresher course. You can read or reread The Rules of “Normal” Eating for a more comprehensive review.
When you begin trying to eat intuitively or what I’d call in a normal, regulated manner, do you attend to the rule that says to eat mostly when you’re moderately hungry? This means not seeking food until and unless your body craves it enough to maximally enjoy it. It does not mean to jump at a chance to eat because you had one measly hunger pain. Nor does it mean to wait to eat until you think you may faint from lack of nourishment. It means to eat when you’re between 5-8 on the hunger scale.
As you consider what to eat, are you only focused on the foods you’ve denied yourself so that you go for high-fat, high-calorie foods because you’re tired of feeling deprived? If these are the only foods you’re interested in, Houston, we have a problem. Instead, consider all the possible choices you might enjoy. Sure, include foods you’ve deprived yourself of that aren’t tops in nutritious, but also consider ones that are healthful. This rule is not saying to go out and make up for lost eating time, but to honor your cravings no matter their nutritious or caloric value as part of abiding by “normal” eating rules.
Are you eating without distraction so that you’re paying full attention to both food and your appetite cues? Many dysregulated eaters only focus on the food, not appetite signals. There’s a big difference between how you’ll eat lasagna, chips or ice cream when you’re distracted and how you’ll eat them when you’re not. If you’re not eating with a sole and complete mindful focus on food, you’re going to miss your body cues telling you that hunger is gone and fullness and satisfaction are setting in. You won’t need to eat without distraction for life, but you absolutely need to in the learning phase.
While you’re eating, are you frequently asking yourself if you’re still hungry or are you thinking only about how good food tastes? By frequently checking in with yourself about fullness and satisfaction, you’ll notice that you are less and less hungry and that food becomes less and less tasty. These cues will lead you to know when you’ve had enough and are done eating. Notice how each rule flows out of the previous ones.
Everything we do has guidelines. When you shop for living room furniture, you have parameters. There’s a limit to what you want to spend. A couch needs to fit into the space you have. You’ll want to sit on chair options to see if they’re comfy. You may have a date in mind by which the furniture needs to be delivered because you’re having a party at your house and you don’t want people to arrive and need to sit on the floor.
Eating is no different. It has guidelines as well, but they’re internal. If you’re only using one or two of the rules or twisting them (unintentionally) to skew toward alleviating past or present food deprivation feelings, you will not move toward “normal” eating. Remember, the opposite of dieting and food denial is not eating as much as you want without any consciousness about it. If you follow the rules consistently, you will become a “normal” eater.