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What does "normal" eating even mean?

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So the first question that usually comes out of people’s mouths when I say the phrase “normal eating,” is something along the lines of “what does ‘normal’ eating even mean?”

Like, most of us “get” that there are people in the world who
don’t really think about food,
and just eat what they want,
and naturally end up eating an “appropriate” amount food without really trying,
because they don’t really care about food that much to begin with. 

but we don’t understand how.

“What are they doing that I’m not?!”
“I don’t understand people like that!”

It took me a really long time to understand and emulate “normal eaters,” and that’s because I was approaching “trying to be normal” in all the wrong ways.

I was trying to control myself, trying to do something different with food, trying to “eat when hungry and stop when full” or whatever other way I was trying to “do” normal eating. 

But the reality of the situation is, “normies” aren’t doing “normal eating.”
There’s no “way” they’re eating, that you haven’t heard of before.
There’s no “trick” they’re employing, that you’ve never heard of.

They’re not doing anything.

“Normal eating” isn’t something a person doesit’s something a person thinksFurthermore, “normal eating” is not defined by how or what a person eats, but rather, by how one feels about themselves. 

If you’re “okay” with how you’re eating, how you’re eating is “okay.”
Conversely, If you’re “not okay” with how you’re eating, how you’re eating becomes “not okay.”

(And we all know what happens when we cross that line of “not okay.” All hell seems to break loose.)

The point is, it’s how you feel about what you’re eating that makes the difference, not what you’re eating in and of itself.

When you judge your performance around food — when you decided that there’s an imaginary line in the sand where “okay” ends, and “not okay” begins — you will inevitably cross that line, and probably lose your shit.

“Normies” don’t have a line to cross. If they eat a big dinner, they eat a big dinner. No big deal. If they have a cupcake in the middle of the day for no reason, they eat a cupcake and move on with their lives. If they eat an entire bag of chips in a sitting, they eat the bag and then think “ughg I need water,” and get over it.

What they eat has NO bearing on their self-esteem. It means nothing.

THAT is the difference between “Normies” and Emotional Eaters — it’s not what they’re doing, it’s how they feel about what they’re doing.

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Nail Yourself to the Present Moment with Food

livenowRecovering from diet-binge cycling, 

requires learning how to sit in this present moment with food, 

without grasping for the next diet,

without leaping for some attempt to fix it,

without trying to “figure out” your plan of escape.

It requires learning to sit with a full belly when you have one

or with your body exactly as it is,

without being wooed back into grand planning with food—plans that only take us further away from what our bodies need right now, and set us up for a repeat of the cycle once more. 

The truth is, “intuitive eating,” by definition, can only happen in the present moment. I can’t know what I’ll be hungry for outside of the moment that I’m hungry for it—I can’t predict with certainty what my body will need in five minutes, or five hours or five days. 

All I can do is sit in what’s happening right now, and listen for the next right action, one moment at a time, as it’s made clear to me. 

The only commitment to be made, is to nail myself to the present moment with food.**

**A Pema Chodron idea.

The Common Mistake of Trying to “Gain Control” Over Food

Overcoming binge-eating
is not about “getting control” over your food,
but about realizing—
that “control” is a figment of your imagination.

meditation in chaos

Our pursuit of “control,”

based on the very false assumption that we can make our food go our way if we just try hard enough,

is the product of truly delusional thinking, 

considering the infinite and unknowable universe in which we live.  

Let’s be real—

We are NOT in control of our body’s needs in any given moment,

We are NOT in control of our emotional needs in any given moment,

And despite what many self-help gurus might suggest,

We are NOT in control of our every reaction to triggering, environmental stimuli. 

We are only human,

and denying or trying to change this fundamental reality, 

is a sucker’s game—leading only to frustration, rebellion, and evermore compulsive behavior.

Contrary to the suggestion of every diet book ever, 

sanity around food will NOT be afforded to those who tirelessly try to gain control— 

the pursuit of which is a never-ending hamster-wheel leading only to dead-ends and rebellious outbursts,  

but rather,

sanity will be afforded to those who make peace with and accept
our fundamental out-of-control-ness,

to those who can ride the waves
of uncertainty, of messiness, of human error,

to those who can sit in food-chaos, and find okay-ness. 

Can’t self-soothe instead of eating?

coachingSmall1Q: Hi Isabel! I read your coaching emails periodically and have been introduced to [fill-in-the-blank “non-diet” approach] for some time now. I’ve worked with many professionals to try to change my behaviors, and I would say I have all the tools I need to stop overeating/binge eating. BUT when I’m in the thick of it, all that goes out the door and I feel like I actively choose to continue or start eating instead of using my skills. I want the easy way out and I’m having a really hard time doing the work, because… well…. it feels like work. I want so badly to change my behavior, but I’m feeling super frustrated. 

So, the first word that jumps out at me in this question is the word “instead;”

It sounds like you’re trying to “take a warm bath instead of eating,” or are trying to replace emotional eating with some other “superior” coping mechanism.

This strategy (the “do-XYZ-instead-of-eating-strategy”) usually doesn’t work long-term…likely because it’s inherently restrictive, and relies on willpower to work.

Willpower rarely overcomes emotional or binge-eating urges longterm, especially when we’re dealing with emotional stressors or fatigue, which weaken our resolve.

Additionally, when you tell yourself not to do something (e.g. “don’t eat emotionally—do something else instead!”), food often becomes more seductive…like a lover you can’t have, or the toy you’re not supposed to touch—resisting it just makes you more obsessed.

So, first off, eliminate the word “instead” from your attempts at self-care. When we aim to take an action instead of eating, the implication is that emotional eating is wrong, not allowed, or otherwise not a valid choice. We’re effectively on the “don’t-eat-emotionally diet,” which ironically makes food more tempting.

INSTEAD (lol), can you try practicing your new self-care skills without making yourself wrong for eating emotionally as well? Believe it or not, journaling still counts as self-care even if you also eat a cookie—and in the long run, self-care practice WILL make you less dependent on emotional eating, even if right now you still want/need the food sometimes. More on this here…

Second,

It’s important to realize that ending binge-eating permanently is not something one does by making the “right” choices in the moment, but rather, is a natural result of a profound shift in thinking around food—away from dieting and towards food and weight neutrality. 

What really sticks out to me about your use of the word “instead” in this question, is that it signifies whatever shreds of diet-mentality you’re still holding on to (e.g. the belief that self-care skills should be used to help you resist food, rather than just enjoyed in and of themselves because they make you feel good!)

As long as you’re trying to resist or control food (even emotional eating), you’re probably gonna keep bingeing in rebellion. You’ll be much better off practicing self-care skills in the context of emotional allowance around emotional eating—

since resistance is what turns one cookie when you’re lonelyinto ten cookies, because, “fuck, I fell off the wagon…

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