Erin P. (erinstotle) wrote in ed_ucate,
Erin P.

Normal Eating: A definition - Meal planning, Mechanical Eating and Strategies (Article)

This post could be a follow-up to this discussion on normal eating.

Below is an article that my dietitian forwarded to me that may be useful to some of you in recovery or seeking to recover. The article also outlines strategies for how to eat normally - not all of which I agree with, but can work for some people.

I typed this up for you guys instead of typing up my essay, hah. Please add to memories.

Nutritional Aspects for Recovery from Eating Disorders by
Lisa Hoffman R.D. and Sandy Sonnenberg R.D. (Canadian source)

Normal Eating: A definition

The concept of normal eating can be taken for granted by those without eating problems. It consists of eating three properly spaced meals daily withthe addition of snacks between meals as required to meet energy needs. Normal eaters eat a variety of foods within a day, and from day to day. To a person recovering from an eating disorder, normal eating will initially feel like a mechanical process as one eats by the clock. However, in the long run, this facilitates a return to one's normal hunger, satiety and metabolism, and becomes more of an automatic and pleasurable behaviour.

A non-dieting lifestyle is required in recovery from an eating disorder. Initially, a structured meal plan can be a useful guide to help depict normal eating. A meal plan differs from a diet in that it allows people to eat everything in moderation, it fosters a permanent change in eating habits, its purpose is to eat without a goal weight, and it takes power away from certain foods (good vs. bad foods). A normal energy intake for females is 1800-2200 calories/day and for a male 26-3000 calories/day. Specific energy needs are related to one's age, sex, body size, height and activity level. About two-thirds of this energy is required to keep your body running while at rest (phsiologically functioning).

The first five of these food groups reflect the traditional food groupings found in Canada's Food Guide. However, many foods found in today's grocery stores do not easily fit into these food groupings. For example, chocolate, pies, party snack foods (i.e.: chips and cheezies), as well as butter and oil, do not fit into any of the standard food groups. Yet these foods are a part of normal food preparation and eating! Furthermore, these foods are often labelled as "bad" by the individual with an eating disorder and are avoided or only eaten during a binge. To reduce the potency/power of these foods, it is crucial to gradually incorporate them into normal eating. For example, margarine can be the "added fat" used on toast, and a candy bar can be the "satisfying food" planned for dessert. Acknowledging these foods as part of a "normal eating meal plan" will give the individual allowance to have these foods, and with practice, will reduce the fears associated with them.

A meal plan not only involves food groups, but also guidelines for portioning. Whenever possible the portions should reflect those commonly seen/used by normal eaters. For example, one serving of fruit = 1 piece fresh fruit, not half a piece. One serving of satisfying food = 1/8 pie, not a tiny sliver. Normal portioning generally presents great difficulty for the individual recovering from an eating disorder. Even abnormally small portions seem huge and unmanageable. It may be helpful to use regular-sized plates and utensils, or to practice portioning food under the guidance of a supportive "normal eater".

A meal plan is a useful tool to help model normal or typical food combinations. Individuals with eating disorders often treat each food group separately, and create food combinations that would seem odd to most normal eaters. Carefully pre-planning meals and snacks for several days can provide an example of "normal looking" meals which the individual can then begin to practice. In the long run, one will need to become more flexible, but the meal plan is a first tool to reflect normal eating.

Strategies to Normalize Eating
  • Begin with 3 meals a day.
  • Have meals on a time schedule, 3-4 hours apart; do not try to "eat when hungry and stop when full," but eat mechanically according to the clock and meal plan.
  • Introduce 1 or 2 snacks a day.
  • Set a time allowance for meals (30-40 minutes per meal, 15 minutes per snack).
  • Try having a serving(s) from 4-6 of the food groups per meal.
  • Write a list of "risky foods" and incorporate these foods gradually.
  • Throw out all diet products - use the "regular" versions instead.
  • Eat in public places (i.e.: food courts, restaurants, picnics).
  • Eat with supportive family members and friends in the kitchen or dining room.
  • Prepare and practice shopping for groceries: Make a list, buy non-dieting foods, buy only the amount of food that is needed, take only enough money to buy food items on the list.


    Remember, there is no one right way to recover. These are just strategies that should be tested by the individual. Sorry if there are any typos!

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