Why you should aim for normal eating

Believe it or not, one of the biggest predictors of regaining weight following weight loss is possessing what psychologists call a ‘dichotomous thinking style’. This means that the person tends to view things in all or nothing terms: things are either good or bad, on or off, right or wrong, winning or losing, depriving or bingeing. What this thinking style lacks is balance, a middle ground. Unfortunately, this thinking style can easily creep in following attempts to lose weight and become more healthful.

We all know that weight loss and healthy changes involve some sacrifice and restriction. With all the best intentions, we resolve to be strict in our eating with rules and bans on ‘naughty foods’. Inevitably, this leads to a sense of deprivation. The pressure and cravings build until we crack under the pressure. Our inner weight loss saboteur makes the final blow by saying “You’ve just gorged yourself on banana bread, your whole day of good eating is spoilt! You may as well let loose today and start fresh tomorrow”. We all know how this story ends: we don’t start again tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next day. This only leaves us more convinced that being strict is the answer.

This swing between all or nothing influences our mental approach to ourselves, eating and exercise. I have had countless women recount this same experience to me, which has resulted in difficulty finding balance in their thinking and actions. There’s no surprise that this leads to lots of emotional distress and not much change on the scales.

Balance is the answer

Bringing our eating choices into the middle ground is a way prevent this sabotaging dichotomous thinking style from taking hold. Being too restrictive will only work against our efforts to change and will increase the pendulum swing from one extreme to the other.

What is this middle ground you ask? Simple.

Eat normally!

Sound easy? When I ask my clients what normal eating is, they usually respond with a puzzled look and the same three words: “I don’t know”.

Normal eating is being able to eat when you’re hungry and continue eating until you are satisfied. It is knowing when you are hungry. It is being able to choose food you like and not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to use some moderate constraint in your food selection to get the right foods, but not being so restrictive that you miss out on pleasurable foods (and consequently feel deprived!). Normal eating is giving yourself permission to sometimes eat something because you’re happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is three meals a day, or choosing to graze. It’s leaving some biscuits on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it’s eating more now because they taste so so good when they’re fresh.

Normal eating is overeating at times and feeling uncomfortable. It is also undereating at times, and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your lapses in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but it keeps its place as only one important area of your life. It doesn’t dominate your thoughts.

Normal eating is flexible and balanced. It varies in response to your emotions, your schedule, your hunger, and your proximity to food.

If we aim for this middle ground, we can prevent ourselves getting stuck in the battle between restricting and blow-outs. By eating normally, you are saying no to restrictive rules and expecting perfection. You are winning the battle against dichotomous thinking.

Aim for normal eating. Remember, balance is key. Dichotomous thinking is the enemy.