Once upon a time (before WW-II), daily life revolved around structured meals: enjoying a hearty breakfast, a dinner (at noon), and supper (at night). When women entered the workforce, eating patterns changed—lighter breakfasts and lunches, with bigger family-focused dinners. Fast forward to pre-COVID 2020, youth sports and life’s busy-ness totally disrupted dinner-times; structured meals got lost in the shuffle.
Today, our stay-at-home lifestyle has gifted many of us with time to cook breakfast, enjoy lunch, and have family dinners. Yet, many runners are feeling confused and/or uneasy about how they are eating:
“I’m sleeping until 11:00 a.m. Should I eat breakfast—or lunch—when I get up?”
“I now have easy access to food given I’m working at home. I spend too much time grazing. Seems like I am hungry all the time.”
“My eating is all over the place.. How should I be eating—what is “normal” eating?”
Sound familiar? To add a supportive framework, joy to meals, and answer the question What is normal eating?, I turn to eating authority Ellyn Satter, author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family (a book every parent should read; EllynSatter-Institute.org). Here is her definition of “normal eating”:
• Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not stopping eating just because you think you should.
That is, did you stop eating breakfast today because the oatmeal in your bowl was all gone? Or were you truly satiated? At the end of lunch, did you stop at your one-sandwich allotment, even though you wanted more? If you are “feeling hungry all the time,” you likely ARE hungry; your body is requesting more fuel. Trust it. You’ll end up eating more sooner or later, so please honor that hunger and eat more now.
• Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
That is, have you put yourself in food jail and banned “fun foods” like cookies, cupcakes, and chips, out of fear of over-eating them? Ideally, your meal plan includes 85-90% quality foods, with 10-15% fun foods. You need not eat a perfect diet to have an excellent diet. Some “fun food” in the midst of a pandemic can be, well, fun!
• Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good.
Yes, food is a way we celebrate, mourn, and entertain ourselves. Sometimes we even need a hug from food, despite being not hungry. One bowl of ice cream will not ruin your waistline nor your health forever. That said, routinely overindulging in ice cream as a means to distract yourself from life’s pain will not solve any problem. If you are using food as a drug, to not start eating can be easier than stopping once you have started.
• Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch