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What is “Normal” and Why Do We Care?

Before we can talk about how to get back to ‘normal’ in our diets or eating habits, we first need to establish what normal actually is and why it concerns us.

Of course, the word ‘normal’ carries with it a huge amount of emotional baggage and not all of it has anything to do with food or weight. For some of us, being labelled as normal is something of an insult. We don’t want to be normal, and resist any attempt to stick us in that basket. Normal somehow equates to boring and ordinary and seems to lack any possibility of ever being extraordinary or amazing. As a teenager I hated the idea of being normal. Well okay, maybe I’m still a bit like that today :-). Unfortunately for those parents out there, most teenagers feel like that way too. There seems to be something in our makeup that strives to be independent and not follow everyone else – even when it’s important we do.

But for other people – sometimes afflicted with a specific condition or unwelcome challenges in life – normal is what they crave more than anything else. They work all their lives to get there, or go to extreme lengths to just be considered normal. Being normal, achieving a normal life is an achievement in itself.

And then there’s the other argument: that there’s no such thing as normal. This statement is more related to mathematics and statistics than anything else. It’s a clever way of presenting a more obvious conclusion: we’re all individuals.

Which is absolutely true. We are all individuals – and that’s something to be proud of. On some days we do the same actions or agree with a host of other people – on different days, we’re way out on our own limb, with nobody else in sight. And you know what? That’s all okay. That’s just what being human is about.

It might sound like I’ve strayed off the topic here, but I need to talk about normal first before I start talking about how “normal” and eating habits are related. Because these can be particularly tricky, laden with emotion and laced with all sorts of guilt. It’s a bit like walking tip-toe through a mine-field – without a map!

In my post, Have Years of Dieting Ruined “Normal”?, I talk about how diets and obsessions about food can completely screw up your ability to look at food without an acute awareness of its history. This is the mine-field. No matter how carefully and deliberately you set out your eating plan, you inevitably come across something that triggers a reaction from diets past.

So before we can go any further in discussing how to establish ‘normal’ in relation to food, we need to define exactly what it is.

I believe normal in this context means an eating plan (or diet or behaviour – whichever you prefer) which:

  • Contains all the nutrients required to supply the body with energy to survive.
  • Quantity of food is directly proportional to the amount of energy expended
  • Contains foods that are eaten purely for pleasure – on an occasional basis
  • Is absent of emotional connection to the food within it

You’d be surprised just how many people eat exactly like this. People who have never had a poor relationship to food, who’ve never really thought about it, who’ve never had any real issue with weight. They eat when they’re hungry, they eat the food their body tells them to eat, they stop when they’ve had enough and they eat burgers and chocolate whenever they want to – which isn’t often. Their weight fluctuates up or down a kilo here and there, but as long as they continue to maintain a good exercise program, they’re not likely to put on much weight over any given year.

This is my dream of normal. This is what I aspire to do. I want to have that relationship to food – because it’s the healthiest relationship you can have. It’s the one where you can have chocolate when you feel like it, but your average daily meals are filled with goodness. Where you don’t pig out on pizza because you had a bad day. Living this kind of normal means I can live without food and diet misery – and that’s all I want.

I’m going to talk a lot more about goal setting in another post – but the first step of any achievable goal is to know where you want to go before you try to get there.

What do you think? Is this what we should call normal? Do you now people who eat like this? Do your goals differ?

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