What should an average day of eating look like?
It seems like a silly question to need to ask doesn’t it…what should an average day of eating look like?
Let me reassure you, feeling confused about what constitutes a normal day of eating is not silly. It actually makes a lot of sense and I can assure you that you are not alone.
But when did something so fundamental and basic become so confusing?
“I have been following various eating plans and diets on and off for years. Now that I am fed up and ready to go back to normal eating, I don’t even know what that is anymore?! How do I learn how to eat normally again?”
More and more of us feel increasingly uncertain about what the correct diet/way of eating is. This is no doubt due to the overwhelming amount of conflicting nutrition advice we are exposed to daily – via the news, social media, advertising and even health professionals.
As Registered Dietitians whose work is to help people stop dieting and rebuild a healthy relationship with food, discussing topics like “What should an average day of eating look like?” is our bread and butter.
In this article, we are going to delve into
- What should an average/normal day of eating look like?
- Top 3 qualities of a normal day of eating
- What is a perfectly balanced meal?
What does a normal day of eating look like?
Well, there are some common themes (which we will get to in a bit), but overall a normal day of eating is going to look different for each individual. Diet plans make out like we are robots that can all function on the exact same calories and timing of meals. But of course, we are humans, not robots. The eating pattern that works best for the busy working Mum with kids is going to look very different to the eating pattern that works best for the college student that is training for a triathlon. And what works best for each of these individuals will vary day-to-day, depending on their schedules, priorities and so many different factors.
The key thing about an average day of eating…it varies and is flexible.
Sidenote…whilst writing this article, I had a quick Google of the top 3 articles for “What does a normal day of eating look like?”. Sadly, but also unsurprisingly… the top results are articles that detail prescriptive meal plans, exact amounts to eat and calorie counts. This is NOT normal eating. These articles are essentially diet plans…the exact thing that gets us into the mess of not being able to remember how to eat normally in the first place and makes us feel crazy and out of control around food.
So…how do you get back to a more liberal and flexible eating pattern if you are used to rigid meal patterns?
That’s where we can use the framework of Intuitive Eating to help guide us. To be able to eat “normally” day-to-day, you will ideally:
- Get into a pattern of regular meals and snacks
- Listen and respond to your body’s hunger and fullness cues
- On each eating occasion, eat as much as you need to feel satisfied
- Eat mindfully, paying attention to the sensory experience of eating (this helps with feeling satisfied)
- Engage in self-care behaviours
- Eat foods you enjoy
- Avoid letting yourself feel deprived of foods you enjoy
- Trust your body to settle at the weight that is most natural for it, rather than trying to eat and/or exercise your way to a smaller body
Activity: try to think of someone you know who has a really normal, healthy relationship with food. They don’t diet or get hyper-focused on nutrition, they just eat a variety of foods and enjoy eating. Can you think of someone? Is their weight typically stable or up and down? What qualities does their eating pattern have?
Top 3 Qualities of a Normal Day of Eating
As I mentioned above, a normal day of eating is going to look different for each individual, but there are some common qualities and themes in what a day of eating looks like for someone with a healthy relationship with food…
- Eating Regularly
In general, most people need to eat every 3-5 hours (whilst awake) to feel their best and avoid energy dips. Some people struggle to initially hear the hunger and fullness cues, so regular eating can help to “get the hunger machine churning”. This can create a rhythm from which you can tune into those signals again and help you stay energised and meet your nutrient needs
- Eating Enough
Diets normalise restriction and eating less than our bodies need to function optimally. Eating normally means consistently eating enough food. As well as filling you up, your meals and snacks need to mentally and physically satisfy you so that you do not feel restricted. This means choosing foods that we actually enjoy eating and ensuring meals are balanced.
What is a perfectly balanced meal?
Well, there’s no such thing as it depends on the time, day and person eating.
But in general, a well-balanced meal is one which includes a source of each fat, protein, carbohydrate, and fibre. The plate-by-plate approach is a visual approach that can be a helpful guide for creating a well-balanced meal with all these elements. This approach is outlined in my free guide…
- Keeping it varied and flexible
An average day of eating is probably going to differ day-to-day and week to week. One week you might be rushed off your feet at work and so it’s uber eats and frozen meals for dinner. The next week you might have more time and incorporate more home-cooked meals. Perhaps the weekend involves more meals out than weekdays. A normal day of eating may have some common patterns in terms of eating regularly and enough food, but the what, where and how of eating will probably vary quite a bit and that’s ok!
This passage by Ellen Sattyr sums up nicely what a normal day of eating looks like…
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
It is being able to choose the food you enjoy and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should.
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.
Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good.
Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more.
Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”
Copyright © 2018 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatterInstitute.org.
Are you ready to let go of diet plans and experience a more flexible, nourishing way of eating? You can get started today using my FREE 7-step download, with an audio guide and actionable workbook.