What are valid reasons to eat?
I’ll start with finding a term that feels good for describing eating patterns. There are a couple of terms that get thrown around in the eating disorder recovery world, and also in health and wellness. I want to talk about these. I'm not sure if you've heard of them before or not, but one is called normative eating.
Normative eating is the idea that you're not binging, you're not having a lot of restriction, you're just eating a normal amount. I get the reason that term is used, because rather than assigning a certain amount that is the correct amount, you're able to eat with ease and just eat normally. I think that erases a lot of the valid reasons to eat and the average normal eating pattern isn't necessarily the most supportive anyway. Many people are part of the clean plate club so they eat everything on their plate. That's very normative in our culture, but not necessarily supportive to the person who's just cleaning the plate and not eating in the way that's attuned to their body.
My preference is a term called resonant eating. Resonant eating is eating in a way that resonates for you. This is really helpful to help shift your thinking in this way, because we are so mired in diet culture. Diet culture is the idea that thin is the ideal, that you are only healthy and beautiful if you're thin, and that we should all be striving to be thin (restricting/dieting) and meet this ideal beauty standard all the time. Diet culture actually has racist roots. It's rooted in white supremacy and it's also oppressive to all of us. The idea that your value and your worth is tied at all to your size and that you need to be thin to be healthy is harmful to everyone. We're all steeped in that just living in this oppressive system so it's hard sometimes to see things from a different perspective. We're going to try to kick diet culture to the curb here and think about resonant eating for a little while.
What are valid reasons to eat? Well, what I don't think is valid is expecting yourself to use food as fuel all the time, you are not a machine. We all live in a culture where food is very significant. There are a lot of aspects to your relationship with food that are dishonored by the idea that it should only be used as fuel. Instead, we're going to look holistically at a few valid/resonate reasons to eat.
The litmus test that I like to use is asking yourself, does this feel nurturing? Food is meant to be nourishing but also nurturing.
Recognize that soothing is very normative eating as well. It's very normative in our culture and it works- it is absolutely soothing. It's valid. The key is not beating yourself up and also having other ways that you nurture yourself. Again, ask yourself, Does this feel nurturing? A lot of times it has to do with the trends of how often you're eating in those ways. Are you eating using food to soothe every single day? That's going to start to not feel very nurturing, and not feel very aligned, because it's not eating in a way that's attuned to our body.
Another key is, do I feel well nourished? Is this a nurturing interaction with food or a nurturing way of using food consistently? Am I eating in a way that's attuned to my body? Now, again, when you're mired in diet culture, you might be thinking, Oh, I'm only eating when I'm attuned to my body, if I'm eating vegetables, if I'm eating a perfectly balanced meal, or if I eat the perfect amount. That’s not attuned eating because that is hyper focused on controlling food, and not looking holistically at all your needs and desires. That is looking at it from the outside, like a list of acceptable behaviors, rather than checking in with your body and asking how does this actually feel in my body?
Some additional questions you might ask yourself to see if you are experiencing resonant eating- Are you generally feeling well nourished? Do you have vitality? Do you have energy? Do you get a variety of food? Do you feed yourself regularly and well? Do you feel nurtured in your relationship with food? Are you eating foods that bring you joy and satisfaction? Are you eating consistently enough that you feel really cared for? Are you able to receive food from other people? Are you eating joyfully? Are you satisfied with your food? Can you use food to soothe and not beat yourself up about that?
Download your free hunger scale now!
The first step to healing our relationship with food is reconnecting with the signals our body gives us. One of the ways to do that is by checking in with your hunger before you eat. Here's my spin on the traditional hunger scale.