People being treated for eating disorders often believe that they're more dysfunctional than they actually are. Invariably, I find myself showing patients that many of their behaviors they consider unique or even weird are also experienced by people who don't have eating disorders.
Most articles discussing the differences between thin and overweight people focus on the things that thin people do differently from overweight people. But what do thinner people have in common with those who have problems with their eating and weight?
Here are some of the most common misperceptions my patients have about normal eaters:
• They never overeat. The truth is that most people sometimes overeat. It's normal. Those people who consider their health and fitness a priority, however, do pay attention to when they have overeaten and compensate.
• They don't crave sweets. Sweet tastes are particularly pleasurable to humans, and most people have cravings. But normal eaters doesn't panic or get anxious about it. In fact, they will readily admit they're having a craving since they see no shame in it. Then they will satisfy it as soon as possible by getting what they want instead of some unsatisfying substitute, and proceed to savor every bite.
• They have healthy diets. The truth is that just because someone does not appear overweight doesn't mean that they eat properly. Some overweight people have more nutritious diets than some thinner people.
• They exercise. Unfortunately, most Americans do not exercise regularly.
• They eat only when they're hungry. Normal eaters usually don't eat when they're not hungry, but sometimes they do. If this were not the case, we wouldn't have desserts.
• They never gain weight or have to watch their weight. People who successfully manage their weight do experience fluctuations. It's normal. Most people who don't have eating problems have a weight range that their body goes through. They don't obsess about it, but recognize that shifts can occur due to eating out, being on vacation, or having to miss a usual exercise program. Others will note a weight change, its cause, and then calmly set about correcting the behavior.
• They never lose control of eating. Most people have experienced times where they've felt out of control with their eating after being ravenously hungry. A normal eating person might refer to this as simply "pigging out." Maybe they got ravenously hungry after missing a meal, or were tempted by a holiday meal, and ate too much. Then it's over. The emotional roller coaster that bingers put themselves through when they lose control causes binges that can continue long past an initial pig-out.
Understanding that "normal" eaters aren't perfect eaters can be a relief to those with food and weight problems. It helps them resolve their eating issues sooner when they know they're not so different after all.
"Normal" eaters that are mindful of their health pay attention to the behaviors that can take them in the wrong direction. They do it with a relaxed mind, however. They use concern rather than self-punishment and strive for improvement rather than perfection. A good average is all that's necessary.
Expecting your behavior to be perfect and thinking your imperfections set you apart only lead to low self-esteem, frustration and giving up on achieving health and fitness. So let's all strive for good health while accepting our imperfections. After all, they're only normal.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be contacted through her website, www.FatMatters.com, or at (813) 240-9557.