Does anyone really know what normal eating is? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? I’ve talked to hundreds of people about this subject and by the time we fully discuss what constitutes healthy, normal eating, even those who initially say, “Yeah, I eat normally,” eventually face the fact that they are just as messed up as the rest of us.
I have a girlfriend who is slim and healthy. She eats exactly three meals a day, no snacking. She is regimented about her food intake, and to the untrained eye, she would be a “normal” eater, but really she isn’t; at least her way of eating isn’t something that has come naturally to her. She’s trained herself to be a normal eater. She doesn’t crave snacks, and her three meals are substantial, but it’s a regimen that is self-imposed. Wait a minute…maybe that’s what we all need to do to get to normal. Maybe she’s on to something. She doesn’t have anxiety around her food – she’s figured out a system that works for her. Let’s get to that in a minute.
The other friend I’m thinking of is likewise a teeny gal who does think about every morsel she puts in her mouth. She’s obsessive. Come to think of it, so am I. So are countless others. We are not alone. So what the heck? And of course there are those who don’t think at all about the food they throw in their bodies. It’s a chore, something to check off the to-do list. Whatever’s easy, cheap, available – that’s what’s for dinner. How did we get so seriously messed up?
Here’s the thing: Evolution is so far behind technology that we’re kind of doomed. Back in the old hunter/gatherer days, we ate as much as we could when we could because, let’s face it, mastodons were hard to come by. We also didn’t move much except to hunt and gather because why would we waste those precious calories? Then agriculture came on the scene, a mere 11,000 years ago, which gave us a more controllable supply of food, but there were still lots of lean times, and so our bodies became accustomed to eating when they could and conserving when necessary.
Let’s put 11,000 years in perspective. If you imagine that the time on earth of modern human beings is one hour, the time elapsed since agriculture became a thing is four and a half minutes. (Thank you, Tom Standage, for that awesome analogy). Yes, humans are adaptable, but not that adaptable. Evolution doesn’t happen overnight, but technology seems to have.
What we’re living with now, at least here in the west, is an abundance of food. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful, a lot of it is bad for us. We eat because it’s there. We don’t move our bodies enough because the motivation to do so isn’t there. So those who restrict their food intake and obsess about nutrients, calories, and fat content, who go to the gym, or run, or burn calories in whatever way they see fit, are doing so because they’re fighting biology. They’re also heeding the siren call of marketers and mass media to look a certain way, and that can be a huge motivator for moving bodies that are programmed to chill ‘n Netflix and conserve calories.
I’m starting to think that my friend is right – maybe we actually do need to train ourselves to eat normally. By figuring out what works for our bodies calorie-wise, what we need given our activity level, what we need nutrient-wise, what we like to eat, and what fits in to our lifestyle, we can create a standard for eating that is our normal. Eventually, over time, as it did for my friend, it will become natural – it will be as close to normal as I believe we can get.
Sigh…it was so much simpler 11,000 years ago.