How to Eat Like a Normal Person

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Why I quit trying to eat like a normal person, and how I finally managed to do it.

The kitchen is empty. I reach up to get at what’s left of the birthday cake on the counter. I grab what I can and shove it into my mouth just as my mother walks in. I freeze, hoping she won’t notice my bulging cheeks.

“Kelly,” she said. “You have to EAT LIKE A NORMAL PERSON.”

Heart beating like a hammer, I spent the next 20 years hiding in dark kitchens, cars, and empty classrooms, bingeing on sweets, fast food, pasta, mashed potatoes, ice cream, and bread.

Secret binges and overt overeating meant I got big young. I was the biggest kid in every one of my class photos from kindergarten through high school.

My mother and grandmother did their best to help. Weight Watchers. Deal-A-Meal. Pick-A-System. Menus and portion illustrations from nutritionist after nutritionist. Each had me eating what looked and felt like microscopic portions of pasta, ice cream, cake, and the rest of it. 1

But I felt like a bow was being pulled back in my gut with every unsatisfying, suggested portion.

One diet at a time, the bow reached its limit, and I shot like an arrow back into my old habits, eating as much as I could, and often more. 2

Today I know that I didn’t have a problem with portion size anymore than a alcoholic has a problem with glass size. I have an addiction. I can’t eat certain foods in moderation, 3 and if I do, I can’t do it for long.

Just like alcoholic’s first drink of the day, certain foods change me.

Certain foods turn me into an obsessive, uncomfortable, and distracted shadow of myself; a me that only wants to isolate, ruminate, and eat.

I’m proud to say that I eat like a normal person today, and have for some years. Want to know how I did it? I’m glad you asked…

1. I accepted that struggling to “eat like a normal person” made me want to do Eat All The Things all the time.

When I commit to eat just a smidge of certain foods, I fixate on the moment I get to have them. The rest of my life becomes the shit I need to endure in order to get my treat. This is not how I want to live my life.

2. I accepted that struggling to “eat like a normal person” was hurting me…

Trying to get “well” by dieting was at best ineffective and ultimately damaging. Physically, I always ended up heavier and less comfortable in my body on the other side. Mentally, every “failed” effort to diet leveled my self-confidence. Emotionally, I walked around feeling sorry for myself. Then when the diet tanked, I felt demoralized, ashamed, and embarrassed.

3.  …and robbing me of precious time.

I wasted YEARS trapped in a cycle of craving, obsession, feeling deprived, caving in, and feeling ashamed. 

4. I realized that struggling to eat smaller portions of certain foods was, for me, inauthentic like whoa.

Brace for it: I cannot be ME if I am actively ignoring the truth about myself. I know – shocking!

And the truth was, and is, that I am addicted to certain foods. When I embraced that, I could finally, mercifully be my whole, real self.

Empowered by the truth, I gave “eat like a normal person” a new definition:

EAT LIKE A NORMAL PERSON: to eat foods and in ways that support and nourish; to eat foods and in ways that minimize physical, mental, and emotional pain and discomfortWhy I stopped trying to eat like a normal person, and how I finally managed to do it.

Life’s gotten better since I started eating like a normal person – eating whole foods that don’t spark craving or make me want to Eat All The Things. Maintaining my health has gotten easier, as has maintaining a body I’m comfortable in.

Even with this new, improved definition, it still takes work to eat like a normal person.

To do it consistently, every day I…

1. Give myself permission to embrace what’s true for me.

I am incapable of relating to certain foods in a healthy way. This is neither good nor bad, it’s just what it is.

2. Eat the foods that make me feel like Wonder Woman.

Whole, minimally processed foods – preferably cooked by me – make my body strong and keep my head quiet.

3. Keep away from the foods that don’t.

Hyperpalatable foods – especially sweet foods – wake a desire in me that cannot be satisfied. They make my body feel like shit. They also skew my tastebuds and make whole, healthy foods taste bland and boring. Once I stopped eating hyperpalatable foods – especially sweets – my palette returned to normal, and I was able to enjoy eating whole, natural, healthy food.

4. Do the work to remember every day.

Because I’m not the wellest crayon in the box, I’m prone to forget and/or ignore the truth about who I am and what I need. To help me remember and honor what’s true for me, I write about it, talk about it with my personal training clients, and support women worldwide who are working on accepting the truth about themselves – whatever that happens to be.

Good on you for respecting whatever’s true for you today. It’s the only way to “well.” 

OMG why aren’t you following me on Facebook yet? Jesus.

Click here to hit Coffey’s FREE online workshop, Why We Sabotage Ourselves (with Food) (and What We Can Do About It)!

 

Notes:

  1. You know, so I wouldn’t feel deprived.
  2. You know, to make up for lost time.
  3. Of course, I’m physically *capable* of eating them in moderation, the problem is that I have no actual interest in doing that once the taste hits my lips, and so I say I “can’t.” Thanks for bearing with me.

Comments

  1. Karen says

    Timing. Wow. I’ve been wrestling with the Beast over my monkey brains like mad for weeks. How often? How much? Here ok, there not so much. It’s exhausting. I know, but just don’t want to accept that abstinence is the answer where the little devil is concerned. Why. Why. Why can’t I be like people who can have some monkey brains on Friday night, and not think about them again until the next appropriate time to have some? This is so hard, but having the support of others making good changes for themselves makes a big difference. Forever grateful for you, the principles and my fellow Klatchers. I can do this thing!

  2. Lori says

    You ask in this post: what is true for me today? Well – I am struggling today. I was over 300 pounds, got down to 225 and am now back up to 245 and very anxious and miserable. My 9 y.o daughter had issues of constipation, stomach aches, eczema, for several years . . .doctors prescribed miralax, fiber gummy vitamins, etc. . .none of which gave any relief; finally took her to a naturopath who suggested we try cutting out processed foods, gluten, cow’s milk, and sugar and I agreed to do it with her – and voila . . in less than a week she saw great improvement and now several months into it she is no longer the heaviest girl in her class and doesn’t have to sit on the toilet for 20-30 minutes each day . ..etc. Meanwhile, I started cheating while she was in school – a piece of cheesecake here . . . a monster cookie there . . . I just discovered your blog and am enjoying and totally relating to your experiences – so I have kept exercising 6-7 days a week at least . . .but need to gain my sanity back by knocking out the crappy food . . . again . . . . onward ho! Thanks for your inspiration – you give me hope!

  3. Elizabeth Higginbotham says

    So much truth here. And #4 says so much…Do the work to remember every day. My favorite line. Thanks!!!

  4. Jodie says

    It’s been my experience that trying to eat a one inch square of dark chocolate and making that somehow in my head to be “enough” is like Einstein said- the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. I believe losing weight and learning to love one’s self is like untying a very tight bunch of knots. It takes slow, mindful effort and the only time we “fail” is when we give up on it. Don’t throw the knotted shoe lace away- work on it. But don’t keep pulling on it when you see all that does is make the knot tighter. We need to learn how to untie ourselves with finesse and with repeated efforts and no little one inch squares of chocolate because they do in fact make those of us who are addicted to them, crazier, more tightly knotted laces! Life CAN be great without chocolate … Maybe once or twice a year but not once a day or three pieces a week. Kryptonite for superman… Don’t do it!

  5. Nora says

    Thank you for this post. It really captured exactly what I feel but could not put into words. I had bariatric surgery a year ago and as I go through this life changing process as an addict would go into recovery helpful.

  6. Meredith says

    Some mirrors reflect so clearly. I recognize and admit I am a food addict. I am still working on the strength (letting go of fear) to become abstinent. Thanks for the reminder that a clean life is a better life.

  7. Marcia says

    I have had a difficult time getting people in my life, even healthcare peeps to buy into the idea of food addiction. I started a bariatric program with the possibility of surgery to deal with my weight issue. It became clear after a few meetings with the dietitian and the psychologist that they did not give food addiction the attention it deserves. I left the bariatric program feeling pretty hopeless about dealing with my food issues. I have quit eating the foods that give me trouble in the past but trying to “eat like a normal person” does me in time and time again. I usually gain back more weight than I lost!. An article on the Nutrition Authority says “Why You May Never be Able to Eat “Normally” Again. I have come to the conclusion this is true for me. I feel grief and a sense of loss like I am losing my best friend. Anyway, I feel fortunate to have found the Pleasure Principle and Kelly Coffey. It is the first time that the message is real and bullshit free. It resonates with me and I feel hopeful for the first time in years. Thank you Coffey

  8. says

    Splendid work, as usual, Kelly. And the blog dialogue is a wonderful contribution. I have this one little issue – –

    – – I’ve seen normal, and it ain’t healthy. Normal as in, clustered around the norm for a given population. The norm for eating in our culture is (you know better than I) a nutritional/emotional/
    psychological/spiritual/ecological disaster! I don’t want to eat normal or be normal — I want to be healthy. Thanks for your help to that end, dear heart.

  9. Jeanne Watkins says

    This post is accurately describing a battle I face everyday. Once I eat certain foods I immediately start craving more of the same high calorie palatable foods (preferably sweet). Eating a small portion so that I do not “deprive” myself does not seem to help. :-/
    Thank you for the post Kelly. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    • Kelly Coffey says

      Thanks for writing, Jeanne! This is a wildly common struggle that gets laughed at and dismissed, I think in part because there’s little profit to be made on the backs of people who feel empowered to just say no, you know?
      So, no, you’re not alone. :)

  10. says

    I just wrote a blog the otherday relating to this. In the past two and half years i lost 100 lbs and in the past six months ive gained almost twenty back. The struggle for normalcy is real. There are things that Ive realized are just not to be a part of my normal (breads, processed meats, chips, dairy)when you stop eating them you like to think youa can add them back in moderately….but it doesnt work. Its like there is a threshold and once you reach it youre in graze mode.

    But Im not walking blind. I know what to do this time. Its not easy but eliminate i must!!!

  11. Sue says

    A few sweets do that to me as well as fried foods. Celebrated my friend’s Birthday Sunday and decided to get calamari – wow about half way through eating it I realized I hadn’t even registered that I was eating it — like it was my first meal after a week fast. Then my body let me know later that it doesn’t like fried foods!
    I have found that letting the experience go instead of beating myself up over it does help to not slip into the “Oh what the hell” attitude. It’s great to know that I am not alone in this fight! Also I haven’t met a “Normal” person yet – kinda like “perfect” they don’t exist. Everyone has their problems to over come. Besides who really wants to be Normal or perfect — boring!!!

  12. Margaret says

    OMG. This is so frakking true – and is something I have been dealing with in depth this week.

    I forgave myself for not being a normal eater this past weekend. Like duh! I am a food addict. That doesn’t mean I have to punish myself – I have to care for myself. I also have to recognize what and when I need to eat! No more other people deciding for me. *raspberry* They don’t know. I do.

    For example: Last night I really was hungry a few hours after dinner. Or rather, I really wanted something sweet. I sorted through my feelings and thoughts and decided “yeah you don’t really need to eat. Plus you will feel guilty. Have something to drink like your watered down juice (which I love) or your coffee to help you.” That sure did too! I felt so much better imbibing my liquids and satisfying my taste buds.

    Then bam, two hours later as I was going to bed I felt really hungry. I knew what I wanted too. Now in the past I would have considered the thing I wanted to be “bad” “taboo” something I should never ever eat as it makes me fat and how could I. Then I thought “Oh eff it”. I got one serving of that delicious what I craved for thing and felt so much better. I went to bed happy.

    I not only have to heal my body I really have to heal my mind. Last night was a caring victory.

    Take that Gollum!

  13. Abby Klein says

    Hi Kelly, remember me? Your wayward Klatcher? This blog spoke to something I am continuously dealing with. I get angry that I can’t “be like normal people” and eat moderately. I am going to redefine normal for myself, with a similar, Abby made, definition. Although yours is perfect I think there is something to defining something for yourself. Also, to realize this is something I will need to work on for the rest of my life. It will hopefully get easier, but never something I will have “gotten”. Thank you, miss you and my fellow Klatchers!

    • Kelly Coffey says

      Abby!! First, yes, absolutely redefine it for yourself so it’s perfect for you and originated in you. Second, we miss you like hell. I hope you’re well, and taking good care of you.

  14. virginia says

    Have read this and digested it a couple of times. You have really explored and understand us and I’m very grateful for that. What you’ve written has really made me stop and think. And it’s never too late to start fresh. This afternoon I chose whole, healthy food – one day at a time and one meal at a time. Thanks Kelly

  15. Lora says

    I love your emails, Kelly Coffey! And I love your webinars, too. You are so easy to relate to, because you are so darn REAL! Yesterday I made two choices that I later couldn’t believe I had made: I ordered french fries at lunch and I ordered french fries at dinner. What the what? That is just crazy. I felt terrible, both physically and emotionally, after eating that many fries. So today I sat down and journaled for an hour about yesterday’s mountain of french fries. While writing I decided that I will give up french fries cold turkey. And that decision feels amazing! Later on I remembered that I had read your email a few weeks ago that included this blog post and I decided that I must write to you. I want to tell you that your post somehow gave me permission to give up french fries, and that I am extremely grateful. Thank you!

    • Kelly Coffey says

      Lora, that’s pretty awesome. It takes balls to walk away from the things that hurt us sometimes, just because they’re familiar and we’re convinced we enjoy them when, if we’re really attention, we don’t. I’m happy for you, and excited you read my emails :)

  16. Sasha says

    Hi Kelly

    Trying to do research on why I just keep getting fat!!! I ran 18 marathons in 3 years and that seemed to be making me fat. Went to a dietician and stuck to it like glue and I just put weight on. Stopped all cardio as my trainer says just do heavy weights and eat pretty much just protien 6 times a day. I am strong and I can see muscle but now I have put more on and visably look fatter. Actually just want to cry!!! Any advise?

  17. Pat says

    I am 62 years old and have been on more diets than all of you are old! None of them have worked long term. The last one landed me in the hospital, so I gave up and am the heaviest I have ever been. I have not reached 200 pounds yet, but am fast approaching. I love your insight. I get up every day saying this will be the day that I have the epiphany that will make the thinner. I, like all of you, obsess over food. Just knowing there is a cookie in the house totally “undoes” me. I am glad I stumbled across your blog. You are able to express exactly what I am thinking. I cook healthy food and don’t use prepared food, it is all from scratch, but I have to work on sugar and carbs. For the most part, I am gluten free. It is a huge trigger. I am trying to change my goal to eating for health instead of the long range goal of how much I want to lose.

    Thanks for listening. Pat

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