I Only Look Normal

I shouldn’t say I’m looking forward to leading a normal life, because I don’t know what normal is.   Martina Navratilova

“I want to have a normal relationship with food,” I wrote, last week, in my “goal” post.  That thought and that word have been running around in my brain for a very long time now.  Normal.

I don’t know when I became “abnormal” with my eating.  I am pretty sure I was not always this way.  While I did not develop great eating habits growing up, they were “normal” eating habits, just not as healthy as they could have been.  I suspect that sometime in all my yo-yo dieting I lost my way and without even realizing it, lost any semblance of food normalcy.

I’m not sure I even know what “normal” looks like.  Or feels like.  But I know it doesn’t look like me; like this.

Here is what I think it might mean for me to have a normal relationship with food:

I would not think about food all the time.  Or, even, a lot of the time.  And when I do think about food it is good thoughts – like planning meals.  Not the “what can I eat next” or “what do I want now” or “what is calling my name” or “when is it okay for me next to eat” thoughts.  I want to spend my afternoon, or evening, not thinking about what I should or should not be eating.  I want to pick up a book or watch TV without immediately having my mind go to food.  Out, out damn thoughts!  (Yes, Lady MacBeth again.)

I want to control food instead of food controlling me.  I want to take back my power that I have seemingly given away to an inanimate object that often ends up in my stomach.  I want to “want” to eat healthy foods.  I want to think about foods as fuel or sustenance or nutrition and eat accordingly.  I want to develop healthy eating habits – habits! – that include lots of veggies and fruit and lean protein and whole grains and does not include overeating.  I want to enjoy what I eat and not feel guilty about anything I choose to put in my mouth.  But, I also want to choose to put in “good” things most of the time.  I also want to be able to indulge now and then, in moderation.  If in the moment I really want to, not just because “it’s there.”  I want to be able to handle social situations without overeating, pre-cheating, resentment, or going on a huge eating bender that lasts way longer the the event itself.

I want to live a life where food is not the focus.

I want to NOT eat when I’m not hungry.

Then there are the food “obsessions.”  The triggers or red-light foods.  Foods I crave and think about all the time way too much.  Foods I have sometimes “banned” because the longer I go without eating them the less I crave them until they seemingly give up their grip on me.  I want to figure this out.  Either conquer the obsessive notion and be able to eat everything in moderation, or, determine once and for all which foods I should just bar from my life and be happier and healthier because of it.  The former seems more “normal” but maybe the latter is MY normal.

I want to get off the roller-coaster of yo-yo dieting that has held me captive on a scream-inducing ride for entirely too long now.

But the big question, the mystery, the conundrum, the quest – how do I get my normal back?  Or find my new normal.  Because I’m pretty sure the old one is broken beyond repair.  So new is good.  New and improved.  Normal 2.0.  Normal – the sequel.  Just me and my normal.

Note:  You know what they say about great minds thinking alike:)  If you want to read some thought-provoking posts other bloggers have written along these same lines, check out these posts by Marsial, Sharon, and Ellen.



Filed under cheating/overeating, emotions/emotional issues, food, goals, history (my past), making a change, weight issues

69 responses to “I Only Look Normal

  1. Karen, It is like you take what is in my heart and write about it.
    Have a pretty day,

  2. A normal relationship with food is different for everyone because everyone has different things that they like/don’t like or eat/can’t eat.

    To find what’s normal and to get a relationship that feels normal for you all you have to do is work out what about your current patterns are NOT normal and then resolve them one at a time.

    Maybe some of your other norms will shift but that’s the only way i can see to do it.

    • Karen

      That is a pretty simple approach and I wonder if it would work for me. I do like the part about taking one thing at a time that is not normal and focusing on that. Makes it seem more doable than going for the whole shebang.

  3. I feel like I’m just starting to have a somewhat normal (for me) relationship with food. I don’t think about it 24/7! That’s a start. I think the hardest part of this journey for me was understanding that my normal might not look like somebody else’s normal. I had to find my own way, even if that meant making a new path just for me!

  4. How ironic! My post for today (will be later) also contains the word “normal.” I will say this and I think you’ll agree – blogging has certainly opened up a whole new world of thinking, processing and finding support as we all sign up for Normal 2.0!!

    I’m off for a quick trip to the grocery before our latest round of winter weather kicks in. I need black beans and chickpeas, not milk or bread….bet I won’t have any problem finding those two things in the “OMG, it’s gonna snow grocery frenzy.” LOL!

  5. I’ve got a post coming up (meaning there’s a couple of paragraphs completed) on this topic, but in a nutshell, I kind of realized I’d found my normal when I no longer thought about ‘being normal’. Does that make any sense?

    No matter what your version of normal turns out to be, I wish you great success in finding it and hearty congratulations for *wanting* to find it.

  6. Great post, Karen. I’m sort of in the same desert, wandering around. And I’m trying to let go of “fitting in” and being normal. I am me with all that implies – quirks and all. I am striving for peace.

    • Karen

      This is the normal that has nothing to do with fitting in but everything to do with fitting in my own skin, if that makes sense. It’s not the character stuff that makes us each unique. I can sorta embrace that:) It’s really just all about the abnormality of my relationship with food. I’m here, warts and all, but I want to be here and not be food crazed.

  7. Those were my words, well sorta, last week. I would love to go a day with just knowing my next meal is coming without thinking about it, hoping it’s enough, thinking waht I can do to add, change or something to it. A normal relationship would be so awesome. Keep working at it Karen and when you do learn, can you teach me too? Take care and have a blessed day.

  8. GREAT post Karen!!! I think “normal” is unique to each person… my normal is not your normal & so on BUT I so understand your thoughts here & I know you are not alone.

    Honestly, I do think about my meals a lot & I do look forward to my cookie treats on the weekend even though I am thinking about it Tuesday. I manage to survive & work my life around my crazy feeling about food. I do it well, I guess, because for me, I really like being fit AND I so don’t want to go back to the feelings I had when I was fat.

    I think for you, you know what it is all about in terms of your food relationship Karen, but you now have to start implementing some baby steps to get there. The more success you have, the more you want to continue on that successful path. Take some baby steps & before you know it – 🙂

    Hope you are feeling better!

    • Karen

      Yep, I think I need to come up with some “official” steps and put them out here. And I am feeling much better, thanks:)

  9. I think that “normal” is going to be elusive for many of us overweight/compulsive overeaters, because during our progression toward becoming an overeater (for whatever reason), our brains have also changed. As we have consumed large amounts of sugar and high volumes of food, our brains have ceased to make some chemicals, (such as dopamine) naturally, and it now looks to food for its “fix.” From what I have learned, that’s why it’s so difficut to get past the initial days/weeks of an eating plan without substances such as sugar, chocolate, etc.

    This may not be true, however, for the mildly overweight adult who just underexercises and eats some of the wrong foods. I’m talking about chronically obese people who seem to be addicted to certain types of foods and large volumes of many types of foods.

    There are many reasons that people start overeating, but according to studies, a large number of chronically obese people begin to overeat during childhood. It may be genetic, environmental, or emotional. I believe in my case, it was emotional, in an effort to soothe myself. As a result, my child brain began craving sugar at a very early age–and it still crave sugar. I think we have to work extra hard to get weight off and keep it off, but it’s not impossible! I think “normal” is different for eaach of us, and we just have to keep trying to figure it out.

    • Karen

      So here is the thing – I have never been obese and I was pretty thin as a child, only beginning to gain weight when my metabolism changed my senior year of high school. I do buy into the notion that the crap we eat does things to us and makes us crave more crap. (Did you read “The End of Overeating?) And I know, for me, when I totally cut out refined sugars and refined white bread/rice etc, I don’t want it and I eat better. But, in the last year I have certainly wondered if there is some emotional reason for my overeating. Or is it all just about bad habits. I don’t have answers. I just know it is clearly very out of whack!

      If you have a blog would you send me the link please.

  10. Well if you ever figure it out let me know- I’d like to have control over food as well. Just as it seems I have the upper hand something happens and I am once again defeated.

  11. You know, Cammy’s comment really got me to thinking. She said that she found normal when she stopped thinking about being normal. Just a thought here, but what if we ‘are’ somewhat normal? What if those of us who have these issues really are more normal than we think we are? Remember, this is not a topic that’s openly discussed, is it? But weight loss is. We could talk all day long about that to just about anyone and it would be considered perfectly acceptable conversation. But, compulsion? feelings of inadequacy? obsession – over food?? Who discusses that? No one in my circle – but it doesn’t mean that people like us don’t exist, obviously. We need to discuss these types of things more. The more we do, the more people will feel comfortable admitting that they too have issues, or had issues and overcame them. I’m convinced there is a support group of many out there like us. We just need to shake this topic to the surface. Thank you for doing just that.

    • Karen

      Oh I think you are right – there probably are many, many people who have issues like yours and mine. So maybe normal is not the word I need to define what I am looking for in my relationship with food. I wonder if I threw people using that. You are good with words. Help me find a new one. Some people have said the want peace with food. I’m not sure that feels right to me. I think I need something for the “sane” and “rational” meanings of the word and not the “common” meaning. Now you really have me thinking!

  12. I think we constantly redefine what our normal is – with food, relationships, our career and more – as our life circumstances, and we ourselves, change. Normal with food to me used to mean the calories came first and now the healthy content trumps processed, low calorie stuff anyday. Sounds like this blog is giving you a great chance to actively think about, and receive input on, what works for you moving forward. 🙂

  13. Yep, take back our power. Agree – 100%.

  14. So…I just realized that I’m able to check your blog from school!!! HOORAY!!! You know; your post reminds me that my thoughts about food are not healthy. HUH….I’ve never really thought about it that way. You’ve given me something to ponder. Thanks!

  15. I’m with you and Lady MacBeth! I would also love to get those thoughts out of my head. I think it’s great for you to define what your goals are so specifically and realize that we have to define our own versions of normal. I also think there is something important in replacing the obsessive or negative thoughts with something better.

  16. Me, I’m not worried about being normal. I’m just worried about getting fit and looking good (to me. no one else.) Normal is a state of mind. And food will always be there, and always be important. I just, personally, have to make my control and my goals more important than the momentary food fixes that really, in all honesty, never fix anything except the few seconds it takes to eat it/them. I like being quirky. I like planning for food. I don’t see it as a problem. (my love of food.) I just have to be wiser about it. 😉

    • Karen

      I think that is where we differ – for myself, I see it as a problem. I love hearing that you don’t. It really is something that I think has to change for me to ever maintain.

  17. I used to be a smoker. Everything I did every day revolved around smoking. Driving to work meant having to light up early enough to finish before arriving. Lunch breaks came in three parts: pre-food smoke, eat, post-food smoke. Driving home from work raised the question, “Do I have enough cigarettes to get through the rest of the evening without going out?” Smoking was the first thing I thought of in the morning and the last thing I thought about at night. It was an obsession.

    When I quit smoking, food took over in the addiction department. Now I spend my days wondering what, when, and where I’m going to eat. And quite frequently I’m asking myself those questions while I’m EATING!

    Normal? I don’t know what normal is. But I’m pretty sure it’s not this.

    • Karen

      I can so see an analogy to this with smoking! And that might be a good example for me to remember when I am trying to explain to someone what I mean about food controlling me instead of me controlling food.

  18. I love this post. I feel so much the same way. Have you thought about reading Bethenny Frankel’s Naturally Thin? I’ve read most emotional eating books: Beck diet, Life is Hard, food is easy and of course Women Food and God. But Naturally Thin really struck a chord with me; it was all about you are a strong woman and don’t need anyone telling you what to do. You make the decisions. It’s just food. Stop obsessing. It was extremely helpful and I think the only reason I’ve stuck with WW (not derailed myself) in the past 6 weeks.

    • Karen

      I’ll have to check that out; thanks for telling me about it. I did read Beck last year and now that you remind me of it I am pretty sure a bit part of that book is about what a normal person is like with food.

  19. Personally, I think a new normal should be the goal. You’re a different person now than who you were during your old normal eating. We’re continuing to evolve as people every single day. So it’s about finding that balance based on who you are today, where you are, and how you are. And the thing is… that changes from day to day too.

    I definitely relate to trigger foods. In fact, I admit to ruining half a jar of way too expensive almond butter with vinegar and pepper just yesterday so that I’d quit eating it. I realized that my weight loss slowed down when I started eating nut butters again… because I can’t stay out of them… every day.

    • Karen

      I don’t think you were reading when I was writing about my own problem with nut butters, mostly peanut butter. It was a sad day when I realized I had to throw out the jar that I had and just not buy it anymore. I had resisted for a long time and I sat here reading a comment that finally hit home, got up from my computer, and tossed the jar as my wise reader told me to do. I have not had any since. In months. And, I don’t even miss it anymore. Wonder when/if I can eat it again in moderation.

  20. I just want to be NORMAL with anything at this point in my life. smile

  21. You do a great job giving thought to what a normal relationship with food would be like. Or maybe the right word is an ‘optimal’ relationship with food. But your point is noted, call it whatever we choose, we want to be in control and focus on what we desire; and food should not be near the top of any list of things we desire.

    Excatly how you get it back eludes me too, but I believe getting it starts with wanting it bad enough. If we truly want it, we’ll make the changes necessary to get it….

    You know what, maybe that last bit I wrote there is hogwash. We can become disciplined enough to implement any behavior we want to adopt. Adopting a better/optimal relationship with food is doable, no doubt. but just because we do adopt the behavior, does not mean we will stop desiring food in a way we know we shouldn’t use it. The human mind is not that easily re-wired to where we can really change our desires. We can over-ride those desires and act differently, but if at our core we desire bad food, then, well we may always desire it. Thus, our aim is to deal with that desire and be able to keep it at bay.

    Long comment short, this is not an easy fix; and we ought to realize that or we are setting ourselves up for frustration, failure and a life of yo-yo’itis. Sorry if this comment is not my usual positive spin on a topic. Felt a bress-tacks reply fit this topic best.

    That said, Have a Great Day! 🙂

    • Karen

      Optimal! That is a great word. Up above I responded to a comment that maybe normal was not what I wanted to say to describe what I want/envision. I think it is complicated. At least for me. Because the truth is that I have reached my goal weight at some point every year for the past three or more years and regained some or all of the weight I lost each time. I don’t think it is about wanting it bad enough, for me. I don’t think. But I don’t know what it is about. I think somewhere along the way I screwed up my normal by constantly dieting and making food a bigger deal in my life. If that makes sense.

  22. I think that a good way to think of food is as fuel for your body. That way it has a purpose, and you start thinking about food quality too.

  23. i find your blog very inspiring and it is helping me alot with my own weightloss issues so thnk you

  24. Lisa T

    Very thought-provoking post. One thing that struck me as I was reading was this sentence:

    I want to NOT eat when I’m not hungry.

    You are a good writer, so I’m sure the choice of a double negative, rather than an affirmative statement was a deliberate choice. I wonder, however, if focusing on what you do want (I want to eat only when I am hungry.) rather than what you don’t want might be more powerful.

    You also stated a lot of things you do want, but for me that sentence and the fact that you let it stand out there on its own rather than as part of the rest of your statements about what your normal might look like, really seemed significant.

    • Karen

      Ah, you are smart to zoom in on that! Yes, it stands alone intentionally – it is a big piece for me. And, yes, it is most definitely intended to be the negative wording. Because for me, the meaning is exactly what I said. Not wanting to eat when I’m not hungry. I guess I could rephrase and say I want to only eat when I am physically hungry. But that somehow does not capture the feeling as well to my messed up mind. It truly is when I am not hungry that I have my issues.

  25. Since you’re not 300 pounds, you must not just think about food, but battle yourself about food all the time. If you were giving in, you’d be much heavier…
    I felt tired just reading this small bit of your process.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy answer, something you could DO, some steps you could complete to conquer this mountain?
    I always think that if I was just already “thin” I could maintain it. I’d be so happy to just workout all day if that’s what it took… But you make me think twice. If the mental game isn’t fixed, it’s still torture.
    I know there are a zillion reasons for each person to be addicted to food…
    But have you eliminated all possibilities of vitamin deficiencies or hormonal imbalances that you might be self-medicating for?
    Food allergies, etc…
    I just started progesterone because mine was so low. I’m on it for my anxiety, but anxiety is one huge reason I eat, and I’m finding that more often than I used to… I have a choice about overeating. I have just enough more strength to think before I crave…
    Just a thought…

    • Karen

      I have never considered vitamin deficiencies or hormone imbalances. Hmmm. I don’t think I have food allergies since several years ago I went on a dietitian supervised elimination diet when I was having some gastrointestinal problems. (BTW – I was thin then.) Now, food intolerance is harder to figure out and I have wondered about those.

      You may find it easy (relatively) to maintain. Lots of people manage to do it. The fact that I can’t surely is indicative of something. But I don’t know what. Sigh.

  26. I think for me knowing I can have some particular food if I choose to takes a lot of the allure out of it. One thing I do know is that even normal weight people can have an abnormal relationship with food.

  27. ‘Normal’ with food would be great, but I wonder if with my addictive personality if I would be in trouble of a more serious or illegal nature without food. As it is, I’m not sure I will ever shake my food addiction completely, but I guess learning to live with it and not let it run my life is the key…

    Polar’s Mom

  28. You know how I feel about this (for me it’s about not needing control)…and I have to agree with Ellen’s comment about Cammy’s comment. What IS normal anyway? And what if we stopped obsessing about it (normal)? And as I write this I realize that asking that of you is sort of like asking me, “what if you stopped being anxious about other people throwing up?” Yeah, it’s nice to think about but I can’t *imagine* actually being that way…

    Anyway, excellent post…great discussion!

    Oh, and I’ll say it again, if you haven’t had your hormones/adrenals/thyroid checked by someone who’s looking at the whole picture (not just discrete symptoms) I highly suggest it! I know that getting this stuff in balance has had a big impact on my cravings and “false” hunger.

    • Karen

      You are the second person to mention hormones. Hmm. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an answer for me. And, yes, I think your analogy is correct:) Easier said than done.

  29. Very well said…I’ve been ‘thinking’ a similar post for a while, but haven’t been about to quite articulate it. Now I don’t have to. You said it for me.

  30. I have finally decided that it is the food surrounding me that is abnormal, not me. My body does not thrive on wheat, grains, starches, sugars, etc. When I eliminate those from my food intake, my obsession with food disappears; my hunger goes away. And, I expect if I stick with this long enough, my cholesterol will drop back to normal, my plateaus will cease, and I will stop dieting forever as I find balance in the foods that sustain my health.

    But I could just be blowing smoke…. Though I don’t think so.

    • Karen

      Oh I absolutely think there is something to that. For me. When I have been very stringent about eating “good” foods for a period of time, the cravings do go away. And maybe the obsession lessens. Maybe. But somehow in my mind “normal” always included being able to splurge now and then like for a dinner out or social event or birthday. Doesn’t that seem normal? But, maybe that has been my mistake – maybe for me, I just need to cut it out and keep it out and accept that as what will make normal happen for me.

      • Jan

        Oh! It is normal to celebrate by eating special foods! And, I do not intend to limit any food (except ice cream), but those are now for special occasions, and I have to remind myself that going out to get the mail isn’t a special occasion 😉

  31. Nicole

    Love this post Karen. I really relate to it. Your writing is exactly how I am feeling. Thank you. 🙂

  32. Hmm, I will send you a question through your e mail account. Michele

  33. This post spoke to me so clearly. I feel like this is just where I am at…trying to find my normal. Thanks for putting into words the thoughts that have been rattling around my head.

  34. great question, who knows what “normal” is really, does anyone? i think the important thing is not to compare yourself, or your diet, to anyone elses. thanks again for another great post. now that i have internet again i’m looking forward to catching up! 🙂

  35. D

    This post could have been written by me…my thoughts exactly. I’m not sure if I will ever be “normal” but I know that I am getting “normaller” 🙂 . Learning and practicing learning is the key.

  36. Hi Karen! Congrats for writing such an honest post–people have had a lot to say about it! I agree with much of what has already been said. I struggle with these issues too, at times. Just this week I’ve starting planning my meals and posting it on the fridge. it’s taken away that “I’m standing in front of the fridge” anxiety and for whatever reason I’m not as tempted to give into cravings to eat out.

    I wish there was an easy fix. I guess for each of us it’s finding habits that protect us from our impulses, and keeping the willingness to try new things. Good luck! I am sure your hard work will pay off–it already has )

  37. I’ve excepted that I’ll never have a healthy relationship with food but I am working on having a better relationship with food. I want to have a 90% healthy relationship and not feel guilty about the 10%. The problem now is that I’m letting the 10% get to me.

  38. Even after successfully losing my weight these obsessions and cravings have never left. I still have terrible needs to eat in the afternoon especially if I am at work and stressed. However, it is controllable I found it was so much easier after losing my weight because I am so happy.

  39. Genie@dietof51


    Me and my mini-normal?

    Darn it, we both adore candy bars!



  40. If having a normal relationship with food doesn’t come naturally, which for many of us is true, then I think we have to set up some guidelines and rules for ourselves surrounding food.

    Nothing can change until we take action and make it so. It isn’t easy, it takes work to change our thinking and our habits.

  41. Popped over from the Lady Bloggers Tea Party to say hi *waves*. Great post. You’re so right, new is good. And so I wish you the very best of luck with your new normal 🙂

  42. Pingback: the things you learn …

  43. From one great mind to a greater one…haha…thanks for the mention. I’m just getting around to catching up with everyone’s posts from the last week. Now that I’m up and running with the new computer, I hope I can keep up with posts and comments on a more frequent basis.

    In reading the comments, I noticed that some people were uncertain that “normal” was the correct word to use to describe a condition we aspire to…a state of body and mind in which we do not feel ruled by food. Whatever one wants to call it, those of us who suffer from it know what we are talking about. I can remember being a skinny little girl and loving my meals because food was just food. The only other time in my life I felt that way was for about 5 years in my 30’s when I weighed about 140, exercised daily, and ate anything I wanted. That, to me, was normal. Although I’ve had a good start at knocking off these extra pounds, I still think with every bite I eat, “Am I going to pay for this when I weigh myself tomorrow?” And that is NOT the normal that I want for myself.

    • Karen

      Funny you picked up on that because I made a note to myself to do another whole post on that choice of word. Maybe I’ll even do it! I agree with you – those who know what I meant are those who could identify with it from personal experience. But I can understand why a different word might make more sense. Still letting this reverberate in my mind as I think through where I would go with a post.

  44. Karen, I missed this post while away from home… glad I scrolled down the reader today and found it. What a brave exercise to explore “normal.” I’m proud of you… and thanks for the links at the end. I’ll read the other gazillion cmments and check the links after writing this.

    But first, about “normal.” That’s a huge topic for all of human behaviour… anthropologists, psychologists, historians, physicians, sociologists, etc…. all have tackled this subject. And has anybody found THE answer? I think not. The best we can do is struggle as you have to find your own answer. You challenge me with this… I shall work on it.

    PS… Re your comment on Mom & Me, you’re lucky to still have a mom in good mental and physical health. I encourage you to TALK with her about HER concept of normal regarding food… now, while you still can.

    • Karen

      I drafted a follow-up post today about that word. I think normal means something for me that is sorta clear in my mind but may not be well defined for others by that word. Your point is very valid.

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