By Marie Dufour, RD – Interesting discussion in the NYT this morning, about what constitutes “Normal Eating.” Of course, there is no agreement. Perhaps because there is no such thing as “Normal Eating.”
NORM has two meanings, according to the dictionary.
- Standard, or model – What we should do and are expected to do.
- Average, or mode* – What we actually do and measure.
* Note: The word “mode” (as in “Apple-pie-a-la-mode”) also means “fashion” in French, a detail that is not lost on my French upbringing…
So, does our eating conflict just come from the dual meaning of the word “normal?”
Standard models abound. The USDA has worked hard to develop dietary guidelines and the MyPyramid.gov website to help us define individualized healthy standards. What is normal for me (1200 Kcal/day need) is not for my husband (2200 Kcal/day need) or our work team (3000 Kcal/day need). But Standards are not just about calories. They are also about ethnicity. Our family tends to adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet because we were reared in Europe and always grew our own vegetables. Moving to the US in our twenties, we felt that eating American-style was totally abnormal, of course. And now that we live in Paraguay, our diet of fruit, vegetables and fish seems abnormal to the locals who survive on beef, corn and mandioca. Normal standards vary around the world.
Averages vary as well and are directly related to economic status and market availability. Again, I’ll take my microsome of Paraguay because, typical of a developing country, the lines are so well drawn here. The economically disadvantaged have a tendency to be of a healthy weight, still living according to traditional norms and not touched by modern-world marketing (no food stamps here!). But the wealthy have a tendency to be overweight, and I can see them lining up at fashionable fast-food restaurants and their kids having replaced the traditional zero-calorie drinks with sodas and juices. And then, there are the legions of under-nourished (by porverty and/or alcoholism) with emaciated bodies and very, very abnormal eating.
Perhaps there is such a thing as “ Healthy Eating” although eating too much of healthy things can be unhealthy and one can still eat something classified as “unhealthy” but keep a healthy balance.
HEALTHY BALANCE … yes, that’s the concept. And it’s a concept that involves EDUCATION and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. How boring!
- Education: know what the standard is for YOU. Calorie-wise, fat and sugar-wise, protein-wise. Develop a plan that works with your daily lifestyle, ethnic background, taste, cooking abilities and budget.
- Personal responsibility: Yes, all this is WORK. But our health and that of our children warrant our attention and efforts. And if we don’t think so, well we won’t live very well for very long, and, sadly, our children’s lifespan will be even shorter than ours.
I’m no fun, I know. But neither is eating a bland diet of measured portions in a hospital bed…