Plate and forks

What is Normal Eating?

Normal eating is being able to eat when you are hungry and continue eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it — not just stop eating because you think you should.. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is three meals a day, most of the time, but it can also be choosing to munch along. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful when they are fresh. Normal eating is overeating and, at times: feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. It is also undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your emotions, your schedule, your hunger, and your proximity to food.

From “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” (Kelcy Press, 1999)

Hunger and Satiety Scale (PDF)

One major difficulty that often comes along with an eating disorder is the loss of hunger and satiety cues. Disordered eating patterns can lead those who struggle to lose touch with what it feels like to be hungry and what it feels like to be full or satisfied after eating. The Hunger and Satiety Scale can be a useful tool for re-learning how to listen to your body’s normal hunger/fullness cues. Click Here to View Scale (PDF).


What it is… 

The term “balanced diet”, in summary, refers to having balanced meals and snacks consistently throughout the day. A typical day will include breakfast, AM snack, lunch, PM snack, dinner, and HS (before bed) snack. Building off of that, the term “balanced meal” refers to meals that consist of all the different types of foods, which includes carbohydrates, proteins, fats, dairy, vegetables/fruits, and desserts, in a range of suggested serving sizes. For example, a balanced breakfast may include 2 servings of carbohydrates, 1 serving of fruit, 1-2 servings of fat, and 1 serving of dairy. For lunch and dinner, it is suggested that meals consist of 2 servings of carbohydrates, 3 servings of protein, 1-2 servings of fat, and 1 serving of vegetables. A dessert is also often included in one of these meals. Snacks may include 2-3 servings of any of the previously mentioned categories. Of course, there are variations based on individual needs and preferences. Breakfast can include protein if you prefer, meats and dairy can be swapped for plant-based sources such as tofu or almond milk, or you may want to add an extra carbohydrate, like a roll, to your meals based on your hunger. Below are two examples of very normal, balanced meals. 

Example 1: 

Breakfast- 2 slices of toast with peanut butter, a banana, and a glass of milk

AM snack- handful of crackers dipped in hummus

Lunch- hamburger with a slice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mustard with a side salad and a glass of water or other beverage

PM snack- granola bar

Dinner- chicken with fettuccine noodles, steamed broccoli, and alfredo sauce with a slice of chocolate pie.

HS snack- bowl of popcorn and M&Ms 

Example 2:

Breakfast- bowl of hot cereal and milk topped with honey, nuts, and dried fruit

AM snack- handful (or 2) of plantain chips

Lunch- chickpea and curried vegetable stew with white rice and naan bread

PM snack- bowl of fruit and yogurt

Dinner- spicy chicken kebab on a bed of coconut rice & beans with a side of vegetable samosas and bowl of pudding

HS snack- hot chocolate and wafer cookies

If you are just beginning your recovery journey, it may be helpful to work with a dietitian to structure a meal plan and go over serving sizes. As you normalize eating a variety of foods in balanced meals and snacks consistently throughout the day, it will become more natural and you can practice making choices intuitively!

Why is balance and variety a GOOD thing?

Your body needs all the different types of foods to make energy, absorb nutrients, and maintain function.. Carbohydrates are your body’s main and PREFERRED source of energy, especially for brain function. They can also provide fiber that aids in healthy digestion, AKA good poops! Protein is essential in maintaining structures in the body including muscle, bone, enzymes, and red blood cells. The body can also use protein as a source of energy, but this is a secondary function that is used in states of food deprivation or as a medically prescribed treatment for conditions such as epilepsy. Fat is also essential as a more concentrated form of energy used when the more readily available carbohydrate energy is used up. They are also necessary for making hormones, protecting organs, and absorbing the vitamins A, D, E, and K. If your diet does not include all the essential macronutrients, your body will cease normal function and processes. Your body will also recognize any deprivation of nutrients as starvation and kick into survival mode. This will cause increased cravings and lead you to feel uncontrollable around foods, especially the ones that have been cut out. If you do not get enough carbohydrates in your diet, you may experience decreased brain function and fatigue. If you do not get enough protein, bodily structures will start to disintegrate causing brittle hair and nails, dry skin, decreased immune function, and muscle atrophy. And a deficient fat intake will cause hormonal issues such as delayed reproductive development and or/decreased function, vitamin deficiencies leading to mood disorders, intolerance to low temperatures, and increased risk of organ damage.  It may also be helpful to know how and when your body uses these macronutrients for energy. First, carbohydrates, in the form of glucose and glycogen, are used as the first source of energy. Next, the body will break down protein stores to make energy. And lastly, your body will break down fat stores to produce energy. 

Additional resources:

Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function


Protein Functions


Please note that these serving sizes may differ slightly between treatment programs and dietitians. However, this list gives a pretty good idea of what is considered “normal.” Amounts listed are equal to one serving from the group they are listed under and multiple servings may be recommended in meals. It may also help to use visuals such as your hand or common objects (shown in images below).

GRAINS GROUP: ∼2 servings per meal

1 slice bread, pancake/waffle, bagel, or tortilla 

1/2 cup dry cereal or oatmeal

1/2 cup cooked pasta, rice, quinoa, barley

VEGETABLE GROUP: ∼1 serving per meal

1 cup or large handful raw vegetables

1/2 cup cooked vegetables

Handful (around 10) French Fries

1 small potato

3/4 cup vegetable juice

FRUIT GROUP: ∼1 serving per meal

1/2 cup sliced fruit

1 medium fruit (apple, orange, banana, or peach)

1/2 grapefruit, mango, or papaya 

3/4 cup juice

1/2 cup berries or cut-up fruit 

1/2 cup canned, frozen, or cooked fruit 

1/4 cup raisins or other dried fruit

MILK GROUP: ∼1 serving per meal

8 oz. glass of cow or plant-based milk

1 cup yogurt or cottage cheese

1/2 cup evaporated milk 

1/2 cup shredded or soft cheese (ricotta, parmesan, feta)

2 oz. cheese stick

1-1/2 oz. hard cheese (Cheddar)

1/2 cup ice cream

PROTEIN GROUP: ∼1 serving per meal

3 oz. meat, poultry, fish, or meat alternative (tempeh, seitan)

2 tbsp. peanut butter

1/2 cup beans or nuts

3 eggs 

1/2 block tofu

FATS GROUP: ∼1 serving per meal

1-2 tablespoons oil, butter, salad dressing, mayo, cream cheese, nut butters

DESSERTS: ∼1 serving per day

½ cup ice cream, pudding, custard

3-4 small cookies (Oreos, Nutter Butters, Chips Ahoy)

2 medium cookies (Biscotti or cut out sugar cookies)

1 large cookie (size of full palm)

1 slice pie or cake (about 2 finger width)

1 brownie or dessert bar (size of cupped palm)


If you’re like most people, here’s how your body uses the energy it “burns” all day:

  • Basic energy needs (basal metabolism): 60 percent
  • Physical activity: 30 percent
  • Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients: 10 percent

Links to resources: