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First of all, there are many differences between “normal” and emotional eaters and the distinction can be very messy with lots of gray in between.
However, I do think it’s useful to have benchmarks — if only for the sake of developing awareness. If you worry you might be straddling the line between a “healthful” and “unhealthful” relationship with food, scan this real quick:
“Normal” eaters eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. And by hungry I mean physically hungry in their stomachs, not just hungry in their heads. I know what you’re thinking — “but I’m hungry ALL the time!” No you’re not. Your emotions are hungry all the time. You’re hungry 2 to 4 times per day depending on what you’re eating.
Emotional eaters obsess about what they’ve eaten in the past or what they plan to eat in the future rather than staying present to what’s actually happening in reality (i.e. Life). If you spend an inordinate amount of time feeling guilty about something you’ve eaten in the past or anxious about how you’re going to eat in the future, you’re food choices are likely driven by your emotions rather than your physical needs.
“Normal” eaters eat real meals. Because “normal” eaters actually wait until they’re hungry (or at least until proper mealtimes) to sit down and eat something, they generally eat fully satisfying meals including multiple food groups in a sitting. Emotional eaters, on the other hand, tend to graze all day and may not eat a “real meal” until socially required to do so.
Normal eaters don’t “sneak eat.” Normal eaters are not ashamed of what they’re eating, nor do they care if someone walks in on them eating their favorite foods. They can eat at a restaurant without worrying that they're being judged. A wise friend recently said to me, “I know I’m eating emotionally if I’m mortified at the thought of somebody catching me.”
“Normal” eaters eat their food sitting down, on a plate, with utensils. They honor the food their eating with an average of 10 to 30 minutes of attention and generally eat with a sense of dignity (rather than quickly shoving food in their mouths, so they can pretend it never happened).
If this does not describe your relationship with food, I highly recommend that you download my free guide How Not To Eat Chocolate Cake ASAP.
For the record, this list is only meant to provide some food for thought — it is not meant to be prescriptive. At the end of the day, what matters most is how you feel.
Do you feel free with food or do you feel constricted? Is your relationship with food nourishing or is it a source of stress?
Only you can answer these most important questions for yourself.