Getting good at eating.

When I was recovering from dieting, I was terribly conflicted about how to eat. I went through a period where I ate chocolate by the box, and then stopped paying attention to nutrition entirely for several years, because it was too fraught for me. Eventually, I got to the point where I alternated between undereating and overeating because I just had no idea what to do.

During that time, I encountered Ellyn Satter’s approach to nutrition in the first book I read on fat acceptance, Losing It by Laura Fraser. Reading that book brought me the realization that I no longer wanted to diet, and, because of the interview with Ellyn Satter, I also realized I wanted to work in nutrition, helping people to overcome chronic dieting and disordered eating.

So, just the other day, a conversation on one of Lesley’s posts at Fatshionista brought me to the point where I had to introduce the idea of eating competence.

A lot of what I’ve written on this blog has been leading, slowly, up to this. But I haven’t broached it yet, because it’s been critical for me to first build the foundational argument that it is your right as an adult to eat whatever, and however you want.

And that it’s no one’s business to tell you to do otherwise. End of story.

So, what of eating competence? Also known as ecSatter, it’s a concept developed by Ellyn Satter (and protected by her — this will become important later) that’s based on her clinical observations of how people who do well with eating…eat:

I consistently found prescriptive dietary interventions to undermine my patients’ foodways, to destroy their ability to intuitively regulate food intake, to worsen their nutritional status and to spoil their attitudes about eating. Because eating is so central to life, my patients were not only demoralized about eating, they were demoralized overall. Because it was so glaringly clear to me that the harm far outweighed the benefit, I changed my ways. Rather than trying to control or subvert their natural tendencies to regularly provide themselves with ample and enjoyable food, I learned to build on those tendencies by emphasizing permission and discipline:

  • The permission to choose enjoyable food and eat it in satisfying amounts.

Basically, eating competence describes how “normal” eaters eat. It’s descriptive in that sense, and prescriptive only for those people who are uncomfortable with their current eating, or who worry about their nutrition and health, and seek to make a dietary change.

People who already feel they are doing fine? Excellent.

This is not a set of “shoulds,” nor is it a prescription to change the way you currently eat. Discard at your leisure.

But the people who come to me to learn to eat don’t feel they’re doing fine. They have considerable anxiety around food, and feel lost or resentful when it comes to nutrition. And the purpose of my work is to help them get good at eating.

I do that by using the best-researched approach available, which is the eating competence model — and, not, incidentally, Weight Watchers:

Even Weight Watchers, which many people tout as the best of the diet centers because of its reliance on real, fresh food and flexible menu choices, doesn’t help people learn to develop a sense of inner competence about eating. ‘What it comes down to is the issue of trust versus control,’ says the nutritionist Ellyn Satter…who treats what she calls ‘dieting casualties’ in her practice. She believes that people need to learn to trust that they will get full, even on food they consider highly desirable, and know that they can reliably regulate their own food intake, rather than depending on outside rules to manage those choices. ‘Weight Watchers is pretty good at liberalizing food choices, teaching people how to eat attentively, and encouraging them to increase the variety of food in their diet,’ says Satter. ‘But it’s still fundamentally a control stance they use.’ When people rely on outside rules, scales, and diet cops to regulate their eating, their relationship to food remains brittle.

-Laura Fraser, Losing It

As it turns out, there are four factors that comprise eating competence:

  1. A good attitude toward food and eating. People with good eating competence enjoy eating, and they don’t feel guilty about either food or their enjoyment of food. They are pretty relaxed about it.
  2. They are also decent at trying new things, and at eating not-super-favourite foods when the situation calls for it. They are not afraid of food — even “unhealthy” food — and, as such, they manage to eat a decent variety.
  3. They are pretty good at internally regulating how much they eat. They can feel hunger. They can feel satiety. They can comfortably eat until they are truly satisfied, both physically and emotionally.
  4. They plan ahead to feed themselves. They do the work necessary to ensure there is food on hand, and they have regular meals. They give some thought to nutrition, as well as taste, when selecting food. They make the time to eat, and to give some attention to their food while eating.

What are the outcomes for people who tend to eat this way? Well, they tend to have stable body weights (even if they are fat.) They also tend to have better blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, which translates into a lower risk of heart disease.

The basis of Ellyn Satter’s message is that good nutrition depends on the enjoyment of food, first and foremost. She is famous for saying, “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.”

From the perspective of ecSatter, enjoyment and pleasure are primary motivators for food selection, and nutritional excellence is supported by enjoyment and learned food preference based on subjective reward from eating.

J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007 Sep-Oct;39(5 Suppl):S142-53.

That’s why, when it comes to teaching people eating competence, the first priority is to enhance their enjoyment of food, and reduce their anxiety and guilt about eating — before any thought to nutrition enters the picture.

Population food surveys have consistently shown that people’s first priority in selecting food is how it tastes. This is not going to change just because the nutrition establishment thinks it should — instead of fighting against people’s desire to eat pleasurable food, the eating competence model works with it.

And, instead of fighting against your own body’s natural weight tendencies, eating competence also endorses self acceptance.

This has just been a brief introduction to the concept. We’ll discuss it in more detail in posts to come.

Pelt me with rotten (or sundried) tomatoes in comments.





111 responses to “Getting good at eating.”

  1. Meems Avatar

    I don’t know that I totally eat normally yet, but learning about intuitive/competent eating has made a huge difference in how I feed my body. I still struggle with eating enough fruits and vegetables, but it was a huge revelation to me that I don’t have to finish everything on my plate and that richer foods (like fetuccini alfredo, which I’ve always loved) are satisfying in smaller portions.

  2. living400lbs Avatar

    I went through a period where I ate chocolate by the box, and then stopped paying attention to nutrition entirely for several years, because it was too fraught for me, and then, eventually, alternating between undereating and overeating because I just had no idea what to do.

    OMG yes. I did this when I got my first apartment. For the first time in my life I could eat whatever I wanted without comment or approval or disapproval from others. I could even NOT eat if I chose, and I frequently did – at least in the evenings when I was alone. I not only didn’t know how to deal with food, I didn’t WANT to deal.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I not only didn’t know how to deal with food, I didn’t WANT to deal.

      I got to this point too. It was very painful, from what I recall, because I felt that, in order to escape all my confusion and shame around food, the best idea was just not to eat.

      Which I knew was totally untenable, but there you are. That’s the crisis point it can reach.

      1. living400lbs Avatar

        It was very painful, from what I recall, because I felt that, in order to escape all my confusion and shame around food, the best idea was just not to eat.

        Yep. Toss in that a consistent message I’d gotten from my parents was that “you don’t NEED to eat” and yeah, I would go days without eating.

        And then wonder why I had headaches and mood swings and felt really sick. I mean, it’s not like I was thin, so why did I need to eat? Didn’t my body have plenty?

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I mean, it’s not like I was thin, so why did I need to eat? Didn’t my body have plenty?

          The really sad part is that the vast majority of the American public seems to believe this about fat people. That we don’t NEED (or even have the right) to eat, because we are carrying around a pantry of fat.

  3. Caroline Avatar

    This definitely strikes a chord with me… I look forward to reading more!

  4. April Avatar

    What’s interesting about this post, is that reading the criteria, I’m not quite there–and I consider myself a pretty healthy eater.

    The biggest one is that I don’t plan ahead. I take Adderall for my ADHD, and it’s an appetite suppressant. It is very easy for me to forget to eat while I’m on it. Worst of all, is that even if I remember, the idea of eating is just gross. I cannot make myself eat sometimes.

    When I worked a full-time day job, it wasn’t hard to deal with it. I ate in the morning, then took my first dose. It wore out just before lunch, I’d eat a good lunch and take a second dose. It wore out as I got home, and then I’d make dinner.

    But when I’m not working? Gah. I have to remember to take it the second I’m done eating breakfast, so that it will wear off in time for me to eat before my blood sugar plummets. If I forget and take it an hour or two later, by the time it wears off I’m shaky and weird.

    And generally, I only buy enough food for a meal or two. I keep breakfast food around because I definitely can’t go without it and eat fairly large breakfasts (almost always oatmeal or cereal), but I suck at planning lunch or dinner.

    Also, in terms of eating badly when you’re no longer being watched: While working my first job, the Girl Scouts started their cookie-selling season. I was still living with my parents, but it occurred to me that I could buy my own cookies. Previously, my parents bought a few boxes and doled them out a few at a time so everyone got a fair share. Fuck that! I bought several boxes (Samoas and Tagalongs being favorites) and ate each box in one sitting, hiding the boxes under the bed. I didn’t even feel ill afterward…but I never did it again. Because I knew I didn’t have to. I could buy all the Girl Scout cookies I wanted. (Not technically true anymore, since I’m vegan and in my area every single kind of Girl Scout cookie has milk in it…but the same principle applies to any kind of yummy food.)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I take Adderall for my ADHD, and it’s an appetite suppressant. It is very easy for me to forget to eat while I’m on it. Worst of all, is that even if I remember, the idea of eating is just gross. I cannot make myself eat sometimes.

      Yeah, I can see this kind of thing causing an issue with eating. That’s why I’m careful not to hold up eating competence as a Standard Everyone Must Adhere to, because it’s quite likely that your eating is working very well for you already, depending on your unique circumstances and obstacles. You needn’t consider yourself “incompetent” by virtue of not meeting any specific criteria.

      Then there’s the added complication of the assessment test used to measure for eating competence — even if you struggle with one of the factors, it’s still possible you’d score high on ec overall. So, another reason why I don’t want people to use this definition as another reason to feel bad about their eating.

      We’ve got enough of that crap in our culture already. HAES practices (and eating competence is solidly within the HAES spectrum) aren’t intended to add to it.

      1. April Avatar

        That’s very true. I am doing pretty well overall. Thanks for the reminder.

        (As a side note–I made one of my favorite recipes last night–Vegan Mac Daddy, from the cookbook Veganomicon, and my boyfriend and I ate almost all of it, it was so good. Then we walked to the theater and watched the Trailer Park Boys movie, which was damn funny.)

      2. Lampdevil Avatar

        Medication very much has the potential to eff with your eating competence. I know I’ve started on some new meds that have thrown off my hard-won personal dietary balance. They’ve got a diuretic effect, but attempting to drink more water than I already do makes me queasy, literally. And then I have to monitor and police my overall caffiene consumption, or I’ll take a zillion bathroom trips and feel crappy. I’m currently expermenting to see if having a few gulps of sports drink throughout the day proves useful at all, and and and…

        I still seem to understand my system and my needs well enough to address them in a healthy fashion. One doesn’t have to inhabit a perfect body to have good eating habits. One simply has to know what works for you, and how to healthily work around limitations. This isn’t a contest to see who is the MOST COMPETENT OF ALL. It looks more like a good yardstick, to me. A helpful suggestion. A frame of reference.

  5. WendyRG Avatar

    Lovely, wonderful, true, as always.

  6. Mike R Avatar
    Mike R

    Great post on a great concept.

    I grew up with parents whom were obsessed with my weight. I’ve spent 6 months in diet programs (such as the Duke DFC) and have had weight loss surgery (lap band) and had it reversed 18 months later. All of this ended 4 years ago.

    I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to care. Living based upon weight loss is exhausting.

    It’s now 4 years later and I’m eating normally for the first time ever. My weight is stable or even dropping slowly and I’m at my lowest weight ever (although still quite high). Last night I biked for nearly 2 hours, just because it was fun and I felt like I needed it in order to relax. Yesterday I ate far less than most people. Today, I’ll probably eat a bit more. (A hard bike ride makes me hungry.)

    This entire eating and exercising like a normal person thing… I think I like it.

    1. Jo Avatar

      Living based upon weight loss is exhausting.

      THIS. I never got to the point of WLS, but I know this feeling.

      I started dieting long before the outside world would have said I “needed” to, and I believe it was a direct consequence of this that I started “needing” to. I am at my heaviest weight today, and I am both the happiest with my body and the most relaxed about my eating that I have ever been. I can’t believe I lost an entire decade of my life trying to be impossibly thin, only to end up fat AND happy.

      I’ve been practicing HAES for the last few years, and I’m actually enjoying both food and my life.

  7. Chris Gregory Avatar

    I’ve never dieted or struggled with my weight (I always considered being fat was a kind of professional – I’m looking for the word – consequence? Hazard? It was the inevitable consequence of deriving a lot of pleasure from food). But I am more of a social cook, so when I’ve been single or overworked I put in a much reduced effort to feed myself properly (if there’s nobody to share the food with, it’s not so fun for me. When Kate travels overseas for work I find it hard to eat dessert on my own, sweet things being a shared pleasure to me. So I usually tell my dog it’s time for an ice-cream, then I make a little cone and we go to bed and take turns licking it. When I think about it, I actually cook an awful lot for my dog…)

    The only rule I think that you need, regarding food, is to strive for variety. If I’m feeling lazy it’s easy to prepare the same thing over and over (but the more you learn to cook the less this happens). So it’s good, in those situations, to not let yourself repeat the same meal. And the main reason is that even if you’re not eating particularly well-balanced foods, the variety means you’re at least covering all the bases.

    The people I’ve known who have managed to get sick from poor diets have all been health nuts with lots of restrictive practices. The magazines tell them that they’re eating healthy foods, and they are, in a sense, but restricting whole food groups and then eating more or less the exact same thing every day is a recipe for disaster.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      The only rule I think that you need, regarding food, is to strive for variety.

      This is what I think of as the cornerstone of good nutrition. It is the only basically certain principle in nutrition. And even then, there are exceptions for people with certain health conditions who can’t tolerate a wide variety of food. Anyway, it’s the closest thing we’ve got to a universal “rule” in nutrition, and even then, I still maintain that there really aren’t any rules. Because I’m an asshole who hates rules :)

      1. Chris Gregory Avatar

        There’s evidence that an intuitive approach to eating will favour variety:

        Habituation is your friend. If you feel yourself getting tired of something, change. There’s a wonderful donut shop at the Preston market, with proper, yeast-risen hot donuts, which I don’t think are common outside of Australia any more (chemical leaveners are quicker and easier, but the results not as good). They sell a dozen in a big box for a few bucks. I wish I could eat them more often, but more than once a fortnight is overkill.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I made yeast-leavened doughnuts at home once! They were awesome.

          We ate the entire batch in about three days, and then felt like we’d never, ever want to eat another doughnut again.

          (We did. Eventually.)

          Anyway, when I was little, I’d stop eating the main course at dinner after a certain point, telling my mom I was “full.” Then I’d ask for dessert and she’d say, “But I thought you were full!”

          And then I’d say, “Actually, I think my mouth was just bored.”

          And then I’d get dessert, because who can argue with a kid who logics like that? No one. That’s who.

          1. DataGoddess Avatar

            I still do that – it’s like my tastebuds have had enough of that flavor now, thanks, so I move on. I try to make sure we have a variety of flavors at meals just because of this issue.

            It’s funny, but I don’t eat large meals anymore, it’s like I get to a point where my brain says “okay, done now”. I find that I get hungry an hour or two later, but a snack can usually shut my stomach up.

            I’ve gotten into the bad habit of not eating in the mornings, which means I end up not eating till lunch or later, depending on whether or not I notice what time it is. I really think my weight creeps up because I don’t eat enough, even though I’m sure the casual observer would think that I would be able to live off of my fat for *years*

          2. Jo Avatar

            I’ve gotten into the bad habit of not eating in the mornings, which means I end up not eating till lunch or later, depending on whether or not I notice what time it is.

            I do this all the time. Most of my day is spent keeping up with a toddler too, which means I really do need to concentrate on feeding myself well (or at least at frequent intervals). If I can remember to have a snack when kiddo does, it works a lot better.

            I really think my weight creeps up because I don’t eat enough

            Me too. I spent a lot of years dieting, and I would lose-then-gain-back-more each time. The only other time I gained a lot of weight quickly was after my first semester of teaching as a graduate student; I was working so much and forgetting to eat, then grabbing whatever would get me through the day. Once review week started and I could slow down, I started putting weight on (totally the famine-plenty reaction my body was designed to have, to keep me alive!) I was under-caloried and under-nourished for at least ten weeks that time.

            If you haven’t read about it already, the Minnesota Starvation Experiment is enlightening reading, and went a long way in shaping my thinking about what was really going on during my dieting years.

          3. Gorda Avatar

            Anyway, when I was little, I’d stop eating the main course at dinner after a certain point, telling my mom I was “full.” Then I’d ask for dessert and she’d say, “But I thought you were full!”

            I can totally relate to this! I distinctly remember looking at the remnants of the main course on my plate and feeling that I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Nothing my parents said or did could make me eat any more: I would cry and throw a tantrum, my parents would try to bargain and eventually put me in time-out or send me straight to bed… But I couldn’t be forced to finish my main course because my stomach was so full, it was physically impossible. Then dessert arrived and, magically, an empty spot seemed to open up. And I was not making it all up to get to the yummy part of dinner: I really was full of main course but still hungry for dessert.

            Adults often invest food with meanings which are not immediately obvious to a child. In this sense, struggles about eating or not eating are not so much about nutrition but about discipline, authority and power: it is the parent who gets to decide what and how much food the kid eats, and refusing to obey means rebelling against parental authority. The kitchen table becomes a battlefield, and food left on the plate means the child has “won” a battle. In this context, asking for dessert is perceived as gloating over your victory.

            I’m convinced that the food battles of my early childhood warped my eating competence in such a way that they are one of the reasons why I’m still learning to eat normally at 27. This is why I intend to always listen to my children when they say that they are full of this but hungry for that. And I’m sure this will lead to endless arguments with grandparents, aunts, cousins and concerned neighbours who believe I’m doing it wrong, based on the equation “food left on the plate = disrespect towards parents and future delinquency”.

          4. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

            In our house when I was growing up, you had to clear your plate because of the Starving Millions. The theory was that if you didn’t clean your plate you weren’t grateful enough for the food and the fact that you weren’t one of said Starving Millions.

          5. Michelle Avatar

            The thing I find ironic about these stories is, how many people’s parents were sending money to hunger organizations overseas while insisting their children clean their plates?

            I’m going to guess not all of them.

          6. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

            My sister was let off cleaning her plate because I would finish it instead. We’re both adults now, both the same height and about 70 – 80 lbs different in weight. I still sometimes find myself trying to get a clean plate so as to avoid Being Ungrateful, and I’m trying to notice that and remind myself that it’s okay to stop if I’m full.

          7. Lampdevil Avatar

            Oh, to fully shake that desire to clean my plate! I have to keep telling myself, over and over, that it’s OKAY to not eat everything in front of me if I’m not really hungry for it! I grew up being lectured about the poor starving children overseas… and then as an adult with little cash to spare, the thought of WASTING FOOD gave me a bad case of the vapors. It’s… it’s food! I CAN’T WASTE IT. I may NEVER have fries AGAIN, so I’d better EAT ALL OF THEM.

            I’m getting better, slowly. I still hate waste. I’m learning ways to deal with it. (Why hello, hungry friends of mine! Would you like some leftover pasta? Some soup? Some baked goods that I cannot possibly finish on my own? You would? Oh, yay!)

          8. Michelle Avatar

            I’ve had this issue too. I dealt with it by always, always wrapping up leftover food and putting it away in the fridge for later. And then I gave myself permission to throw it out if it seemed stale later on.

            But putting it away, rather than throwing it away directly off my plate, seemed to somehow ease the anxiety/guilt associated with it. And sometimes I just needed reassurance that, if I got hungry an hour after finishing my meal, the rest of it would still be waiting for me. This helped with that as well.

          9. April Avatar

            My family talked about our “dinner stomach” and our “dessert stomach.” Your dinner stomach could be full even if your dessert stomach was empty. :^)

          10. Michelle Avatar

            That’s awesome. Hahaha!

          11. Julia Avatar

            I use “dessert ceiling” for the latter. :)

  8. Chandelle Avatar

    (Hopefully this isn’t the third time this comment shows up…I keep trying!)

    I love this concept and want to apply it in my own work with others. But I have no idea how to apply it for myself.

    I love food. I enjoy food, celebrate food, embrace food. But some foods make me really sick, and at the same time I feel addicted to those foods and find it close to impossible to resist them if they are put in front of me or stocked a short drive away from me. So I’m constantly caught in this cycle of obsess-binge-suffer-regret-obsess and I can’t seem to get out of it.

    At least 98% of the time, I feel that I eat well, eat intuitively, don’t overeat, don’t obsess about eating; I have a professional understanding of nutrition. It’s that 2% that is driving me crazy. Somehow, if I know something is TRULY bad for me (like it will cause physical harm), I can’t stop obsessing about it, and if I get my hands on it, I can’t regulate myself.

    I know that I will encounter clients who struggle with this issue as well, so I feel doubly stressed to understand it and find some sort of peace about it. So I’m interested to follow your series on this issue.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      (There’s been some kind of weird comment submission problem related to OpenID, I think, so I disabled the OpenID plugin, so hopefully commenting will work smoothly now! Sorry to anyone who’s had problems with it…I’ve had emails from a couple of people having the same problem, and several mentions in previous comments. Let me know if you encounter anymore problems.)

      Anyway, yes, it gets complicated when you’re dealing with a real intolerance or food allergy. Depending on how severe and acute your reaction to that food is, there can be ways around it. Not for people with severe allergies, but for more discomfort/intolerance stuff. What I’ve learned is that “pressure breeds resistance.” Meaning, the second you tell yourself you CAN’T have something (even if it really is for your own good), you will instantly rebel, either by obsessing about that thing, or by obsessing about and then EATING that thing anyway.

      Permission can help here, along with adding foods to your diet rather than taking away. But this will probably require a whole post unto itself, and it’s also tricky because I don’t want to get into giving medical nutrition therapy through my blog. But the basic idea is that, if you have health reasons for needing to restrict your diet, come at it from a place of 1) allowing yourself to have the restricted food (if it’s safe for you in the immediate term — this is something you’ll need to check out with a doctor or RD), and 2) focus on adding other foods to your diet. Gradually, you’ll eat less and less of the problem food, and want less of it too, hopefully, because it won’t have the special, mystical, “forbidden” cachet about it. You’ll start to think of it as just another food, that also subsequently makes you feel crappy when you eat it. So why eat it, especially when you’ve now discovered a bunch of new foods you actually like that DON’T make you feel crappy?

      Anyway, this is a method I’m working on. Something to think about.

  9. CTJen Avatar

    Michelle, I am so glad you posted this. For much of my adult life I’ve had the sense of not being very good at eating/feeding myself. It’s why I relied so heavily on fast food–just order from the menu, #1, #2, or #3. It’s so simple I didn’t even have to think about it. Then I tried WW, which as Ellen Satter points out, is also problematic. But whenever I expressed my sense of not being good at eating, or even feeling resentful of having to feed myself, people (including my therapist!) looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted a second head!


    I still have a long way to go, but it’s nice to know that I’m on the right track.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think it’s exactly this sense of “not being good at eating” that leads people to seek out solutions like diets, or else go the opposite extreme and resentfully/rebelliously eat a diet of purely convenience food. And neither one solves the problem in the long term! Which is why I’m really hoping more people will learn about this concept.

      It’s very similar, in spirit, to other approaches like intuitive eating, mindful eating, and demand feeding, but it’s actually got some serious research to back it up. And that’s why I prefer it to the other approaches (also because it kind of strikes a balance between Super-Duper Structured — like a weight loss diet — and No Structure Whatsoever — like demand feeding. I like balance.)

  10. buttercup Avatar

    This is so good. I struggle so much with competence still, and I haven’t tried to diet for weight loss in more than five years. I still sometimes sit at my desk at lunchtime frantically trying to figure out what I want for lunch, while going through all the agonies about what a good choice would be or what I really want or if the two are too far apart and between that and difficulty regulating my blood sugar and the lunchtime sugar crash, I sometimes get nearly in tears with frustration over it. It’s so hard to learn to trust yourself. I’m saving this, and sharing it, and using it to show there’ s light at the end of the tunnel.

  11. Johnny B. Average Avatar
    Johnny B. Average

    Hi! Long-time reader/lurker, first time commenter, and I just love the hell out of your blog.

    I’ve been in recovery from an eating disorder for about four years now, and I just read the “eating factors competence” list there. Of those factors, at least three and a half of them now apply to me (I’m not much of a planner, period, but I do make time to eat).

    And then I asked myself, after realizing that, “well, do I feel like a competent eater?” And I guess I do. For pretty much the first time ever.

    Whoa. O.o

  12. Kate Avatar

    I am definitely not a competent eater, but I’m getting there, I think. I’ve spent so much of my life obsessed about food because of dieting that I never really thought about actually feeding myself to live, it was all about depriving myself so I could be thin, which I never was.

    I hate that I think of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as punishments for being fat instead of just as food.

  13. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar

    I had a real “a-ha!” moment yesterday. Both yesterday and Monday we went to the shops after I got home from work. Both times I was asked if I wanted a small “MaltEaster” bunny, made by Malteaser. On Monday I wanted one, so I had one, and enjoyed it. Yesterday I didn’t feel like having one, so I didn’t. And I didn’t feel deprived or anything! Oddly enough I’d just written a brief post on Intuitive Eating (not sure of where I’m getting to with eating is more like those other ones you mentioned, I’ve only heard of IE so that’s what I’m talking about at the moment) when I saw this.

  14. Regina T Avatar
    Regina T

    Intuitive eating has always been something that I viewed through a dieter’s lens. But this information makes sense to me and I want to thank you for that! The years of dieting, deprivation, and denying the signals my body was giving me have truly confused what I desparately NEED to hear. It’s difficult to HEAR my body’s signals, let alone trust them because for many years I did my best to SUPPRESS them.

    Since my venture into Fat Acceptance, I have tried to get back in touch with my body’s own voice….and it hasn’t been easy to do, especially with years of bad programming running through my head. I am usually pretty in tune with the signals that tell me something BAD is going on (like my anemia, mild asthma symptoms, and other medical issues), but I have a hard time truly listening to the hunger signals AND deciphering what it is that my body is truly craving. I know this centers around years of viewing food as the enemy, but how do you clarify what it is you really want? Is it through trying a variety of foods? I’m willing to do that now that I know it may help me further understand what my body really wants. It’s hard knowing when I’m truly hungry because I spent so many years placing good/bad values on food, keeping food journals of meticulously weighed and measured food portions, and general obsession about every morsel that went into my mouth. Now that I’ve sworn off dieting forever, picking up the broken pieces and trying to regain a connection to that inner voice brings lots of confusion. Thank you for posting a roadmap that makes sense!

  15. fatadelic Avatar

    I love how common sense this approach is.

  16. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    I agree most heartily with the idea that there are no ‘rules’ about eating & that the best advice to give people is to eat what they want, when they want, as much or as little as they like, & to try to get a variety of foods. I am, strangly enough, living as a fat woman in a fat-hating culture, a ‘competent eater’. And I admit that I often get a headache & feel out of patience with the many discussions around the blogs about ‘eating healthy’ or yapping about ‘bad’ foods, demonizing some foods & railing at those ‘evil’ people in Big Food. When I read where someone is suggesting that those who produce sodas are evil in some way & that soda is a totally useless food, I find I need a Coke, even if I haven’t had one in a month. I personally do not know ANYONE who lives exclusively on soda, chips, candy, etc., & NEVER eats anything else, so I refuse to jump on the ‘ban the bad foods’ or ‘tax the bad foods’ bandwagon. Food is food & we should have free access to all of it, be able to choose what we want, when we want, &, barring specific health problems or allergies for certain people, nothing we choose to eat is going to seriously hurt us. Besides, my own experience & observation of others as well has shown me that, when you are comfortable with food & able to eat anything you want, you don’t want huge amounts of ANYTHING or want a particular thing every day, forever & forever, amen.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Precisely. I believe humans are pretty much hard-wired to seek variety in food. And variety is the foundation of good nutrition.

  17. ABananas Avatar

    Thank you for this and all your recent posts. I see a door creaking open, down a long hallway, that possibly leads to eating competence. It’s still hard for me to believe that I’ll ever get there, though. I did just order Ellyn Satter’s How to Feed Your Family book and have emailed her about RDs in my area trained in EC.

    It’s funny, because I never really grasped how my early eating experiences shaped my eating INcompetence until lately. I’m doing EMDR with my therapist, and I suggested we approach a certain mealtime memory from my early childhood. My mom was never a great cook and I’ve always been a picky eater (especially resistant to vegetables, even as a baby), so when she went out on a limb and cooked eggplant Parmesan I was beside myself. She gave me the ultimatum of take a bite or sit at the table the rest of the night. I happily chose the latter. Turns out this wasn’t really an option, but something she was presenting in hopes that I’d choose to eat the Parm. So, after a long struggle, I finally took a bite, and proceeded to hurl all over the table. And, this, I feel sums up how my disordered eating began.

  18. Robin Avatar

    I just wanted to tell you that I recently discovered your blog (through either Bitch PhD or Racealicious) and I am enthralled. Your voice is really really welcome and refreshing. Thank you so much for making the arguments you’re making.

  19. Linda Avatar

    All good, but for one quibble: the use of the word “discipline”, which is about compelling yourself to do something because it’s “the right thing to do”, necessary only when the intrinsic/natural motivation does not exist (if it did, there would not be sense of a need to compel oneself to be disciplined.) Whether it is or is not a useful approach to dealing with disordered eating, “discipline” is very much a “should” and a “control stance.”

    Also, I think it is a mistake to use it to describe how “normal eaters eat,” because intuitive and instinctive eating are both normal and have nothing to do with the intention of discipline. I might rephrase that second description of a normal eater so: “One who acknowledges the body’s signals and needs and has the mindfulness to arrange one’s situation and access to food to support them.”

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think discipline has its place in life and eating. It’s just inappropriately applied, most of the time. I’ll be writing about this soon.

      I appreciate that other people may feel discipline has no place, and want to depend entirely on intrinsic motivations (and I’m a big intrinsic motivation fangirl myself), but I don’t feel that way. So I’m writing from my own personal/cultural bias here. And I’m also still thinking about it, so maybe I’ll change my mind eventually :)

      The “normal eaters” thing bothered me when I wrote it, but it’s really a quick and messy shorthand for getting the message across. I really don’t intend to state that there is one universal definition of “normal” or that people who are happy eating in other ways need feel their eating is “incompetent” or “not normal.” It’s just very cumbersome to phrase things perfectly sometimes. Reality is too complex to always be readily boiled down into words.

      1. Jen Avatar

        Oh yes.. thank you! After getting utterly lost in Intuitive Eating World its been a huge relief to me to realize its totally OK for me to schedule my mealtimes in a disciplined, orderly fashion. For some reason I really got stuck on some sort of weird idea that I should NEVER EVER eat unless my stomach was growling… this led to never being able to sit down and have a meal with my family and a whole lot of extended confusion over what was a normal way of eating (for me). At one point in a previous blog entry you mentioned that you thought (maybe quoting Satter or something) that it was perfectly ok to schedule a meal time… that setting aside a mealtime was a way to take care of oneself. Reading that was a light bulb moment for me! Yes… I can eat three meals a day! So much more satisfying as it has led to a healthy ordering of my eating. Not sure if this is what you mean by “discipline” or not… but framing my eating in a traditional three meal a day way has been a huge help to me personally. Its like I needed those boundaries to eat normally in. I know everyone’s experience of this is very different, but thats been mine. Incidentally, I have found that what I thought was intuitive eating (only eating when I experienced physical hunger cues) was just another form of control/dieting/restriction that left me feel deprived and insane ALL the time. Its just such a relief to know I can enjoy three normal meals… that this is not a bad, greedy way to eat. And organizing these meals has been a sort of discipline for me… but a really, healthy good one! Can’t wait to hear what else you have to say about your thoughts on discipline and its place in life and eating.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I have found that what I thought was intuitive eating (only eating when I experienced physical hunger cues) was just another form of control/dieting/restriction that left me feel deprived and insane ALL the time.

          This is something I’ve encountered a lot, and it really disturbs me. Our culture of food restriction has such a strong influence on us, that we end up using even seemingly-benign ideas like “intuitive eating” as, ultimately, another way of restricting ourselves.

          That is really my main beef with the way intuitive eating and mindful eating has become co-opted (often by dieting concerns, but oftentimes just by individuals) as just another form of dieting or restriction. And of one the reasons why I like the eating competence model better, because I think some of the structure built into it discourages people from doing that.

          1. HeatherJ Avatar

            I’ve been using IE very successfully to treat my binge-eating disorder, but I have to remind myself frequently not to turn it into another diet. The important thing to remember is that there are no rules in IE, only suggestions, and that not following these suggestions is ok too.

    2. Anna Avatar

      I see discipline as applying mild pressure–not forcing, but guiding. It’s always been part of my intuitive eating. It’s when it feels like you have to do something you hate (like, diet), that things are off. Having some sense of direction can really make great things happen, applied kindly and correctly.

  20. Heidi Avatar

    I’m not sure I love the term “competence” (it tells me that I was an incompetent eater back when I was binge-eating, and considering that I am still alive, I feel I was competently feeding myself) but I really like the idea and the four traits.

    Planning is a hard one for me, made harder by the fact that PCOS does seem to have the insulin-resistance piece for me, so learning how to eat in a way that has less negative consequences for my body later (i.e. fatigue) is a challenge, because I have to constantly fight the emotional battle to remind myself that this is NOT a diet. If I want a waffle instead of an omelette, I can have it…but do I want to deal with the consequences of sleepiness and sluggishness later?

    Mostly I don’t but there are times when I NEED that waffle and then, two hours later, I feel sluggish and that’s when the self-loathing tape starts to play again. “You know better! How could you have done that to your body? You’ll NEVER get this intuitive eating nonsense!”

    So it’s hard. Intuitive implies “easy” and “natural” and it frequently feels as if it’s neither!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      and considering that I am still alive, I feel I was competently feeding myself

      Haha, good point!

      It’s funny how often we equate binge-eating with food restriction, as though they are two equal but opposite points on the disordered-eating spectrum, when, in reality, binge eating very rarely kills anyone outright. And severe restriction does…pretty frequently, actually.

      It’s a mirror of the way fat bodies are pathologized as being “just as bad” as the opposite extreme of emaciation — when, in reality, there is a certain point of emaciation at which human beings simply cannot exist, because no one survives it. And yet there are extremely fat individuals who do exist (I’m talking above 1,000 lbs) — and though certainly not in the best circumstances, health-wise, they are, at least, alive to tell the tale.

      Binge eating is certainly not an ideal way to handle food, but you’re right that it is ultimately something that allows people to keep living until they can get to the point where they can deal with whatever underlying issues are affecting them.

      When it comes to wording, I have no idea what would work to explain concepts like these. I think “intuitive” is pretty close, but even then, people can use the term and the concept in a way that is self-defeating (as in, believing that “intuitive” means that one is only ALLOWED to eat based on internal hunger signals. Which I don’t think is actually true or very helpful as a “rule.”)

      I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the word “competence” myself. Sometimes I like it, and other times I worry people will take it to mean that eating in any other way is, de facto, INcompetent. Which I also don’t think is true.

      The only other term I’ve seen floated (I think by Sweet Machine or maybe Fillyjonk in comments at Shapely Prose) was “happy eating,” which she meant kind of in a silly way, but also kind of struck a chord.

      Anyway. I guess my point is…words are hard. They are always imperfect reflections of the concepts they stand for.

      1. Cassi Avatar

        I think “intuitive” is pretty close, but even then, people can use the term and the concept in a way that is self-defeating (as in, believing that “intuitive” means that one is only ALLOWED to eat based on internal hunger signals. Which I don’t think is actually true or very helpful as a “rule.”)

        When I first hear the term intuitive eating, I shared a lot of the same confusion Lesley expressed in her post. Although IE may not be defined as “eating whatever crosses your mind, whenever you think of it” (what you’re calling demand feeding, which I think is far more descriptive) and certainly not that one can ONLY eat when your really starving, I really really don’t like the term itself. Though IE may not have a specific agreed upon definition, the word “intuition” does (at least as much as any word in the English language) and it usually involves a lack of cognition or rational processes, something more like a feeling than a thought process. It may be semantic claptrap (god knows I’m a sucker for that), but when someone uses the word “intuitive” it’s not surprising that some people might assume it involves skipping all rational cognitive stuff and just going for the first thing that crosses your mind (which is a dandy way to eat, if you enjoy that sort of thing). I really prefer the ‘competent eating’ term simply because it doesn’t raise my semantic hackles.

        I really liked your comment about going into all this only after getting your foundational argument nailed down, because I really enjoy wrangling around with some of these concepts, but I have to be careful because it’s easy to be misinterpreted as thinking that anyone should DO anything with the results of all that wrangling. To me, it’s interesting to discuss in the abstract, but at the most basic level I think people should eat whatever they want whenever they want in any amount they want. How any individual might come to define “want” is interesting, but in the end not really any of my damned business and, like you, I don’t actually care what anyone but me puts in their mouth.

    2. Gorda Avatar

      Intuitive implies “easy” and “natural” and it frequently feels as if it’s neither!

      I think “intuitive” is pretty close, but even then, people can use the term and the concept in a way that is self-defeating. . .

      A note on the possibility of “intuitive eating” becoming prescriptive and inching dangerously close to diet territory: while looking for a Spanish translation of Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating for my mum, I discovered it had been translated as La Dieta Intuitiva, i.e. The Intuitive Diet. Granted, a “diet” can be defined as a specific way of eating, not necesarilly restrictive or weigh-loss oriented, but I think it’s pretty obvious what the publishers were going for with that title: fad diets are more marketable than non-dieting approaches.

  21. Papu Morgado Avatar

    It was very recently that I discovered the idea of “normal” or “intuitive” eating. I have never dieted in a very restricted way (when I did I always took care that it wasn’t too restrictive), but I had never lasted more than 1 or 2 weeks because eventually I wanted a piece of cake or ice cream. I’ve never believed in dieting mostly because I watched my mother doing it and always regaining the weight. So, in my opinion diets don’t work and about 2 or 3 years ago I’ve decided that I would never diet again and I became more interested in building a good relationship with food. It seems reasonable for me, and I have no problem with variety (I usually don’t like to eat the same thing two days in a row, and my mother would call me “spoiled” for not wanting to eat the same food or even leftovers). I also hate to skip meals and feeling that stage of hunger that makes me want to eat a table. So I’m working very well with both ideas: variety and consistency of my meals. I usually don’t overeat or don’t feed myself. But I’m still very afraid of food, I’m afraid of what to eat and what is consider “good” or “bad” food regarding weight gain and health. So that aspect is what haunts me: fear of food. Fear and anxiety. That’s something that can create problems.
    As the word discipline, at first I didn’t like it either because I think we usually relate discipline with diet or gain weight because “we weren’t disciplined enough”. But, I understand that discipline here is more like a commitment to your body: i’ts time to get some food, don’t ignore it. And it usually happens based in your own biological needs, so I think is about learning to adjust our routine to our internal cues.
    It’s interesting that common idea that fat people don’t need to eat beacause they have “food” storage. Sometimes I’m assaulted by this idea too :0

  22. […] By zaftigzeitgeist This morning I wrote the previous post, and then ten minutes later foubd this post on eating competence by The Fat […]

  23. Shannon Avatar

    I am so glad to have found this blog, because it makes me feel like I’m not crazy. I am not now nor have I ever been overweight. But I have definitely fluctuated a good 20-30 pounds. And I think when my weight gets on the high end, there are a lot of people who would say (especially b/c of my smallish frame) that I need to lose weight. But quite a long time ago, I decided that it just wasn’t that important to me to always be at my skinniest. I like to eat just about every kind of food, which means the “healthy” foods and the “unhealthy” ones. But I basically have to be quiet about my laissez faire attitude about my weight, or most of my friends and family would think I was crazy. I never go out with friends without there being some prolonged discussion about trying to lose weight or what we should and shouldn’t be eating.

    I had a friend who was telling me that she doesn’t eat with her kids because she would never eat some of the stuff (mainly carbs) that she gives them. I had to refrain from telling her that she was being crazy.

    Anyway, thanks for this blog!

  24. spacedcowgirl Avatar

    Thank you for posting this. I know I will refer back to it often.

    It is the discipline of having nutritious foods available that I think bites me in the butt. If I have a full day of errands planned, I really rebel against packing a lunch for some reason–it is just “no fun.” But I also don’t want to spend the money to buy lunch. So I end up grabbing cheaper snack foods. I know this could be prevented but I just don’t find myself doing it. Vegetables are also a big issue for me. They are either totally unappetizing (plain raw crunchy stuff) or a giant pain in the butt to prepare (stuff you have to chop and then cook in some manner) or, often, both. I can see spending hours making a cake or a main dish, but I resent the heck out of spending any amount of time on a salad. I like elaborate salads when someone else makes them for me. :) If I lived alone, I think I would just have like frozen green beans with spaghetti sauce or other weird combinations like that (in fact I would probably just throw in some brown rice and chicken too to round things out, and call it a day), but my husband doesn’t really share my tastes in this respect.

    It’s also hard to know what “nutritious” means if you are lucky enough to have access to pretty much any food you want. I think I rebel against packing that lunch because to me, a “healthy” lunch includes some kind of main course like a sandwich or some nuts or leftovers or something, a piece of fruit, some raw vegetables and maybe a plain yogurt or something. If it were something else more interesting (which I have a hard time even envisioning what that would be) maybe I would be less resistant to it.

    1. catgirl Avatar

      Yeah, I know just how you feel about packing lunches. I’ll go through phases where I get all hyped up about health and I’ll spend every Sunday cutting and cleaning fruit and even making sandwiches ahead of time, then I give up and just buy a big box of Hot Pockets from Costco so I can just grab one in the morning before I leave for work.

      I am extremely picky, so I get bored with food easily, especially lunch. Instead of turkey and cheese sandwiches of PBJ, I have come up with some alternatives that I like. I like to pack cheese and crackers or hard-boiled eggs. If you have access to a microwave at lunch time, your variety goes way up. I like to pack veggie burgers or different kinds of soup. You could even have that green beans with tomato sauce thing that you like. If you like the convenience of snack foods, you could try having granola bars for lunch. They come in such a variety of flavors that it takes awhile to get bored. I had granola bars for lunch practically every day while I was in college. If you focus on the “interesting” more than the “healthy”, you’ll probably end up finding good stuff that just turns out to be healthy too. If you don’t like fruit or vegetables with lunch, then don’t have them.

      1. living400lbs Avatar

        I’ve been doing lots of frozen food for lunch – pot pies, Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, et cetera. We even have a toaster oven, so I’ve been having CPK’s “for one” frozen pizzas. I’m thinking of *making* my own frozen pizzas one weekend…

        I’ve also been eating less meat in general for Lent, so I’ve been having bean-and-cheese burritos, mac’n’cheese, and bean-and-rice type things.

        1. catgirl Avatar

          Bean and cheese burritos sound great. It’s so simple yet I never thought of it. They’re probably pretty cheap if you make them yourself, and easy too. Do you use canned beans or do you use dried beans that you cook ahead of time? This is definitely something I’ll have to try; thanks for the tip!

          1. mickey Avatar

            I have used both – canned or dried. But canned beans up here are freaking expensive, so I’ve been trying to use more and more dried beans. These do require a bit more planning: Soak the beans for a few hours (starting with boiling water), cook for 1 hour or so to your liking, and mash up (or not). Opening a can is easier. Either way, I lurve me some bean burritos, and recently they HAVE TO HAVE lettuce on them.

  25. Brigitte Avatar

    Hi Michelle,

    I just tweeted this post, because it really resonated with me. Just last night, I was telling my husband that working in an office filled with dieters was making me anxious about my eating habits. There is constant talk about calorie counts and pounds lost. While I did briefly count calories, it was to retrain myself on portion sizes, and now I simply eat when I’m hungry. I eat fast, so I can’t rely on stopping when I’m full, but I often take breaks during a meal. I’ll portion out some food, stop when I’ve eaten what seems like enough and resume eating if I’m still hungry in a few minutes.

    This was all fine and good until the diet talk took over my office. I’ve caught myself denying foods that I want for fear of judgment in the lunchroom. Thanks for the reminder that constant paranoia about your food isn’t “normal” or desirable.

  26. julie Avatar

    Learning to eat normal was the best thing I ever did for myself. Probably will always be. I’m still learning to be comfortable with it, and fully trust it, but this is so much better than the neurotic eating I was raised with. I don’t think they come more neurotic than my mom, except possibly my sister. Very liberating.

  27. shyvixen Avatar

    I’m the closest to eating competently at this point in my life than I’ve ever been before. My mother started putting me on diets when I was 8 years old. I’m 43 now and finally starting to grasp the concept that I am the one who gets to control what I eat and I get to eat whatever the heck I want. I still find myself freaking out on occassion, like I can’t decide whether something I want, like apple juice, is “healthy” – “Oh, I should eat the whole fruit, it’s better for me. But I don’t WANT to eat an apple!” But freakouts are getting less frequent, thank goodness.

  28. julie Avatar

    Now that I know that I can comment, maybe I’ll say more. You know, Michelle, we’re somewhat similar in our attitudes and history here. I trained myself out of diet/binge, and considered becoming an RD or similar, but didn’t want more school, don’t have the temperament to deal with people. Chemistry is easier (since I had the BS already), more lucrative, doesn’t argue back. At this point, I am glad I didn’t make it livelihood, I’m sick of weight, food, etc. Even normal weight people are insane wrt food, very few I know are comfortable and not freaking out.

    And I was also raised that I shouldn’t need to eat, I should just digest my flab. Maybe fruits and veggies, but certainly no more. I never even tried to accept the weight, and to this day, will admit that I am too obsessed. Sometimes it’s too hard to escape the way we were raised. At this point, I’m tired of defending my food habits, both from people who think I eat too healthy and those who think I don’t eat healthy enough. You likely may consider me someone who uses this stuff for dieting, and there may be some truth to that. If I started gaining weight, I might reevaluate, probably not, but maybe I’ll think this through some more. Or maybe, I’ll think it through less.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I would love to find out how you get chemistry to not argue back at you. Because I can’t seem to manage it.

      1. mickey Avatar

        Me neither. …and I’m a professional chemist. My chemistry is always arguing with me; fortunately for me, I usually win the argument.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I once lost a pretty messy argument with a condenser in my organic chemistry lab.

          1. mickey Avatar

            LOL. I can picture this. I think everyone who has ever used a condenser has lost at least one battle to it.

  29. Papu Morgado Avatar

    Loved the concept of “happy eating”! It’s perfect!

  30. Spilt Milk Avatar

    I see that OpenID ate my comment (must have been tasty!) It was only some waffle about eating an apple, anyway. But I just wanted to say two things: firstly, I really like your comment threads Michelle. You are so patient and affable in your replies and I always learn nearly as much from reading the comments as from reading the original post. Secondly, I really feel as though HAES, Ellyn Satter, this blog, this post… these are things that are literally making my life better, healthier, happier – who knows, maybe longer. (Or helping me to make my life better, I should say). You’re doing important work here.

    Now that my belly and I are on speaking terms, she’s helping me along the way. Haven’t quite gotten competent yet but we’ll get there. (I quite like the word ‘competent’, by the way, because it’s not something you’d ever read in a diet manual. It’s sort of safe because it’s about attaining a certain level of functioning and then sitting back and saying ‘yeah, I’m fine, I can do that’, rather than always striving to do more. It’s a word that says it’s okay to stop pushing yourself because you’re OK, you can just BE – not a message we get a lot in this world.)

  31. Anna Avatar

    Serious question–why *can’t* we live on our fat? I mean, we know we can’t, because we don’t feel good if we don’t eat. But occasionally, I’m running around, I’m busy, I don’t have time to eat, and I think, “Can’t I just live off these stores, and refuel later tonight, when there’s time?” And I want to be at my best, so I do stop and refuel at least a bit, wishing it could be a bit more efficient…

    Technically you *can* live on fat for a long time (weeks), but it’ll be distracting (and the point of this conversation is to make food NOT the center of one’s life, but merely an enjoyable part). So is it a genetic drive? Maybe some do better than others? Any studies on this? Just curious. For convenience reasons, not weight loss :) I would make up for it later, no doubt.

    By the way, the way I have always improved my diet while feeling relaxed about eating, is by choosing the healthiest thing *that I feel like*. Sometimes that is healthier than other times. The last point is key–I relax through the process because I know if the only thing that appeals is candy, I can do it. But I have to consider some options first! That allowed me to make great healthy, painless shifts over time.

  32. […] The Fat Nutritionist gets good at eating in a post titled – oddly enough – Getting good at eating When I was recovering from dieting, I was terribly conflicted about how to eat. I went through a […]

  33. Bookwyrm Avatar

    Personally, I find myself really uncomfortable with Satter’s emphasis on scheduled, sit-down meals and snacks with one’s family. The most obvious objection is, for crying out loud, with three meals and two or three snacks for which you have to be at a table each day, when does one have time to do anything else? If breakfast is at seven, say, and lunch is at noon, then one needs to schedule a snack at nine. So after breakfast, you get dressed and all, but there’s no time to go anywhere and get back because you need to be at a table for snack-time, so fine. We can go out after snack. Except then there’s only a couple of hours to lunch, and by the time we get on a bus and TO anywhere (even assuming that the first bus was wheelchair accessible and that we don’t need to transfer), there’s half an hour, maybe a full hour, before we have to be on a bus to get back home to sit down for lunch. This is assuming that there’s no money for a sit-down restaurant every time one needs to run errands or attend an appointment or whatever, but it’s also assuming that preparing meals and snacks does not take any time at all. I’m not seeing the Satter-approved schedule as feasible. Keep in mind that Satter insists, “Sit to snack, don’t allow yourself or your child to eat on the run or eat along with other activities.”

    More insidious, and maybe this is my own emotional issues, the insistence on eating with other people EVERY TIME. Of course, Satter says it’s because, “Meals give a reliable opportunity to do the work of the family: Checking in, giving emotional support, keeping up with what’s going on with family members.” However, the eyes of others on one have been shown to have an inhibiting effect on the at-that-time food intake of children, especially if the other people are less fat than the child in question. It seems to me that requiring everybody to eat in a group and to all eat the same thing (“Because part of family meals is sharing the same food. You don’t have to eat anything if you don’t want to….”) seems like just another way to apply pressure to eat right, to not eat too much, to worry about others’ responses to your desires and your food selections rather than your own internal cues.

    (An example that really bothered me from
    “He says, “Can I get the peanut butter? I can put peanut butter on my bread.”
    You say, “No, that’s like making a separate meal. You don’t have to eat anything if you don’t want to, but you do have to settle for what is on the table.”
    What the heck is wrong with peanut butter, if it’s NOT about forcing the child in question to eat food that doesn’t feel good to him at that time or deal with discomfort from being excessively hungry?)

    And yes, I am one of the people who takes the label “Eating Competence” for scheduled, sit-down, family meals and snacks as an implicit statement that if one does not do it Satter’s way, one is obviously INcompetent. This doesn’t feel helpful, either. Overall, the more I read of what Satter has published online, the more the approach seems prescriptive, restrictive, and bullying. (Competent means “having requisite or adequate ability or qualities”, according to Merriam-Webster. It’s a minimum level to achieve something, not a particularly high level of expertise. Defining anybody who doesn’t follow her standards as not-competent cannot BUT make somebody who understands the word feel inadequate, and making somebody feel inadequate for disagreeing with one’s own beliefs or methods does qualify as bullying.)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I understand your qualms, but at the same time, I’m really not sure the whole thing is meant to be as inflexible as you’re interpreting it.

      In fact, when training with Ellyn, one of the things we talked about was telling clients to continue eating alone in front of the TV or whatever if that was what made them most comfortable. Eventually, people might feel safer eating in a more traditional (at the table, with family) setting, and maybe in some ways that is seen as “ideal,” but I don’t think it is absolutely required. And certainly not of adults living on their own.

      In fact, the assessment test that is validated for measuring eating competence says nothing about sitting down to eat with your family every three hours, or whatever. It simply says “I have regular meals” and “I make time to eat,” which means for whatever value of “regular” you use. So, to get really technical, though Satter may write about these things and feel strongly that they’re a part of eating competence, those specific behaviours are not actually measured as part of eating competence officially.

      Also keep in mind that the stuff involving children is, in some ways, different from basic eating competence for adults. It is more involved because there is a feeding relationship there, a dynamic — not just one person. And there are teaching issues to deal with, because some food behaviours and attitudes are learned, not universally inherent. (Like being able to sit down to eat without jumping up every five seconds, and being able to eat a not-particularly-favourite meal when hungry.)

      The stuff about children is also written primarily for families having pretty severe feeding problems. Like, the kid won’t eat at all. Or will only eat very little. Or refuses to sit down and eat. Or is throwing food around at the table. Or the parents are restricting the kid’s food intake so they’re constantly hungry. Or pushing food on them so that they’re constantly rebelling.

      During the treatment time, yeah, it’s probably a good idea to emphasize sitting down for all meals and snacks. But there is absolutely no reason I can see why the average, well-functioning parent and child couldn’t go somewhere else for an extended period of time, planning to either buy a snack or take something along with. As long as hunger is provided for at appropriate intervals. To suggest otherwise would be to place people under virtual house arrest, and never make space for things like dining out, or travelling, or even just having an unusually hectic day. In short, it would be ridiculous and unrealistic, and cause people to feel guilt whenever shit gets inconvenient, as life is wont to do. That’s not good.

      There’s nothing wrong with peanut butter — the idea is that “short-order cooking” for a kid at every meal (and having peanut butter with bread is about as nutritionally complete as a meal, particularly for a kid with a small stomach capacity) can actually exacerbate picky eating problems, so the kid never learns to expand their repetoire with food.

      It’s not meant to say that you can NEVER GIVE YOUR KID EXTRA PEANUT BUTTER if they’re hungry at a meal or snack. The idea of not giving a child adequate food when they’re hungry is barbaric. Instead, it’s emphasizing trying to get the kid to deal with having meals that are not one of their top 5 favourite foods. Because otherwise they will have trouble learning to accept a decent variety of food, which causes not only behaviour problems at meals now, but can result in serious nutritional consequences down the road. So I’m afraid you’re pretty severely misreading her meaning there.

      She specifically says in many places that, when feeding a kid a challenging meal or snack (meaning, it’s a new food they’re not familiar with, or something that is not their absolute favourite thing in the world), to always give them an “out” — but one that doesn’t constitute a meal in itself. The “out” is a food that will sate their hunger, and that they will always be able to accept, while still challenging them to branch out a bit with the main course.

      The “out” is often bread with butter, and milk, or whatever the kid can be counted on to eat. Just not a peanut butter sandwich, or a bowl of cereal, or mac & cheese, or something that would be considered nutritionally AND conventionally as a main dish.

      And if the kid leaves the table not totally satisfied, it’s not ideal, but it will be okay — because there is another meal or snack coming in just a couple of hours. Guaranteed. We’re all allowed a margin of error with eating — either getting too much or too little at any one meal or snack is not the end of the world if we’re getting fed regularly.

      Anyhow, to get back to eating competence itself — I understand that this whole concept can be really threatening to people who’ve had restrictions placed on their eating before, and that’s why I don’t intend to push it as anything people need aspire to.

      If your eating is fine as is, good. This doesn’t have to have anything to do with you. But if you’re having trouble with eating (or feeding your kids), it is one option to consider among several. And it’s the option I’ve found most helpful to me, personally, and the one that is backed up by the most actual peer-reviewed research and evidence.

      You’ll find the other HAES eating approaches largely are not, simply because a lot of research hasn’t been done in this area yet. Because, you know, not super lucrative or sexy compared to dieting approaches.

      ETA: Just as a data point: I score in the “high” range myself for eating competence (38, specifically, for anyone who knows how the scoring works), and I took the test before I knew any of the scoring mechanism or was trained in this method, to avoid bias.

      I eat in a pretty fluid way much of the time. I don’t eat at set times, but I do eat at pretty much the same intervals every day because that’s how I’ve trained my hunger to show up on time. I did that by eating those set meals at set times for a brief period. Now I don’t stick to it as rigidly because I simply don’t need to, though I often enjoy doing it when I feel like it.

      My usual pattern is: I eat breakfast within an hour of waking, then a morning snack 3 hours later, then lunch 3 hours after that, then an afternoon snack 3 hours later, then dinner, then an evening snack in another 3 hours (usually this is dessert.) I don’t do this consciously, really…it just happens. And if I get sidetracked, or forget, my body LOUDLY reminds me that it is time to eat. And I respect that, because, shit, my body knows what it’s doing.

      1. Bookwyrm Avatar

        Thank you for your reply.

        Honestly, I wanted to be “severely misreading her intent there.” I know you’re as impressed as all get out with her work, and I respect your writings and opinions, so I was pretty sure there had to be something there, but I just wasn’t seeing it.

        I recently reread the children’s book, “Bread and Jam for Frances” and was impressed (mostly) with the mother’s response. I thought, “Wow, a storybook parent is supporting intuitive eating, and the result of satiation with an obsession-food and branching out into other possibilities is shown effectively, even if the timeline is shorter than I expect would be realistic.” Then the advice from Satter seemed to say that letting Francis eat bread and jam at every meal until she got sick of it was a bad thing, and I was uncomfortable with the conflict between what I thought and what the expert said.

        Speaking of scientifically-validated HAES, do you know specifically what the treatment group in the Bacon et al. study got, the one that resulted in no weight loss but long term improvement of other markers such as blood pressure and (I think) cholesterol?

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I’ve been wondering about what specifically the Bacon group used myself. I read the study directly, but I don’t recall the eating program being specifically described, other than as being an intuitive eating approach. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Satter’s method. I’m wondering if Linda’s book has more detail…I’ll have to thumb through it and see if she describes it in there.

        2. Anna Avatar

          I think part of the idea is that a parent doesn’t have to be a short-order cook, catering to every child’s whim. You put out a reasonable selection of food, with at least some things you know they like (with multiple people, this is difficult enough). They can eat it or not. But you won’t make special requests, because you are your own person who has boundaries.

          In short, managing a family is different from feeding yourself. You can have flexibility, but there needs to be boundaries. I used to work at WIC, where we used her approach. On one side, the child doesn’t have to eat anything they don’t want. On the flip side, the parents need to set certain rules. It’s a mixtures of freedoms and constraints, just like real life. It’s practical. Making the meal *one* child wants when there are others, is not. Humans never ate like that in the past, and there’s no need for it. They can cook for themselves if they so choose, once they are older.

          1. Bookwyrm Avatar

            No, actually, Satter specifically says they CANNOT cook for themselves if they so choose, once they are older:

            He says, “Can I get the peanut butter? I can put peanut butter on my bread.”
            You say, “No, that’s like making a separate meal. You don’t have to eat anything if you don’t want to, but you do have to settle for what is on the table.”

            He wants to make something different: “Why isn’t that all right? You don’t have to do it!”
            “Because part of family meals is sharing the same food. You don’t have to eat anything if you don’t want to….”

            “Why not?”
            “Because those are the rules.”

            (again, this is from )

            I GET practical. I can understand not making the parent into a short-order cook. I’m still not understanding the because-I-said-so prohibition on eating something different.

            I can confidently say that, even if we do manage to have a child, everybody-eats-the-same-entree rules would never really work for my family; my partner has some pretty severe dietary restrictions, and texture restrictions, and I refuse to eat a mushy diet. I want my crunchy bean sprouts, sometimes, and meat that needs to be chewed, crackers that crunch under the salmon salad, and and and. When a meal won’t work for both of us, one of us grabs something easy while the other eats the food that requires real preparation. (For instance, he’s likely to have Chef Boyardee tomorrow when I use the bean sprouts I bought today and the steak strips I’m thawing. When he eats the chili I made, I’ll throw something on the Foreman squish-grill. Mostly, it works for us. Adding a child will change a lot, but probably not the demands of our individual diets.)

          2. Michelle Avatar

            I only really have time to say division of responsibility. Parents are responsible for the what and when of eating. Kids are responsible for the how much and whether. It’s important to maintain this division — it’s been clinically verified that this helps children learn to be competent eaters.

            When it comes to older adolescents, the “rules” of what to eat refer specifically only to family dinners. She specifically says that it is up to older kids to manage their own meals and snacks. But when it comes to family dinners, some division of responsibility is still to be maintained until the kid is off on their own entirely. A quote:

            -Expect your child to manage his schedule and his snacking so he can arrive at dinner on time and hungry.

            -Teach him to take responsibility for eating 3 meals a day and a snack right after school.

            -Let him find his own ways with food away from home: what to eat, how much to eat, how to get what he needs.

            And I’m going to reiterate that a lot of these “rules” are primarily intended for families with feeding problems. If you don’t have a problem — and even if you do — you are free to discard any and all of this advice. Free will, right?

            This also doesn’t take into account therapeutic dietary restrictions. That is a whole issue unto itself which, of course, would require some accommodation with regard to planning meals.

            I’m not understanding what is so threatening about this, and why you seem to insist on interpreting it in the least charitable light possible. I would seriously suggest writing to Ellyn with some of your concerns if you’re really feeling the need to be reassured about this.

            Nobody is saying you’re bad for eating the way you eat. If it works for you, it works for you, and none of this has to apply to your situation. This is simply an alternate model to intuitive eating for people who are having trouble figuring out how to eat and negotiate family meals. It is not a law. It is not an edict. It is simply a concept that I prefer. It probably doesn’t, and doesn’t need to, work for everyone.

            One last thing – while what Satter writes about childhood feeding issues is intimately connected to eating competence, it is not actually the same thing, nor is it what I was writing about in this post. And I’m afraid that taking a few quotes out of context from some of her newsletters to make the case that her approach is “prescriptive, restrictive, and bullying” is really disturbing to me.

            If someone wants to make such a serious charge, I would expect them to be a lot more familiar with the material at hand, which spans not just her website articles, but several books and peer-reviewed articles as well. Not that you must read and absorb every word she’s written in order to intelligently discuss and disagree, but I do think there’s a difference between having a good grasp on the general theory, and panicking over a misperception of a single example she gives in a newsletter…you know?

            It’s also disruptive because I think it might unnecessarily panic readers who might be helped by this approach. If they suddenly think I’m talking about some wacko who insists that people eat so frequently and so rigidly that they can’t even travel somewhere in a day, or that no one is ever allowed to eat alone, or that children never get to have any input into what their parents put on the table, well…that’s a problem.

            Because none of those interpretations are correct in the first place.

            I am certainly here to answer your questions, but at some point, if it is truly bothering you and you want to find out more, I’m going to ask you to seek out her books for a fuller understanding of the theory, rather than picking and choosing from some limited (and, in some ways, fairly advanced) examples online.

          3. Maia Avatar

            I usually really enjoy your blog, but I have major reservations on this post. Just to be clear where I’m coming from. I’m 31, and I’ve recently realised that I’m dyspraxic. Dyxpraxia has all sorts of implications for sensory processing, including eating. As it is often not diagnosed, a dyxpraxic child has the experience of having heaps of their experiences denied, including their experience of eating.

            I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have push back to this, because it is triggering a lot of my bad food experiences.

            While I’m not saying that this approach might not have worked for many (hell even most) children who only eat a very restricted diet, it would have lead to more stressful food struggles for me. That’s part of the issue about disability, everyone’s body is different. The problem is that unless that’s acknowledged it’s impossible to identify the child for whom this strategy may not be working.

            I have to admit to being confused about why you don’t see why some people are critical of these ideas. You know how powerful food is. You know how difficult people find rules about food.

          4. Michelle Avatar

            I have to admit to being confused about why you don’t see why some people are critical of these ideas.

            I guess what I don’t understand is where people are actually attributing things to Satter, and her model, that aren’t actually true. I have a pretty intimate knowledge of the model, and I can say with confidence that many of these interpretations are actually false on an objective level, though I understand where those intepretations are coming from — whether it’s past personal experience, or cultural pressures and messages. But I think it’s important to try to get past those interpretations in order to discuss what Satter is actually saying and promoting — misinterpreting her message based on a personal associations, while understandable, is a bit derailing to the topic at hand.

            I also think that we haven’t gotten (yet) into more of the complexities of either eating competence as a model, or Satter’s methods of feeding children, which means we haven’t yet even touched on how you’d deal with dyspraxia, or other therapeutic issues and restrictions. We will get there eventually, and I do think most of Satter’s model is adaptable to these realities. But I cannot write a blog post that is going to encompass every possibility right from the get-go.

            I’m genuinely sorry for that, and I do try very hard in most of my posts to add footnotes and parenthetical asides denoting where exceptions occur, but obviously I didn’t do that this time.

            I also want to add that disability is an important issue for me, and I’m trying to be a lot more aware of how what I say and what I practice applies to disability. But I am fairly new at this, and I don’t always succeed. That’s why I rely so much on my commenters to add complexity to the discussion that I am, guaranteed, going to leave out in my posts.

          5. Bookwyrm Avatar

            I apologise; I didn’t mean to be disruptive.

          6. Michelle Avatar

            Bookwyrm, I’m sorry. Now I feel a bit awful about this. I hope you’ll be up to discussing this more in future posts, because I think your questions are important.

        3. Anna Avatar

          Also, Satyr does say to not worry about food jags. Offer a variety, and if they eat the same thing for a month (or whatever), don’t worry about it, don’t react. Just keep offering a variety and they will pick something else when they are ready.

          So I think a key component is that you *do* take the kid’s tastes into consideration when you are planning the meal. But it’s stressful to be the only thing. You offer spaghetti, which she likes, and spinach, which she doesn’t, and bread, which she doesn’t, and maybe she loads up on spaghetti. It’s okay. You don’t have to start a fight. It’s not worth it.

      2. Katja Avatar

        I teach and apply Satter’s words for my clients and in my own home. I think the ideal is sitting at a table and eating because you can tune in to cues of hunger and satiety. I often pack snacks and meals and have eaten in all kinds of places with my daughter. Most of the time we sit at the table. After daycare we would eat a snack in the car, but we sat with the car turned off, she sat in the passenger seat and we enjoyed crackers with cream cheese and fruit, or shrimp and cocktail sauce (!) and milk, and we tuned in. I simply found that when I let her snack on the go in the car, or at the side of the pool she didn’t eat and tune in and she was hungry and whiney. Read Satter’s definition of normal eating which is very accepting and accomodating. I sometimes use the words “tuned-in eating” instead of intuitive because of all that “intuitive eating” has come to mean. I also use the word “structure” sometimes instead of discipline. If we also think in terms of physiology and blood sugar levels, having the opportunity to eat, roughly every 4-6 hours can be very helpful to relearn tuning in and avoiding that ravenous hunger… So much more to say, GREAT threads here!

  34. Snarky's Machine Avatar

    This was an incredibly inspiring post, Michelle. It gave me so much to ponder and I am really loving the concept of happy eating. Yay!

  35. […] the subject of Health at Every Size, The Fat Nutritonist has a great post up about Getting Good At Eating. She writes What are the outcomes for people who tend to eat [competently]? Well, they tend to have […]

  36. La Avatar

    I think I’m starting to get the Intuitive Eating thing. I’ve been on diets for over 40 years now (I’m 47) and it seems weird to even think that I can eat what I want, when I want it. My body will let me know what it wants and needs.

    I have long believed that if you are craving something, you should eat it – otherwise, you’ll eat a whole bunch of other stuff that’s “healthier,” trying to get around the fact that you really want a cheeseburger and french fries. Then you finally eat the burger and fries and have ended up consuming about 15,000 calories to get there.

    I have been on Weight Watchers several times in my life – even lost 152 pounds one time and guess what……ALL THE WEIGHT COMES BACK EVERY SINGLE TIME!!! If I can just learn to listen to my body and give it what it wants and needs, I will probably be fine. I will never be a thin person – I never have been…..what makes us think that we can turn into a 6’5″ runway model when we are 5’5″ tall and weigh over 300 pounds? I’ll never know. We cannot fight our genetics. I know – I’ve been trying for many years.

    I have also found that people are still going to look at me and think to themselves (or say it outright….like my mother-in-law will) – why is SHE eating a hamburger? But, I have to get around it.

    I truly believe that the way I have been eating all these years – eating what I SHOULD or what I was allowed, then eating what I shouldn’t, dieting, depriving, having guilt and self-loathing, has made me into what I am now.

    If my family had accepted that I was a fat kid (genetically) and didn’t hound me about every morsel I ate and treated me different than all the other kids, I may have understood how to eat. But, my family never could get around the fact that I was fat – they felt like they did something wrong – like it was a reflection on them – their failure – their embarassment. My mother told me (when I was very young) that she hoped I had a fat child one day….then I would know how she feels. (Note: she has since regretted saying that and has apologized!) But, all of that had an impact on me and now I don’t know how to eat intuitively. I still think in terms of “points” when I eat.

    Anyway, this is a slow going process and I am so looking forward to the day when I don’t think or worry about food at all – that I can just go through my days and eat like a normal person. I don’t have to think about food in between being hungry and plan each and every single thing.

    Thanks for all your help. No kidding – you are really helping a lot of us. I, for one, truly appreciate your efforts. Wish I lived near you – I’d make an appointment with you.

  37. Hope Avatar

    I’ve been really enjoying reading your posts and the comments. I agree with another commenter who noted how thoughtful the comments and your responses are. Because new comments get inserted within the overall comment thread, I was wondering if there is a way to find all of the new comments when I check back on another day without having to look through the comments I’ve already read.

    I think this discussion about terminology and how Satter’s guidelines are interpreted is really important. When I first started reading your blog I bought her book “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” (which I never would have bought otherwise because I don’t have a family) and I didn’t really like it. A lot of the terminology-“competence,” “discipline,” “children” (just joking about the last one) scared me off, but also I just don’t think the book is arranged very well which makes it a bit hard to get into. But I went back to it after reading something else that you wrote on your blog about structured eating and now I’m finding the book, in conjunction with this blog, very helpful. I don’t think that there is easy shorthand for the guidelines and strategies associated with this approach, so having these discussions to clarify things is helpful.

    I was put on diets beginning at about age 8 (I’m 50 now) and since that time have either been trying to lose weight, trying to “eat healthy,” trying to not have disordered eating, trying to accept that I’m fat, trying to eat when hungry, trying to eat intuitively, and on and on. I cycle through various strategies just trying to get better somehow. But I’ve never before actually focused on enjoying eating, on acknowledging that it is a really nice part of life. For the first time in a long time I am feeling optimistic about getting good about eating.

    1. Elizabeth Avatar

      Hope, I do it (read the new comments) by searching the web page for a specific date. So I’ve read everything up to today (March 18) right now. Tomorrow I’ll search for “March 18” on the page to see if anyone posted after this time, then I’ll search for “March 19.” It can be a little cumbersome, but it’s not too bad, and it lets me keep up with all the interesting things people are saying in the thread.

    2. Michelle Avatar

      Oh, duh, thank you Elizabeth. I totally missed that part of Hope’s comment.

      There’s also the option to subscribe to the comments RSS feed by clicking the large black RSS button up above on the right-hand sidebar. That way, if you use Google Reader, you can see any and all new comments through there.

      Otherwise, maybe I’ll put a widget on the sidebar that shows most recent comments for people. I didn’t originally expect the comments threads to get so involved, but I like that they are, and I want to make it easy for people to keep up with them and participate, so thanks for bringing it up.

      ETA: I’ve now added a Recent Comments widget to the sidebar. Right under the RSS buttons and the search box, there’s a list of recent comments. You can click on the commenter’s name to read the entire comment.

  38. deb(bie debbie doo) Avatar

    “stable body weights (even if they are fat.)” – interesting you mention this as an outcome – seems I am 160# – no matter really what i eat – green smoothies and salads all day or half a package of oatmeal cookies –

    now if i could just get to the whole acceptance as i am thing somehow…. I’m really ready to be happy in my own skin!

    1. La Avatar

      Debbie –

      Take from me….be happy with 160#. It’s not a ridiculous weight. I have long wanted to kick myself in the ass for not being happier with myself when I was much smaller than I am now. If I had, I may not have grown to be over 300# because I wouldn’t have tried all those weird diets, exercise and starvation and my metabolism wouldn’t have been destroyed.

      So, seriously, really do understand that you are fine just the way you are. If your weight doesn’t change no matter what you eat….obvious, your genetics cause you to weigh 160. Love yourself just the way you are!!!

  39. Ducky Avatar

    I’m trying to eat 3 meals a day and stop when I’m full, I’m trying to learn this sort of thing lol. I think I’m doing a good job but I was sick from November to January and then in February I went through a bunch of emotional things but I tend to feel my emotions physically and it made me really queasy a lot.

    Ever since November it’s been hard to eat. Just watching people eating or listening to someone talk about food makes me feel sick. Even when I’m hungry I don’t want to eat. I’m not sure what to do, I know this is a mental thing, do you think it’ll go away after awhile if I just keep trying?

    1. Cassi Avatar

      Are you sure it’s “a mental thing”? There are an awful lot of physical illnesses that can make food pretty unappealing and you did say you had been sick. If an illness happens to (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps causatively) come on at the same time as a mental stressor, you might mistakenly ascribe the symptoms to the stress. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but if this aversion to food unusual for you, a physical exam might at least be worth a shot.

      1. Ducky Avatar

        I’m almost 99% positive it’s mental. The reason why I was sick for so long was because I went to a doctor who misdiagnosed me twice. Finally I was able to go to a better doctor and he figured out what was wrong with me in nearly less than 10 minutes. (It was a gross conclusion so I’ll spare you the details.) After a few days I felt immensely better but I’d learned to eat so little while I was sick that it took me a long time to be able to eat more than the size of my fist at a time, ya know?

        I was getting my appetite back but then the stressor hit and I’m back to feeling queasy anytime food is mentioned.

        The plus side is that I’ve learned that Doritos are awesome when I’m sick. Way better than Saltines!

        1. Cassi Avatar

          Sorry to hear you had a crappy doctor, glad you found a better one. I just wanted to throw the possibility out there because I, personally, spent a decade in psychotherapy over a supposedly stress related condition only to find I had a physical problem… you can imagine that I was not a happy camper.

          Doritos, by the way, are way better than saltines even when you’re NOT sick ;)

  40. April Avatar

    I usually have no problems with my weight and I can eat whatever I want. They say, I’m gifted with having a fast metabolism. My only concern is remembering to eat when I’m working. I have a tendency to focus on work too much and so I forget to eat or am to tired to eat. So, I guess each individual have different responses in their eating habits. Great post by the way!

  41. Maia Avatar

    I thought I’d try to articulate what I found so troublesome about this post separate from the discussion of Ellen Satter’s wider ideas up thread. Because I have loved reading this blog. I do find the idea about the importance of prioritising food something I have struggled with, and would find knowing more about that really useful. But the material about trying new food was super triggering for me.

    I am Dyspraxic. Dyspraxia comes with a whole lot of sensory processing issues, including around the taste and particularly the texture of food. My dyspraxia was undiagnosed, and my experience of finding things difficult that other people thought should be easy was not respected throughout my childhood.

    I think it’s really problematic to say “competent eaters do X”. When X is very difficult for some people, and that difficulty is frequently pathologized and the experience of finding X difficult is minimised.

    So, for me, the emotion associated of it being a problem that I couldn’t handle a paritcular food, is about the same as the emotion associated with my body size.

    It’s only very recently (like the last month) that I’ve realised that I can get used to a new taste, or a new texture, but not both at the same time. So after 10 years of tasting a little bit of olive in something, I ate an olive when I was hungry over summer, and now I eat olives.

    This has implications – I now know how I could add things to my diet if I wanted to. I also know why I eat such a limited range of fruit, and that’s OK and not going to change (because it’s not in anything, so I have no opportunity to get used to the taste before I get used to the texture). But I could never have got there if I was pushing myself to eat new foods because there was some kind of competency or virtue in that. Other people haven’t respected my boundaries, so I can’t push them.

    Am I ever going to be decent at trying new foods (and I think decent is a loaded word with heaps of implications)? No I’m not, and that’s to be expected because trying new food has heaps more cost for me than most people (particularly as I now have an incredibly severe allergy to dairy products so cannot try anything unless I know what’s in it).

    I understand that these are not supposed to apply for everyone, but I still think it’s problematic to set them up in the way they are set up in this post. I think it sets up people like me, with disabilites, as the exception. So the norm becomes someone with no disability.

    I do think that it’s impossible to get away from the fact that if you describe one set of behaviours as ‘eating competence’ that implies the existance of ‘eating incompetence’.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I only have a quick minute, but I want to thank you for your comment, and for adding some complexity to this discussion.

      I also want to say that not being able to try a lot of new foods does not make you eating incompetent. It is only one factor among several, and it is still possible to score well on eating competence even if you have certain difficulties and obstacles with eating caused by a disability. The assessment for eating competence takes into account many different behaviours, and degrees of behaviour — meaning that people who are eating competent are still going to have a range of diverse habits and practices around food, while still meeting some basic criteria that makes them score highly on the test.

      The wording of “competence” (aside from obviously not being my invention) is problematic in some ways; I can’t deny that. People ARE going to interpret it in a specific way, largely because of the pressures of the culture we live in and the assumptions we make about eating and people’s value as human beings based on their eating habits. However, I have to accept that words are only ever rough and imperfect proxies for complex concepts. I’m not even sure that there is a term that could appropriately describe what the concept of “eating competence” describes without being problematic in some way.

      I’ve just come to accept that the term, while far from perfect, is at least a roughly functional term for a very useful concept.

  42. Kath Avatar

    Oh wow! I *am* getting good at eating! I thought I might be (though I still have my wibbly times), but to read the four factors of competent eating reinforces my thoughts that I am finally starting to sort this shit out.


  43. The Raisin Girl Avatar

    I’m in my junior year of college, and since my freshman year my eating habits have been all over the place, and my feelings about food have been really unhealthy. I felt guilty for eating certain foods. I even felt gross for eating some foods. My roommate sophomore year was a really–I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but maybe “militaristic” type of person. The type who has all these ultra-healthy, almost puritan living habits that they not only practice themselves, but encourage you to practice. I would always get disapproval vibes when I ate snacks or drank coffee, or took medicine for headaches (she considered ibuprofen for weak people). That and the stress of being at college really screwed my relationship with food, I think, and I’m just barely managing to get back to a good place with it now. What finally helped me, in fact, was something on a blog called Painfully Hip. It’s a fashion blog, but once she posted an interview where she said that her secret to staying healthy was “the deliciousness diet,” i.e. “if it isn’t delicious, it isn’t going in my mouth.”

    Between that and the concept that I don’t need a diet to tell me how to eat right, I’m slowly learning to be food-guilt-free, eat when I’m hungry and eat what I want. Finally!

  44. beatrix Avatar

    What a fabulous blog and I’m disappointed not to have found it sooner!

    I just wanted to say that I love Ellyn Satter and this whole concept that you describe of competent/”happy” eating, of finding the balance between eating 100% on intuition and planning some aspects of eating.

    My comment is that I believe these things are particularly difficult to accomplish in American/late capitalist culture, because our food cultures and traditions have broken down. My husband is from a European country where people still mostly eat the same way: at the same times every day, a range of traditional (homemade) dishes, AT home most of the time. Eating is a social, joyful occasion around which the rest of life centers. Meals are never a time for restriction but an occasion to nourish the body and to relax, and to ENJOY THE TASTE OF FOOD.

    Everything is so ritualized there that you don’t really have to think about ‘what to eat’. Eating is more labor intensive but because the food shopping, food preparation, the serving of the food, and the eating of it are all done basically in the same way (with many little variations of course, it’s not like they eat the same exact recipes every day!), much of the labor is totally automatic and doesn’t cause the least bit of anxiety.

    Here in the U.S. most people are not able to eat in such a context. We must think about food more, and we are less likely to be able to have stable, predictable, enjoyable, social meals as a matter of course. I think recreating a healthy food culture is the best way (if the most daunting) to create “competent eaters” who are HyAES.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Very interesting! Thank you for adding that insight. I think you’re onto something there about food traditions.

      There is a strange paradox about enjoying food more, but ultimately thinking about it LESS, and finding it less burdensome, that seems to occur when people improve their eating competence. I think you’ve described the same thing in your example of your husband’s traditions.

  45. Michelle Avatar

    To anyone with qualms about Ellyn Satter’s methods for children, I’d encourage you to read Katja’s blog post on her daughter’s refusal to drink milk:

    If anything isn’t bullying, it’s this method, which Katja uses.

  46. […] four factors of eating competence are mentioned in The Fat Nutritionist’s post “Getting good at eating“. Eating competence is stressed as descriptive, not prescriptive. If you are happy with the […]

  47. […] some reference to the increased well-being that can be found through enjoyment of movement and eating competence, there still remains a misconception that Fat Acceptance is only about being […]

  48. […] some reference to the increased well-being that can be found through enjoyment of movement and eating competence, there still remains a misconception that Fat Acceptance is only about being […]

  49. […] The net result of that knowledge and those characteristics was not that I magically learned how to eat competently despite all the messages I was getting from the culture surrounding me, nor was it that I […]

  50. Chandler Chiropracto Avatar

    I think this is a great article for many reasons, the most important is based on our judgement of others. It is so easy for me to look at other people’s shopping carts in the grocery store and assume all sorts of things about them and their eating habits. Thanks for the enlightenment.