The great divorce of body and mind.

I have a philosophy that goes something like this: you were born a complete, integrated whole of a being. Your mind, your thoughts, your body, your feelings, and your behaviours all converged in a single indivisible unit of you-ness.

When you needed food, you felt hunger, thought of food, and cried or reached out for it in one motion. There was no ambivalence, no questioning your own motives, no shame. You needed something — end of story. And if you were lucky enough, you got it.

I look back on the time I was dieting as a period of falling-out with my body. We fell out of synchronicity, and out of favour, with one another. We were no longer on speaking terms. And though the diet was a dramatic physical manifestation of the rift that had formed between my mind and my body, I believe the fault that led to the rift started much earlier.

The fault began to form when I started to feel the gaze around the age of 10 — when I began viewing myself from an external viewpoint, filtered through the preferences of my culture, and learned to continually measure myself against that standard.

The fault deepened when I first encountered food rules. Whether they came from the USDA or my parents or the school lunch program, the message was the same: there is predefined, normative standard for what and how much to eat. Any deviance from that standard leaves you vulnerable to criticism, ridicule, forceful re-education — possibly even social ostracization and loss of love.

In short, there is a right way to eat. Anything that doesn’t exactly fit that standard is, by definition, wrong.

Right is good; wrong is bad. And so, by extension, are you.

Ellyn Satter is probably most famous for her theory of The Division of Responsibility. It applies to feeding relationships between parents and children, and it states that while parents are in charge of deciding where, when, and what food to provide, children alone must be in charge of deciding how much and whether they will eat from what’s provided.

As the American Dietetic Association says:

Perhaps the best advice regarding child-feeding practices continues to be the division of responsibility between adult and child advocated by Satter (64). According to this division, the role of parents and other caregivers in feeding is to provide positive structure, age-appropriate support, and healthful food and beverage choices. Children are responsible for whether and how much to eat from what adults provide.

It’s a profound concept — one that successfully negotiates the gray area between guidance and control, autonomy and anarchy. And, as it turns out, it can be applied to any relationship where there is some kind of power differential.

The thing is, when you step all over someone’s autonomy — someone’s right to choose how much and whether — you have breached their boundaries, and you have done them violence. They may react to this by rebelling or, as in many cases of abuse, by taking on the role of doing that violence to themselves.

One thing is for certain, though, whatever the response: trust is lost.

A rift is established. Your mind and your conscious will, those parts of you that are indoctrinated into society, separate themselves from the rest of you — the body with its physical needs, the unconscious will and motives. The mind reins in the body to secure safe passage through society, and to synchronize its efforts with the larger body of humanity. The body is dressed, trimmed, made presentable, and its needs are secreted away in the private pockets of life.

Rules that attempt to tell us how much and whether (FIVE A DAY!!!) violate our boundaries. We, in turn, rebel in a desperate attempt to regain autonomy, while simultaneously learning to flagellate ourselves, to take on the role of the abuser in our own minds, and to view our behaviours from an external vantage point — the gaze that continually judges what we eat against our culture’s ideal of the mythical, perfect diet.

The mind has overstepped its boundaries, aided and abetted by cultural pressures. You begin to monitor your eating in ways that go beyond providing pleasurable food and adequate nutrition for yourself, beyond choosing and then respecting mealtimes. You count calories, or assign points. You deny pleasure, and embrace nutritionism.

You hush your body’s cries of hunger and fullness and desire until, eventually, you may find yourselves no longer on speaking terms.





77 responses to “The great divorce of body and mind.”

  1. sannanina Avatar

    The last few days I spent an incredible amount of time both checking out fatosphere blogs as well as hanging around this site:
    In particular, I spent a lot of time reading comments (and commenting myself) on this article, which I find incredibly frustrating: Michelle Obama taking on childhood obesity As usual, my comments quickly disappeared in an ocean of statements how great it is that the first lady takes care of this problem. For me, your post pretty much describes the essence of why this is not the case. But I cannot help feeling more and more frustrated how little our voices seem to matter when it comes to the whole obesity debate. Sure, there are trolls and people who simply need to feel superior, but what about all the (genuinely, I think) concerned people? Why don’t they at least listen to the people who actually KNOW how it is to be a fat child because they have been one themselves? It is fine to disagree, but in my experience people are not even willing to consider our alternative viewpoint. And that makes me sad.

  2. CTJen Avatar

    Beautiful post, Michelle.

  3. Julia Avatar

    I think the fact that this post brought tears to my eyes means UR DOIN IT RITE.

  4. Miriam Heddy Avatar
    Miriam Heddy

    I went to look at Satter’s site to look at the Division and noticed this under “Parents’ Feeding Jobs:”
    “Not let children graze for food or beverages between meal and snack times “

    I’m curious about what you think of that, in light of what you’ve written above. I’ve got 3 kids myself (9, 6, and 2 yrs) and they all might be classified as “grazers” except, well, what does that even mean? What does “between meal and snack times?” Aren’t snacks those things between meals? Does she actually mean that parents should restrict children to eating only at set times and not when they’re actually hungry? What if the kids aren’t hungry during those times that parents have set aside as “meal” or “snack” times?

    This puzzles me, as Satter’s words here seem to violate HAES and some of that bodily autonomy. But I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting her?


    1. Michelle Avatar

      In Satter’s work, snacks are treated very much like meals. The structure of set meal and snack times is considered important in order for people to 1) not obsess about food constantly, and 2) develop hunger signals. It’s been discovered that, if you do this, kids (and adults) adapt by BECOMING hungry at predictable times. Thus making it easy to set aside time and space to eat, as well as having the ability to pre-plan for meals, in order to give some thought to balanced nutrition (the top of the hierarchy of food needs, remember) as well as pleasure and taste preferences.

      (Meals are also important for social and behavioural reasons, but I’m not going to get into that here.)

      Satter would never suggest that you NOT feed a hungry child. But it is important for people to develop a moderate (yet tolerable) level of hunger before meals/snacks, and to eventually expect to be fed at set times. This structure, despite perhaps sounding restrictive in theory, actually proves to be very reassuring in practice. Knowing that another meal or snack is coming (and knowing when it is coming) allows a person to calmly eat attentively NOW, knowing that they can eat as much as they want, and that, when they get hungry again, there will be another, guaranteed chance to meet that need.

      Depending on the person and how hungry they get, setting up meal/snack times usually ends up leaving about 3 hours between feedings, which is a generally tolerable amount of time for most people. Some people may find they are hungrier at some points of the day, and less hungry at other points, so they customize their meal plan to reflect this (perhaps by having a snack in the afternoon in the long stretch between lunch and dinner, but maybe not needing a snack in the mornings. Or maybe needing a snack three times a day. Or no snacks at all.) It is entirely up to the individual to choose HOW to structure their meals/snacks, but the bottom line is that, in order to develop eating competence, that structure must be in place.

      “Demand feeding,” in which a person is fed immediately upon feeling hunger cues, is actually not considered to be appropriate past infancy, because it can eventually extinguish hunger signals, and it doesn’t contribute to eating competence (which has a specific definition that I will discuss later.) Adults live in a world in which dropping everything in order to eat immediately is not always possible. Children of school age also live in this context, and it is much better to provide them with the skills to calmly expect that they WILL be fed at meal and snack times, rather than making eating an “as it happens, if/when we get the chance” affair.

      Despite it seeming as though demand feeding will always provide food immediately upon feeling hunger, what often happens in practice is that you DON’T get fed because of practical constraints. So either you’re eating so quickly that you extinguish hunger signals in the long-term, or you become SO hungry that you scare yourself and set up a sense of food insecurity. Which leads to eating problems down the road.

      Determining meal and snack times beforehand allows you to prioritize eating in a way that 1) doesn’t allow it to be tossed to the side when circumstances interfere, and 2) doesn’t take over the rest of your life, either.

      I hope this makes sense. I’ve found in my own experience that structure works, and is actually the foundation for feeling sane around food. In fact, I had planned to write my next post about structure, specifically, which might freak people out a little bit if they are used to the demand feeding model. I may solicit the experiences of some of my clients to describe whether they think it is helpful, and what it actually feels like to do.

      All of that said — Satter’s definition of normal eating still includes the possibility that some people will just like to graze. If that works for them, and if they are happy doing that and have no problems that develop as a result, then that’s obviously an option. No one is trying to impinge on anyone’s autonomy here. But structured eating has proven extremely helpful for those who experience difficulties with eating, or for whom demand feeding/intuitive eating just doesn’t work (I was one of those people.)

      I want to reiterate: structure is NOT about restriction. It has nothing to do with what amounts you eat (the idea is that you eat however much you want at those times) or even WHAT you eat (you can eat anything you like at those times.) It is entirely about going from a chaotic, and perhaps anxiety-inducing state, to an organized, planned, and reassuring one. And because the goal is never to restrict your food or to control your weight, Satter’s model fits very well into a HAES framework (and Satter is, personally, very size accepting — to the point where she sometimes scares and confuses people who work in nutrition!)

      1. Julia Avatar

        You can solicit my opinion on this, because I am really, really pleased with what this model has been doing for me so far. :)
        To echo a bit, it really does feel like anti-restrictive behaviour: it isn’t that I can’t eat until my prescribed time (I’ve never taken structure to be so rigid that I can’t break it), but that I don’t need to think too hard or worry about food because I know my next meal or snack is coming within a reasonable time period. And I’m absolutely starting to notice hunger cues appearing at regular intervals; sometimes I’ll lose track of time, suddenly feel hunger, and realize it’s time to eat. It’s amazing.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Wow, thanks for adding that. I didn’t even have to ask! :)

          1. Gina Avatar

            I find that structured meals worked for me after recovering from an ED in 2002. It still works to this day. It’s actually something I learned (but ignored) the very first time I went to a WW meeting many years ago. Now, I practice it because it makes so much sense. So many times I’d be so hard on myself for being hungry “all the time” when, in fact, I was hungry because I WAS HUNGRY! I didn’t allow myself to eat outside of strict, very small meals. Thanks for your post. I’ll be sharing it. =)

          2. Michelle Avatar

            It’s actually something I learned (but ignored) the very first time I went to a WW meeting many years ago.

            And this, I believe, is a big reason why so many people have had POSITIVE experiences with WW — because it includes stuff like structure.

            That doesn’t make its overall goals of restriction and weight loss any less problematic, though, in my view. It simply obscures those risky goals with a veneer of HAES-flavouring. Which has, unfortunately, led them to somewhat successfully co-opt and twist the HAES message.

          3. Kaia Avatar

            Not my thread, I know, but I just wanted to say THANK YOU. This is how I overcame a rather scary (anxiety wise) binge eating episode (and when I say episode, I mean a few months) a few years ago, I just didn’t know there was a name for it, or why it worked… Nice to see it explained properly.

          4. Daniel M. Avatar
            Daniel M.

            Hmm, that is exactly the problem with many of these stuffs, such as *gasp* macrobiotics. The thing has a few sound bits, but then goes off in insane ways, such as that potato is unhealthy because it has too much water and so an jing/jang imbalance …
            But because of the sane part you will get folk for whom it works, and then, many others will attempt to follow only to their health’s detriment…

      2. Miriam Heddy Avatar
        Miriam Heddy

        Hmm. I’m trying to think about this in practice, because what I’ve seen in terms of structured times is that it echoes what you say about demand feeding, in that life invariably gets in the way of structure.

        But maybe that’s just the thing about ideals?

        Yesterday, for instance, my 9 year old was hungry after school. He always is, so that’s when he expects a snack. So you could say that it’s a structured snack. He always has something after school. But yesterday, the reason he was *especially* hungry was because they somehow ran over with schoolwork and had only 15 minutes for lunch. And he only got through half of his apple and tossed the rest because he didn’t think he’d want it after it turned brown.

        And most of us with kids find that, even if we have a “dinner time,” RL demands mean that it’s *not* always at precisely the same time. It simply can’t be. It’s within a time frame, contingent upon things like managing to leave work on time and not getting that last phone call, the train arriving on time, not remembering you need to stop for formula, etc. etc.

        Perhaps the RL model–the thing that most of us end can reasonably shoot for– is necessarily going to be less structured.

        The other thing I wonder about, from a feminist perspective, is whether Satter’s considered, within that Division of Responsibility, gender as a factor. So much of the ideals we seem to carry about mealtimes is dependent on the idealized dual-parent with stay-at-home mom setup. People like Michael Pollan have been (I think quite reasonably) criticized for embedding a nostalgia for a prelapsarian 1950s “housewife” in his vision of good eating.)

        Does Satter gender her theory at all, looking at the Division of Responsibility within the home, and for family, in terms of men adn women (who are allotted very different food amounts)? I suspect that for many moms, it’s especially difficult to deal with two sets of ideals. While we may be aware that children *need* structured snacks, we’re told that, as women, we should not be eating them at all, period, even as we’re told that we need to provide food for “hungry men.”

        1. Michelle Avatar

          It’s within a time frame, contingent upon things like managing to leave work on time and not getting that last phone call, the train arriving on time, not remembering you need to stop for formula, etc. etc.

          Yes, this is how even “structured” meals work. There’s always room for flexibility, as Julia points out. Structure is just an attempt to reduce the chaos, not override real life. And in the end, it seems to be the intervals between feedings that are important, moreso than actual time of day.

          And your question about gender roles is a good one. Once again, my commenters are anticipating blog posts I already have in the pipeline — I was going to write one about Women’s Right to Food, and about how women seem to be systemically expected to eat less (even according to “scientific” guidelines, which oh-so-conveniently align with patriarchical beliefs.)

          Anyway, I don’t think I’ve read or heard Ellyn Satter discuss gender in her model. But it would be cool if she did.

        2. Katja Rowell Avatar

          I am a mom, a doctor and a childhood feeding specialist very comfortable with Satter’s work. I am also a feminist :) I never got the sense of any gender bias. Satter admits that feeding with structure is hard work, but so is being a parent (father, mother, foster parent, childcare provider….) More than any other resources I have scoured, Satter’s work accepts and embraces the realities of many differing families and is realistic about getting meals and nourishment on the table. In Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family, she shares pantry ideas, meal planning with take-out, frozen, scratch foods etc. Sadly, I see many more moms who struggle with feeding than dads. I’d say a good portion of the families I work with have mother’s who have disordered eating. Far higher than the dads. (This reflects the general culture I believe.) With that said, watching your child trust and tune in to internal cues of hunger and satiety is hugely powerful for moms. I’ve had more than one mom say, “I watch my kid leave half a brownie because they’re full and I realize I can do that too.”
          GREAT post Michele, keep up the good work!

      3. sara Avatar

        What I love about you and your dietetic approach SO much is how logical and easy you explain things. As someone who has struggled with various forms of an eating disorder for the past 12 yrs of my life (currently in treatment) you are so incredibly refreshing. Every time I read one of your posts I feel a bit better, “refreshed,” and a little more whole. I have a dietician that works off the same approach/ideas that you do, and its nice to see my goals and what I’ve heard from him validated. In response to this post, I absolutely 100% agree. I grew up in a household with parents who came home from work between 3-11pm. Dinner came “at some point” between those hours. Now I struggle with a demand feeding schedule that completely negates and does not honor my body’s internal hunger cues. I’ve lost all sense of what my body needs due to my restrictive and overpermissive eating behaviors that go along with my eating disorder, and even after months of no symptom use, I STILL have issues understanding what my body is asking for. Compulsive overeating was the behavior that I was ultimately managing with restricting, over-exercising, bingeing and purging, etc…its taken me 3 years of therapy and work with my treatment team to come to this, often in denial along the way. As much as I wish that I could go back in time and beg my parents for consistency, I know that thinking is not helpful – I have to provide myself with consistency, termed as “reparenting” myself by my therapist. You are absolutely right – not knowing when your next meal is coming really screws up the system, both physiologically and psychologically. Your blog has been a recentering and balancing place for me to come to when I don’t believe a damn word my treatment team is saying. Thank you, truly, for saying something accurate and TRUE about nutrition and for clearing up “diet fad rumors” and other society-based bullshit. Feel free to contact me to get my opinions on anything, seriously. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (I apologize for the length of this comment, but, there was a lot to say!)

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I have a dietician that works off the same approach/ideas that you do, and its nice to see my goals and what I’ve heard from him validated.

          You can’t imagine how happy I am to hear this. The idea that other people are out there doing this work absolutely inspires and fortifies me.

          I have to provide myself with consistency, termed as “reparenting” myself by my therapist.

          Exactly. In order to achieve trust between our minds and bodies, we have to learn to BECOME trustworthy. One powerful way of doing that, in real life, is by providing ourselves with guaranteed, planned-for, structured meals and snacks.

      4. EmmaL Avatar

        THANK YOU, a million times.

        I have never been able to figure out why demand feeding has never worked for me, but this nails it exactly. I have always felt absurdly guilty that I couldn’t get the hang of demand feeding, because everything I’ve read about eating disorder recovery implies that it works for everyone, if you just try hard enough.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Same same same same here.

        2. sannanina Avatar

          I have always felt absurdly guilty that I couldn’t get the hang of demand feeding, because everything I’ve read about eating disorder recovery implies that it works for everyone, if you just try hard enough.

          Apart from Michelle’s point about demand feeding I also have a strong believe that pretty much nothing works for everyone – at least when you stick to a model rigidly. There are approaches that work for almost everyone, but particularly if you are recoving from an eating disorder there might be things that work well for the average person but that trigger stuff like feelings of anxiety and other counterproductive feelings/emotions/ etc. in you. This makes it very difficult to navigate through recovery because it sometimes is necessary to just try something out for a while even though doesn’t seem to work at first – but in the end looking at what works for you is an important part of trusting your needs again I think. Or at least this is my experience.

        3. Damanique Avatar

          Same here! I’m so happy to be reading this somewhere – ever since I got into fat acceptance, I’ve been trying to adopt demand feeding, intuitive eating… but all I end up is just snacking all the time, eating when hungry and eating when not hungry but out of boredom or emotions. Or postponing eating for too long and go painfully hungry, typically when I’m commuting or visiting friends and feel guilty about asking for food – since as a fat person, asking for food and wanting food is a shameful thing. It never really occurred to me that intuitive eating just doesn’t do it for me – as usual I just blamed myself.

          When everything else in my life has proven that I benefit a lot from structure and order, because I’m a sensitive and emotional person – and knowing what to do when and when what happens is reassuring.

          Now, I may just try a more structured approach to my eating pattern.

          On a sidenote, there’s this government-sponsored guideline about fruits and vegetables over here… “eat two pieces of fruit and 200 grams of veggies a day!!111” It’s always annoyed the hell out of me, but I couldn’t quite say why until reading this post.

      5. blackcherryorchid Avatar

        I started reading this website after discovering the article on food and poverty, which really spoke to my experience as a poor person. I really appreciated that. But now I’m thinking about structured meals and from my perspective this can be difficult to do when you’re poor.

        There are many times I do not have food in the house (like the end of the month when food stamps and social security have run out, i.e. now) and have to rely on creativity and the generosity of others. I may go a day without eating, and then find myself with enough food the next day (though little choice over what I eat). Many times I decide that I’m going to start eating regular meals and then find myself stymied by the fact that I have no breakfast at breakfast time, no snacks of any kind or maybe only snacks and no larger meals, etc.

        I have been trained to expect hunger and not to have much control over satisfying that hunger. I might go half a month eating regular meals and half a month eating whatever I can get whenever I can get it. Now I have noticed that even when I have food and it is a time of plenty, it takes me a little while to adjust and I tend to overeat (which also means I run out of food sooner!). By the time my body gets on track with a regular schedule (which I agree is very freeing), the month is winding down and I have to mess it up again.

      6. Linda Avatar

        You say, “The thing is, when you step all over someone’s autonomy — someone’s right to choose how much and whether — you have breached their boundaries, and you have done them violence. They may react to this by rebelling or, as in many cases of abuse, by taking on the role of doing that violence to themselves.” Yes. Absolutely. But why, exactly, are “what” and “when” excluded from this? How is that logical?

        Let me back up a bit. It seems to me that much of this is based in cultural assumptions about what a day in a life should look like; that you plan for food consumption to defer, in a sense, to that artificially imposed structure. It may be necessary if you’ve accepted that artificially imposed structure, but it does not then follow that it is the healthiest way to eat; only the healthiest, ostensibly, within that restrictive context. It might very well be a valid technique for dealing with disordered eating as well. But my point is that it’s not inherently necessary or the ultimate in normality and should not be regarded as dogmatic truth. I’m not saying that you’re asserting that, but people do tend to see people like you (i.e. the “experts”) as authoritative and people are also trained in our society to look for and live by provided rules. So I think it’s important to be clear that such rules, including this one, can be used as a tool in a certain context to work toward a certain goal, but are not the be-all and end-all of normal eating.

        I grew up with the “three scheduled meals a day plus snack” mentality, and yet it has always felt like a foreign concept to my body. As an adult I dropped the mealtimes and began eating, simply, when my body gave me a little signal — normally not full on raging hunger but more like a nudge — that it was time to eat. Just as it gives me a little nudge when it’s time to pee; or to shift my body to promote circulation; or to rest; etc. This seems to me as normal as it gets, so I am suspicious, always, of anything that says that we can improve on basic bodily functions — assuming they are already normal — by managing them. This is why I react so strongly to this notion that that’s exactly what should be done to children who are beyond infancy. There is not a line that is naturally crossed at which an outside source (the caregiver) suddenly knows better than the inside source (the body.) Unless young children have already been trained into disordered eating (and many are, from infancy,) their bodies will continue to guide them to seek nourishment as is truly needed, including what and when. I think it is an absolute myth that the natural body has to learn to develop hunger signals through structure. Structure may help them re-emerge; it doesn’t create them. They are already there, given to us by nature, we just have to not interfere with them.

        There are, yes, some practical considerations to take into account. Your point — “what often happens in practice is that you DON’T get fed because of practical constraints. So either you’re eating so quickly that you extinguish hunger signals in the long-term, or you become SO hungry that you scare yourself and set up a sense of food insecurity” — is an important one. But there is a different type of planning that can take place so that’s not an issue, and it’s not a difficult one: namely, having food around that does not have to be prepared or that requires only extremely simple preparation. For me, that does not engender obsession or stress because there is not a great amount of attention that needs to be paid to it. What does engender obsession and stress is to start adding in specific times and places and prepared meals, via “rule”.

        And frankly, I don’t want my kids to learn to depend on waiting for what’s put before them, and when, to shape their eating life. They are not made insecure by not having that; they are made secure by having an abundance of food and knowing that it is available any time they need it. Again, I think your plan is only reasonable and useful in specific situations: when the rest of a person’s schedule is strict and they have no choice but to abide by it, or when they are coming from disordered eating and intuitive eating is too big of a step for them to take.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          but it does not then follow that it is the healthiest way to eat; only the healthiest, ostensibly, within that restrictive context.

          You’re right, and this is what I intend to mean by saying this. Many people live within such a context, and need to defer to it. But for people who are able not to, and who find not having this imposed structure works for them, well…I think that’s great.

          But there is a different type of planning that can take place so that’s not an issue, and it’s not a difficult one: namely, having food around that does not have to be prepared or that requires only extremely simple preparation.

          I think this is an interesting, and good, strategy. But it also concerns me in that, unless you’re doing a lot of cooking ahead of time to make these things available to yourself, you might be missing a lot of variety in your food selection if you only rely on things that are convenient.

          when the rest of a person’s schedule is strict and they have no choice but to abide by it, or when they are coming from disordered eating and intuitive eating is too big of a step for them to take.

          These are exactly the situations I’m addressing. I’m not meaning to imply that all people should feel obligated to eat a certain way, or follow a certain plan. I just know that intuitive eating (in the demand feeding sense) did not work for me, and does not work for a lot of other people. So this is what I prefer, instead.

          In short: I don’t make rules for people’s eating. I believe people should eat whatever and however they want.

  5. deeleigh Avatar

    It’s really striking how both nutrition and physical activity can be either tools for alienation or tools for more fully connecting with our bodies. “Self discipline” and “willpower” are ultimately weapons that we use against ourselves. They’re like sending in the military when diplomacy is called for – and diplomacy is all about listening.

    When I first got involved in fat acceptance, I was a huge promoter of physical activity, and was involved in some misunderstandings with other activists. I saw exercise as a form of self care. They associated it with weight loss dieting. Being active had done a lot to heal the mind-body rift I’d felt since adolescence. It made me feel more integrated with my body; energetic, joyful, and strong. I couldn’t understand why others saw it as punishing and associated it with restricted eating and body hatred.

    The fact is that movement, like cooking and eating, can be either affirmative and integrative or negative and alienating – and you do a great job of drawing that line in this post, Michelle.

    I’ve found that if I decide where, when, and what type of movement to offer myself – taking both convenience and my preferences into consideration – then it’s important to offer myself other choices at the time: whether to go, and how hard to work. When I’m waffling, I always assure myself that I’m allowed to take it easy or not finish. Then, even if I’m not sure, I let my feet take me to the right place and I begin. It’s a discussion I have with myself almost every time I plan to do something active, and four out of five times, I do it – and almost always end up glad I did.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Very good point. Satter also has introduced the idea of “division of responsibility” in moving. We talked about it a bit at the workshop I attended, and it seemed like a very positive way of introducing movement to both adults and children — even to me, someone who was scared off of exercise after abusing it during my weight loss phase.

  6. Emerald Avatar

    Children of school age also live in this context, and it is much better to provide them with the skills to calmly expect that they WILL be fed at meal and snack times, rather than making eating an “as it happens, if/when we get the chance” affair.

    You know, that makes me wonder something. There’s this stereotypical image of the ‘fat kid always snacking between meals’, with the assumption that constant grazing made the kid fat, but it strikes me that the causality could be totally the other way round. A fat child will have probably had parents (and maybe also school) step in to limit their intake at mealtimes, so that child is learning that enough food will not be available to satisfy their hunger at set times as per what Satter says here. Eating whatever happens to be available, whenever it’s available, even if they’re not actually hungry right then, could be a possible response to that. In other words, a habit of grazing could develop as a consequence of the child’s ‘how much and whether’ power being violated. Does that sound logical?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes. Satter has observed that children whose meals are restricted actually tend to grow fatter. Children whose guidelines around eating are too loose (or whose parents try to force food on them) tend to drop off their growth curve somewhat. Neither situation is ideal.

    2. Lisa Avatar

      It makes TOTAL sense to me! I *was* that child, although I was not fat. But my mom was terrified I would be fat and acted accordingly.

  7. Heather Avatar

    This is a lovely post that resonates very much with my experiences and thoughts. I do wonder, however, how one can bridge the chasm between the looking-glass self and the body — and if it is even possible to do as an adult.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Very interesting question (and concept — one I’d never heard before.) It’s also one I’m still trying to hash out myself. Right now I’m reading a philosophy book called Science and Poetry by Mary Midgley that addresses this. I’m hoping it will clarify some things for me.

      1. Heather Avatar

        That looks like an awesome book. Thank you for mentioning it.

        On a more personal note, I’m trying to get to the point where my body and psyche work together, rather than at cross purposes. The first part is, clearly, learning to listen to my body and to honor it, and that is unfortunately a lot harder than it seems. I’m just at the beginning now, and HAES is a big part of it for me, but it is slow going. Believing that the Cartesian mind/body duality is wrong, and actually living that way are two very different things.

  8. Lisa Avatar

    Great post, Michelle. The explanation of Satter’s structured meal/snack recommendations in the comments was also very helpful for me since I recovered from my BED using demand feeding.

    Are you on the ASDAH yahoo list? Because this really ties into a discussion we’re having there about intuitive eating and how it fits into HAES. I would really like to post a link there to this – is that OK with you?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes, I’m on the ASDAH list and, in fact, was just reading that discussion this morning! I haven’t been able to join in because of some difficulties with my yahoo email account though. So please, feel free to link my post!

  9. Your husband Avatar
    Your husband

    What the hell are you doin’ out the kitchen?

    1. Michelle Avatar


      eatin cookies, respondin to blog commentzzz

  10. Mina Avatar

    A wonderful post as usual. The sentence “You count calories, or assign points. You deny pleasure, and embrace nutritionism.” really spoke home to me. Because at one point in time I was on a severely restricted diet to make me lose weight. I lost 30 pounds, and wanted to cry every single time I had to eat. I’ve currently gained that 30 pounds back, enjoy what I eat, and haven’t put on any more weight in over a year.

    Funny how your body gets in sync with you when it enjoys what you’re giving it.

  11. Ann Avatar

    Thank you for this post and discussion. I recently recommended Ellyn Satter to my SIL, who was concerned about her childrens’ eating habits/weight.

    I look for to the next post on structure. I struggle with intuitive eating as a disordered eater since a young age. As always, you’ve given me loads to think about.

  12. Lisablue Avatar

    This is an absolutely stellar post.

    Speaking as someone who often had food withheld when growing up, learning as an adult to trust that food will always be available to me when I’m hungry is STILL challenging to me – and I’ve been working on letting myself know it for at least 15 years! But some days I eat too much “in case I can’t eat later” or eat too fast “so no-one can take it away” or plan plan plan what I’m going to eat. Although I’m getting better at all of those – probably the biggest thing I still do is overbuy for my pantry “so we don’t run out”.

    For my son, in order to teach him that food will always be available to him, I offer him food often (maybe too often according to Satter?). When we go out, I always have something in my bag – a fruit bar, some crackers, whatever – in case he asks for food. If he eats dinner and then after leaving the table asks for some other food – I get it for him. The only two things I try to do that might be considered “restrictions” about food are a) If he asks for food and dinner will be on the table within 30 minutes, then I try to get him to wait for dinner and b) I will never act as a short order cook for meals. He gets what we’re eating (with the caveat that if there’s something I know he doesn’t like, I give him something that looks the same – like vegan sour cream instead of garlicky caesar salad dressing), and there will always be at least one item in a meal that I know he likes. There will be no “second meal” cooked for the child that’s spaghetti because we’re eating risotto…. or whatever… but of course if he only eats a bit for dinner and then an hour later is hungry, I’ll find him something to eat.

    All to say that… well… great post, Michelle.

    I second the interest in the post about gender and food. It would be lovely too if you’d talk a little bit about the societal expectations of women to provide the correct nutrition/amounts of food while being expected not to partake…

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hey Lisa,

      I just want to take this opportunity to reassure you that, if there doesn’t seem to be a problem with your kid, don’t worry too much that you’re doing it in a different way than Satter suggests. I don’t think there’s much benefit to having anxiety where a problem doesn’t exist. If you’re not harping on your kid’s weight, and there are no significant feeding problems between the two of you, then you’re already doing far better than lots of parents.

      Yes, if you’re interested in changing something, Ellyn Satter’s method has been recognized for a long time as being a very good one. And she has plenty of books available to help parents deal with feeding their kids. But, the bottom line? No one has to do things any one way. And it sounds to me like you’re probably doing just fine :)

      1. Lisablue Avatar

        Hey thanks!

        I didn’t mean to come across as worried – I’m pretty happy with how it’s going with the little guy so far, actually. If he’s not hungry I don’t push it, if he’s hungry he eats, and on the (rare, but it does happen) occasion when he’s so hungry he’s cranky, but he doesn’t want to stop playing, well, I’ve followed him around with bits of food until he’s ready to stop and eat. Heh. All in all, so far, so good.

        Now if I could just get MYSELF to trust that food will be there when I need it… ;)

  13. Bilt4Cmfrt Avatar

    Ok, this is DEEP. Reading what you’ve written [Then reading it again to make sure I wasn’t in over my head ; )] the things it says to me [Cause I’m weird and I see connections in weird places] is that almost everything we’re trying to do with normalizing body consciousness and balancing disordered food relationships could benefit more than just people with weight / body issues. I mean, this kind of thing would work for EVERYBODY [literally, even] if they could just manage to un-learn all the crap they’ve already invested in [Yeah, just so easy that. As I’m sure Sara can attest].

    But this is light years better than ‘whip yourself into eating less’ and ‘No pain. No gain. Because pain is good for you and should be fun. 10 more reps, Worm.’ And, one would think so much more logical than all the other ways that competitive One-upsmanship has twisted our perceptions of what a successfully healthy life looks like. We slip so easily into extremes, of control or lack of it, of ideals or rebellion against them, that we’ve stopped hearing what our bodies have to say on the subject or stopped believing that what it’s got to say even matters.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I mean, this kind of thing would work for EVERYBODY [literally, even] if they could just manage to un-learn all the crap they’ve already invested in

      Maybe I’m an idealist, but yeah. This is kind of what I believe. Though, as you say, it is MUCH harder in practice.

      In the scientific literature, HAES approaches have been recommended as a way of addressing BOTH “obesity” and eating disorders. And I think it’s a sound recommendation, if only people would take it seriously.

      That’s also how I feel about the eating competence model — I think it’s something that could help people coming from lots of different perspectives. But it is hard to let go of what we’ve been taught, whether that thing is dieting or pure demand feeding.

  14. Kate Avatar

    My friends feed their daughter much like you recommend. She can pretty have as much of what she wants at meals and snack times from what they have available, they don’t push any foods, just let her pick what she wants and she has a incredibly varied palate for a four year old, probably broader than mine now.

    Her parents have told me that sometimes she eats so much they can’t even believe it and even though they want to say something, they have not, but within a week of her largest meals, she’ll have a noticable growth spurt.

    At one point, the parents did was reduce the amount of candy in the house because the daughter tended to head toward sweets, but she didn’t complain when they weren’t available, she just found something else instead.

  15. Joy Avatar

    This sounds really good. I’m a new reader of yours, Michelle, and I’m liking what I see! I liked the idea of intuitive eating because it’s suggestive of being more responsive to one’s body than I grew up being. BUT, it hasn’t worked really well for me, since without planning, I often don’t have food available when I experience hunger. This sounds like a balance of structure (so that the food is there when you need it, and you have some predictablility as to WHEN you’ll need it), but also ultimately about being responsive, rather than prescriptive.

  16. Emily Avatar

    Great post! Like so much else on your site, this doesn’t just apply to food. It’s about respecting your kids, and teaching yourself that you’re allowed to have boundaries. When one person grabs hold of another and disallows a boundary, or when society does, it teaches us helplessness. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; I tell you you’re helpless, I deny you the right to choose, you never learn how to make the right choices, you become helpless, thus validating me. I’m trying to deal with someone who doesn’t recognize my right to have boundaries at all, so this really hit home for me. It’s so easy to start looking at ourselves the way others look at us, and give up our autonomy. Especially if we’ve been socialized to be “good girls”.

  17. Katie Avatar

    Ok. I think I must be slow here or just really, really messed up. Probably both..
    I starved myself down from a size 8 to a size 2. Working out 2x per day. Needless to say the binge eating started (surprize!). I tried doing things like “The Abs Diet”, “Eat Clean Diet” where you eat 5 mini meals. Let’s just say that made things worse.
    I tried IE but I felt like I should only be eating 3 bites of things or I should be losing weight or not gaining and then I felt guilty if I ate when not hungry, or I didn’t train myself to eat less or only eat “non-junk “foods. So more brain explosion.

    I’m either starving or eating until I’m satisfied (which is SO NOT 80% full) and then feeling guilty. If I eat 2 cookies everyday I feel guilty, etc. etc. I feel like I’m always over-eating–maybe I haven’t shaken the whole “diet get skinny mentality”.

    So, long story short, I don’t understand? To me, it sounds like the “The Abs Diet”. Or something like that. Oh and I don’t recommend doing what I did. It really screws with your head in many ways.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think your experience describes almost perfectly what Ellyn Satter calls a “dieting casualty.” When you get to the point where you interpret everything as means to achieve weight loss, and you can no longer trust your own signals of hunger and satiety, or your own food choices, without feeling guilty…I think that’s the reason why Satter developed the How to Eat protocol for adults (which is the protocol I use in working with clients.) Because people have forgotten how to eat without somehow feeling like it should produce weight loss.

      Again, here’s a quote about how Satter proposes adults should eat: “ecSatter encourages you to feel positive about your eating, to be reliable about feeding yourself, to eat food you enjoy, to eat enough to feel satisfied, and to let your body weigh what it will.”

      In conclusion — no, I don’t think this is anything like The Abs Diet. Because it has nothing to do with weight loss, or with eating certain, special foods. It has to do with eating food you like and reliably feeding yourself so you can feel normal around food.

      1. Katie Avatar


        Yup. I’d say I’d fit perfectly into the “diet casualty” territory. Seriously, I think about food all the time. What, when, how, yadda, yadda. I feel like I need to be thinner all the time. Probably because via real life, tv, internet, I keep getting pounded with the message that I should be.
        I don’t know why I can’t be comfortable with my body or let it go.
        Thank you for that suggestion. I will have to check it out.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          It’s not at all your fault. We live in a culture that’s sick with these things. Realizing it and wanting to change it is the first step out.

          In that sense, you’re further along than many, many people.

  18. LBC Avatar

    Could somebody expand on the “what” of the Ellyn Satter model? Meaning that the parents are in charge of “what” is offered. Wouldn’t that just encourage some (food restriction-inclined) parents to turn the plan into a “diet” that allows “good” food and disallows “bad” food? Or is the assumption that if the kid can’t find anything s/he likes to eat in the offerings, that other things will be tried to keep the kid fed?

    It’s really easy for me to imagine how some parents could interpret the Satter model in the worst possible way.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      The idea is that, preferably, the parents will be eating competent enough themselves that they will be able to choose food appropriately — which means balancing preferences and taste with nutritional quality. You’d really have to read some more of Ellyn’s work to get all the details, but here is a brief article she wrote about how adults can transition to having regular family meals:

      To wit: “To get started with family meals, change the how first; think about the what later—lots later.”

      How is more important — always — than what. How has to come first. If that means your meals consist, at first, of potato chips and hotdogs and ice cream? Good. That’s absolutely fine.

      And here’s a quote about how Satter proposes adults should eat: “ecSatter encourages you to feel positive about your eating, to be reliable about feeding yourself, to eat food you enjoy, to eat enough to feel satisfied, and to let your body weigh what it will.”

  19. Sarah Avatar

    Whatever my quibbles, the one or two points of difference I’ve enumerated in response to other posts, this is a gorgeous post, Michelle. Thank you.

  20. julie Avatar

    I actually find structure comforting as well, though I’ve been doing much more demand feeding lately. I don’t really have a set schedule, and sometimes keep strange hours. Some days I exercise more or sleep less or have pms, and I need to eat more than it seems I should. If I don’t allow myself to eat, I may not binge, but I’ll get very irritated and hungry. OTOH, sometimes I’ll have a huge late lunch, and want no dinner. I don’t like to force feed myself any more than I like to starve myself.

    I really only do structured when I am sick and can’t tell if I’m hungry. Or the first few weeks quitting smoking, when food sucks and so does everything else, but I’d better eat anyway. There are times when I will not find my appetite, which doesn’t mean I can get away with starving myself (and I don’t let myself do this, as tempting as it may be at times) Maybe I’ll try more structure/regularity, but then again, why mess with something that’s comfortable and working for me? I’m not going to raise kids. I’ll think on this some more.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yeah, now that I’m to the point where I can just eat willy-nilly without feeling overly weird about it, I kind of go back and forth between set structure and more catch-as-catch-can meals (the latter usually happens when things are going a little crazy in my life, when I’m travelling a lot, or when I’m sick or having an episode of depression, etc.)

      I do notice, however, that I feel much, much better — more well-nourished and more comforted — when I return to my routine of eating regular meals at set times. And my weight is more stable, too, rather than having random spurts of gaining and losing. In fact, my weight stabilized for the first time in my entire life after I began eating structured meals, which was a revelation to me, a person who thought she would gain weight indefinitely until the end of her life, and therefore believed her body was somehow “broken.”

      Structured meals, though they are now something I can do or not do and still feel fine around food, were, however, absolutely essential in getting over my past with dieting and back to feeling normal about food. Trying to jump immediately into demand feeding/intuitive eating simply didn’t work for me in the way it seems to work for some people.

      1. Katie Avatar

        Heh, me again! This is very encouraging, especially since I seemed to have the same experiences with IE as you did.
        Seriously, I’ve actually caught myself thinking things like,” I’m happier when I don’t eat..I’d rather not eat…etc”. Then I’m standing infront of the pantry eating croutons.
        Btw, I don’t know why I thought of this but I watched the movie “Step Brothers” with Will Farrell. It’s a Judd Apatow film. Basically it’s two 40 year old guys who never left home. They act like kids/teens, right down to the detail of what they eat. The adults were eating salad and fish and they had chicken nuggets and tater tots. For some reason I thought that was the most awesome thing ever. It’s actually a funny premise and wasn’t “over done”.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          ” I’m happier when I don’t eat..I’d rather not eat…etc”.

          I found myself doing this too, at one point. It was awful, but my eating was so painful to me because I was so wracked with guilt and confusion that it was, at times, easier just not to eat at all. Until, of course, my body forced me to.

          Also — I loved Step Brothers, hahaha. I have a very immature sense of humour, and the chicken nuggets scene (with Fancy Sauce) is great.

          1. julie Avatar

            I didn’t go right from being a lifelong neurotic guilt-ridden dieter who couldn’t eat anything comfortably to someone who is comfortable with IE/demand feeding. It was years, and a lot of weight cycling. I had to stop bingeing, and that was uncomfortable, and I had to learn to eat without freaking out and thinking I’d gain 5 pounds if I ate any fat or sugar or whateverthehell I was a bad person for eating. It was hell. I’m still learning, and it’s hard not to feel irrational emotions wrt this stuff still. It seems once you take the emotions away, eating gets more peaceful, but it’s still a large step to trust it. I’ve been food and weight obsessed my whole life and I just got tired of feeling so awful, couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t know if it’ll ever go away, but it can’t dominate my life anymore. I used a lot more structure early on, but now I’m indifferent. Nothing else in my life is on a schedule, but I generally eat threeish meals a day, at semi-regular intervals. Sometimes four, sometimes two. Sometimes breakfast is larger, sometimes dinner is larger, sometimes all are similar. As long as I’m eating enough, and sometimes I override intuition here, as I still try to diet if I let myself or aren’t paying attention, and then I’m vulnerable to binge-not sane or stable.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Yeah, I struggled for about five years on my own before I packed it in and went to see the dietitian. And now it’s been about five years since that, and I still see it as the major turning-point on my way to becoming a pretty normal eater.

            Before then, though I wholeheartedly believed in FA and HAES and intuitive eating, I obviously struggled with food and feeling my hunger/satiety signals, but the biggest thing was I was genuinely tempted to diet on many, many occasions. I seriously considered it, several times. I thought, at first, it was because I found living in a larger body to be so painful, socially, but after getting my eating sorted out, I think I’ve discovered that the urge to diet and lose weight — though seeming to be about body image and aesthetics on the surface — actually had a lot to do with wanting better control over my relationship with food. Though I never would have suspected that at the time.

            Anyhow, since becoming really comfortable with eating, those urges to diet sort of magically ceased to be. And that, in turn, has allowed me to progress a lot more in becoming comfortable with my body, visually and aesthetically.

  21. Katie Avatar

    Me again. I put Ellyn’s books on my wishlist. Also, because of you I resubscribed to my favorite cooking magazines. I cancelled them because of, well, you KNOW!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I’m happy to hear that. It’s good to enjoy food — in fact, it’s good for you.

      And I hope you get something out of Ellyn’s books if you ever read them. They are mainly targeted to families with children, however, so if you’re reading from the perspective of an adult looking to shore up your own eating stuff, the first three sections of “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” is called How to Eat, and it’s aimed at adults.

  22. Nancy Lebovitz Avatar

    I think “healthy foods” needs to be better defined– in a discussion about Michele Obama and her diet for her kids, I saw statements like “well, hamburgers aren’t healthy”– I think there was an assumption that only low-fat foods are healthy.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I agree. The complicated thing about nutrition is — there is no one, single type of food that is healthy for everybody, as much as people would like there to be.

      People with different health conditions, or even just different bodily preferences/genetics, need different kinds of food for optimal health. That’s one reason why variety is so important on a grand scale. It’s also why promoting certain things as “healthy” and certain other things as “unhealthy” is ridiculously simplistic, at best. It’s akin to saying certain foods are poison, which we know just isn’t true.

      Take, for instance, the big controversy over hospitals serving “junk food” in their food courts. Do I think some lighter options should be available? Yes, in the service of providing a variety to choose from. Do I think the “junk food” should be removed? Absolutely not. Here’s why:

      In hospital, patients are nominally fed by the nutrition service. A lot of patients find that food good enough, and that’s fine. But the budgets for food service in hospitals tend to be really, really low, and the food quality/amounts/variety tends to kind of suck.

      Therefore, a lot of patients end up getting food from the food court, whether their family brings it to them, or they shuffle down there themselves. And in some cases? This is a GODSEND. For cancer patients who aren’t eating the hospital food and are dropping weight like crazy, having easy access to a Big Mac can hugely improve their chances of getting through treatment without being terribly malnourished.

      I have laboured and laboured and laboured with a dietitian trying to get enough food into a severely malnourished patient. But because most of the foods provided by the hospital service were not-super-calorie dense (because, you know, that’s “not healthy!”) we couldn’t do it, and the patient was getting really tired of trying to eat 12,000 moderately-caloric snacks a day, and sick of us coming in to push food on him. We actually WANTED him to start getting junk food from outside, because it was the only way he’d get his nutritional needs met without eating snacks and meals 24/7.

      But no one seems to think of this when they’re labelling foods as healthy and not-healthy. Sick people are hardly ever considered, and “normal, healthy” people are hugely privileged and catered to. This bothers me on many levels.

      1. Katie Avatar

        Your situation regarding the patient and junk food reminded me of the freakout that occurred when Michael Phelps talked about his diet in the media. “OMG he eats eggs! OMG he eats MacDonalds! He’s going to pay for it later!”
        “Why can’t he eat clean?”

      2. quietann Avatar

        This reminds me of back before treatment for AIDS was available, and anyone who worked with patients with AIDS was desperate to get calories into them in any manner possible. I helped make “meals on wheels” for people with AIDS for a while, and OMG the cream, the butter, the fried foods, the “how many more calories can we pack into this serving of green beans?” Our goal was 4000 calories per meal. It was quite eye-opening. And now, with treatment available, it turns out that the meds accelerate the “aging” process to some degree, so people with AIDS have metabolic changes that make it easier for them to become fat, not thin….

      3. Karen Avatar

        You are truly a voice of sanity.

        I have Crohn’s disease with multiple small-bowel strictures, which means that I’m basically a bran muffin away from a life-threatening intestinal blockage. I’d love to “eat mostly plants,” but I can’t digest them. It’s a luxury of health as well as class to be able to choose a diet based on environmental or moral concerns. Is a cherry Pop-Tart good for me? No, but it won’t result in hospitalization, so in that sense, it’s much better than a banana.

        I’ve never seen this topic addressed — that most food guidelines are for healthy people, and sick people are ignored. And the result of that is that I get a lot of lectures and dirty looks for eating junk food. I don’t love junk either, but: I weigh 93 pounds. I can usually only manage one meal a day. Some days even that doesn’t stay down. So when I CAN eat, I need calories, not tips on becoming a locavore. My body knows that, and I’ve learned that it will tell me what to do. If I’m craving sausage gravy over biscuits, it’s because I need protein, carbs and fats to keep functioning. (Also, they’re fucking delicious.)

        Seeing this fact acknowledged — by an expert, no less — made my day. Thanks Michelle!

  23. Alice Avatar

    Thank you for this. My reaction to having my boundaries violated was different (I’ll put the least amount of effort possible into food, health, exercise and self-care, will embrace eating all those ‘bad’ foods and YOU CAN’T STOP ME), but the source of it all is still that broken trust.

    To her *immense* credit, my mother has apologized for taking on the role of the Food Police when I was younger – given the shit that both my parents received around food and body size, it’s surprising that I came out as unscarred as I did. However, I NEVER would have been able to start breaking out of the petulant eating style without HAES and the FA community – I am so thankful to have found these philosophies, and people’s different takes on them. (Hadn’t heard the ‘structure as a way to curb the anxiety/ perfectionism involved in DF’ idea before – I’m intrigued by that, and super excited to hear your take on gender issues.)

    Even more awesome than the ‘what’ of the communities, though, is the ‘how.’ I’m consistently blown away by your kindness and supportive approach. If I ever get over what I call the ‘humiliation hump’ and do decide to see a nutritionist (after careful HAES screening), it will be largely due to you.

    Also? I adore the structure of your comment replies (v. easy to read). Yay technology!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks Alice! Also:

      the petulant eating style

      This is such a perfect way of describing that particular phenomenon. It is very, very true that lots of people “rebellion eat” in response to restrictive food experiences. I’m pretty sure I did for a while after I stopped dieting, and it was very painful…but kind of funny, too, looking back on it. Truly petulant, in the way only a little kid can be.

  24. […] We don’t like this. Even if we think we do at the time. Even if we go along with it. […]

  25. Ellyn Satter Avatar

    This is a great post. It so capture the battle between the way we feel and the way we think we should feel, and how rules put us in that bind.
    You also put a very nice spin on the division of responsibility in feeding. While parents are responsible… CHILDREN ALONE are responsible for how much and whether they will eat…
    I much like the CHILDREN ALONE part–it is so true, and so easy to forget it. You captured my meaning. Interesting that the ADA statement just couldn’t resist slipping in “healthful food and beverage choices.” Their words, not mine, and not consistent with my model. “Healthful food” implies there are unhealthful. All foods are just foods. Some carry more nutrients than others. In my experience emphasizing ‘healthy’ food creates a barrier to parents’ getting a meal on the table and puts pressure on kids to eat it. You captured that well in your post.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      The ADA did something similar with the “Total Diet Approach” position paper — they approached giving adults full permission to eat food, but then pulled back by saying “if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size…”

      I’m sure they’re trying to please people on both sides, but I feel it makes the statement less effective, overall.

      And thank you for commenting. It’s always gratifying to hear from the originator of the concepts one is discussing!

      1. Nour El-Zibdeh Avatar

        Thank you for a beautifully expressed message. I am a dietitian myself, and also a mother and very supportive of Ellyn Satter’s approach. It makes total sense and helps develop healthy relationship with food. It also alleviates the pressure parents place on themselves and their children when it comes to eating too much or too little food.

        I would like to defend the ADA though. I don’t think they are trying to please people when they make such statements, but it’s the nature of these position papers that can be misused on misunderstood. You mention that “if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size…” makes the message ineffective, but people who are reading this message are not learning how to get in touch with their hunger cues. They are not learning about mindful eating. So telling people all foods are ok without any mention of amounts can backfire.

        If people learn how to self control how much they eat because they feel satisfied or fulfill the hunger needs, then such statements are not necessary. Until then, portion control will always be brought up. That’s why there are dietitians, psychologists, and other health professionals putting mindfulness into use and teaching it to their clients. Diets don’t work, and counting calories and points can not be sustained.

        And that’s why posts like yours are much needed!

        Thank you!

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I think that’s why I choose to interpret “moderation and portion control” as “eating the amount that’s right for you, individually.” Which means relying on your own internal signals of hunger and satiety — not a calorie amount, and not a cup or bowl size, or the amount on the package.

          Unfortunately, I think most people interpret the idea of portion control (and even something as benign-sounding as “moderation”) to mean meeting an externally-determined standard. And this takes away trust, and permission, and makes people feel like bad eaters.

          1. Nour El-Zibdeh Avatar

            You said it right there: External vs. internal standards. And we should work on the second.

  26. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
    Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

    It’s really difficult to retrain my body and brain to respond to hunger as hunger and not confuse boredom with hunger. It is something that I am working on and I discuss this with others as well when I talk about a healthy diet.

    It think it’s amazing that THE Ellyn Satter reads your blog and has commented on it. I agree that she is the authority on the eating habits of children. Everything that she says in her books just makes so much sense. I do what I can to advise people to think about her principles. The interesting thing here is that one can easily make connections between what she says and hindsight. I’ve discussed some of Ms. Satter’s ideas with people and the lightbulbs shine brightly.

    I can honestly say that after reading portions of “Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming” during my WIC rotation, I decided that I really wanted to work with the infant feeding guidelines from pregnancy on. I really want to work with kids.

    Thank you Ellyn Satter for your brilliant books.

  27. […] of several books on feeding children–Division of Responsibility, to “the great divorce of body and mind” blog post by the Fat Nutritionist, to eating chocoalate without guilt by Dr. Michelle […]

  28. […] can help in that more usual “screwed up eating patterns from weight concerns” context, in comments on The great divorce of body and mind over at The Fat […]

  29. […] It seems many of them, but also many overweight people who are actively trying to lose weight, eat for comfort in a way I don’t recognize. I’ve always enjoyed eating, but it seems like the phrase “I enjoy eating” here always implies “eating a lot,” not just “eating deliciously flavorful and succulent food.” (I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a deliciously prepared meal? You certainly don’t pay $400 for a meal for two people if you think all food gives you exactly the same enjoyment to eat!) But in reaction to this, there also seems to be a lot of people out there who can’t enjoy what they eat because they’re so obsessive about whether they’re eatin… […]