Eating competence: Food Acceptance

March 2016
Family Meals Focus #23

From the perspective of ecSatter, the key to nutritional excellence is variety growing out of genuine food enjoyment.1 Enjoying your food, taking an interest in it, and eating what you like are more important for you than what you eat on any one day. People who have high overall eating competence scores, and particularly those who have high scores with respect to food acceptance, enjoy a greater variety of food and are more likely to plan and cook meals that include all the food groups.2

Food acceptance is about self-respect

Food acceptance is not about making yourself eat "healthy" food. Instead, it is about:

  • Letting yourself eat food you enjoy.
  • Being calm and relaxed in the presence of unfamiliar food.
  • Experimenting with unfamiliar food.
  • Picking and choosig from what's available.
  • Being comfortable with saying "yes, please," and no, thank you. 

Enjoy your food

What an alarming notion! Surely, wonder the food cops as well as the eaters, if we are given license to enjoy food we will simply careen out of control, willy-nilly gobbling every morsel that comes across our voracious paths. In conventional nutrition practice, if appetite is addressed at all, it is from the perspective of ignoring and overruling it. We have come to fear that we are bottomless pits, that if we get encouragement to eat foods we enjoy, we will eat without stopping. And if we do that, we are bad-bad-bad!

Appetite can be satisfied 

Even though appetite is compelling, it can be satisfied. You will get enough, even of very satisfying food. As you pay attention to eating, you will notice that at some point you begin to lose interest. Food stops tasting as good. That might be a sudden or a gradual cutoff for you, it is very individual. As one of my patients put it, ''I am ready to stop when my mouth is finished as well as my stomach.'' Another called this subjective endpoint ''a feeling of nuffness.'' I can't improve on those descriptions. They were both saying that appetite is satisfied. But to satisfy appetite, you have to find the food appealing and it has to taste good. Eating a whole package of rice cakes won't satisfy you if what you really want is chocolate chip cookies,or vice versa.

Guard against nutritional dos and don'ts

Most of us crave pleasure from eating and will go to some length to achieve it, even if we have to cheat and play little mind games with ourselves. The problem is out-of-control virtue. Guard against it! Nutrition suffers when the rules get the upper hand over enjoyment. If you have to break your rules to eat what you like, you are being too strict and withholding. In the long run, you will come out behind, not ahead.


1. Satter EM. Eating Competence: definition and evidence for the Satter Eating Competence Model. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39 (suppl):S142-S153.

2. Lohse B, Satter E, Horacek T, Gebreselassie T, Oakland MJ. Measuring Eating Competence: psychometric properties and validity of the ecSatter Inventory. J Nutr Educ Behav . 2007;39 (suppl):S154-S166.

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©2016 by Ellyn Satter published at You may reproduce this article if you don't charge for it or change it in any way and if you do include the for more about and copyright statements.