Eating Competence

Eating is supposed to be enjoyable. For too many of us, eating represents trouble. We feel guilty if we eat what we ''shouldn't'' and deprived if we eat what we ''should.'' We eat more than we think we should, and we worry about weight. Surveys show that when the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers. Roughly half of today's consumers who know about “official” dietary guides say they ''don't really follow them.'' Only 20% of consumers get their five-a-day of fruits and vegetables, and overweight is a major concern. What we are doing isn't working. But what do we do instead?

Consider the evidence-based Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter), which encourages you to:

Rather than expecting you to manage your eating by the rules, ecSatter encourages you to base your eating on your body's natural processes: hunger and the drive to survive, appetite and the need for pleasure, the social reward of sharing food, and the tendency to maintain preferred and stable body weight.

You may worry that being so positive and relaxed will send your eating out of control and make you gain weight. Not so. Being able to eat the foods you like in satisfying amounts gives your eating order and reliability. Foods you no longer have to eat become enjoyable foods that you can eat for pleasure. Foods that are no longer forbidden became ordinary foods that you can eat in ordinary ways. Large portion sizes won’t dictate how much you eat: You can eat it all if you are hungry enough, not if you aren’t.

What about your health and weight? According to research published in the fall 2007 Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior and since, people who are eating competent do better nutritionally, have healthier body weights, have higher HDLs, and have lower triglycerides and blood pressures. Remarkably, they are also healthier emotionally and socially. People with high eating competence feel more effective, are more self-aware and are more trusting and comfortable both with themselves and with other people.

To become competent with your eating, stop worrying about food and stop trying to go without.


For more about eating competently (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see to purchase books and to review other resources.

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