Family Meals Focus
The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter
Eating competence: Food acceptance
by Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist
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.1 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 trust
From the perspective of ecSatter, the key to nutritional excellence is variety growing out of genuine food enjoyment.1 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 choosing from what’s available.
- Being comfortable with saying “yes, please,” and “no, thank you.”
Let yourself enjoy your food
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..
Enjoy your food! What an alarming notion! Surely, worry 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 – or palettes! 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!
Your 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.
For more about letting yourself eat the food you enjoy, read chapter 3, “Honor your appetite,” in Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.
Related issues of Family Meals Focus
- Eating competence
- Eating competence: Context-management skills
- Eating competence: Eating attitudes
- Eating competence: internal regulation
- Eating competence: putting it all together
- Counseling with the Satter Eating Competence Model
- Emotional eating
- Versions of internally regulated eating