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Family Meals Focus

The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter

You are your own food guide

by Peggy Crum, MA, RD

Although the shape is the same, Ellyn Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs takes MyPyramid and turns it outside-in. Rather than relying on external guides and gimmicks, you are encouraged to trust your body’s signals to direct your food choices. Hunger means you need to eat, appetite tells you what foods taste good, and satiety tells you when you’ve had enough. Just as with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, moving on to each new level builds on the competence achieved at the previous levels. Gradually you travel to the top.

Enough food

Whether you are on a tight budget, a diet, or you don’t take time to eat, you may scare yourself into feeling you will go hungry. Your main concern is getting enough to eat. You can move on only when you are well-fed. Eating as much of you want of foods you like pushes you along on the hierarchy. Becoming more and more secure in knowing you will be fed allows you to be adventurous in food selection. According to Satter, “The key to nutritional excellence is variety growing out of genuine food enjoyment. It is normal for you to learn and grow. And you will do so once you get over being told what to do. You are the best food guide for you.

Acceptable food

This is familiar food, acquired in acceptable ways. Chronic dieters feel high-calorie food is unacceptable and eat it only when they binge. Giving yourself permission to eat it turns it into acceptable food.

Reliable, ongoing access to food

Discovering the rewards of getting enough to eat will free you to plan for getting enough for tomorrow and next week, as well.

Good-tasting food

Once you are sure you will get enough to eat, your appetite becomes more prominent. You consider what tastes good in deciding what to eat.

Novel food

After you give yourself plenty of time to eat your favorite foods, you begin to seek out new foods or new ways of preparing foods.

Instrumental Food:

Once you are operating well at all other levels, you can consider adding foods to achieve a desired physical, intellectual, or spiritual outcome.


Satter EM. Hierarchy of food needs. J Nutr Educ Behav (suppl). 2007;39:S187-S188.

Maslow A. A theory of human motivations. Psychol Rev. 1943;50:370-396.

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