Family Meals Focus

The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter

Versions of internally regulated eating

by Ellyn Satter, MS, MSSW, Dietitian and Family Therapist​

Growing out of your own or others’ misery about eating and weight, are you among the many dietitians/health professionals shifting your practice from prescription and control to acceptance and trust? You might embrace established approaches, such as the Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter) or Intuitive Eating (IE), use nonspecific approaches1-3 such as Health at Every Size, non-dieting, mindful eating, “intuitive eating” (e.g. generic description). Or you might use an eclectic mix of techniques and approaches such as psychoeducation and persuasion that you have created or gleaned from others. 

What do internally regulated eating practices have in common?

Interventions that heal eating attitudes and behaviors have this in common:

  • Are food neutral: Give strong permission to eat preferred food, without in any way stipulating “healthy” or “unhealthy” food.
  • Support internally regulated eating: Give strong permission to eat as much as is wanted based on hunger, appetite, and satiety.
  • Are weight neutral: Give strong acceptance of constitutionally determined weight.
  • Incorporate positive discipline: In the context of strong permission to eat, pay attention to self and eating. ecSatter’s structure supports positive discipline.

Consider research

Let’s face it: Research is the only way to change policy and stop creating this epidemic of misery about eating and weight. To form the basis for convincing research, an intervention has to be based on grounded clinical practice, be so clearly and concretely defined that someone else can reproduce it, and be supported by data. The use of validated instruments for before-and-after testing raises effectiveness evaluation from subjective (and possibly biased) clinical observation to objective assessment. ecSatter is concretely described,1 reproducible,4, 5 has a validated test, ecSI 2.0,2 and is supported by outcome data.4, 5 Intuitive Eating lays out general principles and practice in a self-help lay publication;6 those principles are given objective support by being used as the basis for a validated test, IES 2.0.7

Using ecSI 2.0 or IES 2.0

Can ecSI 2.0 or IES 2.0 be used for before-and-after testing of nonspecific or eclectic approaches? Getting permission to use the tools aside, ecSI 2.0 or IES 2.0 may or may not capture the changes brought about by your intervention. Consider the basic principles of each:

ecSatter’s four components (context management, positive attitudes, internal regulation, food acceptance) are captured by two processes:
Feed yourself faithfully:  Provide yourself with regular, reliable, and rewarding meals and snacks, pay attention while you eat.
Give yourself permission to eat: Eat what and as much as you want at those regular eating times.
Intuitive Eating eschews structure.6,7 Here are the basic elements:
Unconditional permission to eat.
Eating for physical rather than emotional reasons.
Relying on internal hunger/satiety cues to guide when and what to eat.

Consider your stance on emotional eating

Do you regard all emotional eating as negative and obesogenic? Do you take the IE perspective that emotional eating causes weight gain and that identifying underlying issues and preventing emotional eating will produce weight loss? Or do you take the ecSatter perspective that emotional eating is normal and legitimate? ecSatter gives permission to eat for emotional reasons and, in the context of the permission and discipline of Competent Eating, emotional eating does not disrupt energy homeostasis.

Consider your stance on structure

Do you regard structure as substituting external rules for inner experience and therefore being tantamount to restriction? Or do you see structure as critical for supporting internal regulation, allowing eating as a social activity, and being essential to parents’ leadership role with feeding? The former would be IE, the latter, ecSatter. Eating Competence research neutralizes fears about structure, as high ecSI 2.0 scores are inversely correlated with cognitive restraint8-10 and restrained feeding.10 Parents’ scoring high on sDOR.2-6y relates strongly with context scores on ecSI.10 Parents take leadership with feeding by providing consistent sit-down meals and snacks and do not interfere with what or how much children eat.

Consider your stance on nutritional guidance

Can you address nutrition and food selection without taking away permission to eat preferred food? Or do you avoid discussing it at all? IE says “In matters of taste, consider nutrition; in matters of nutrition, consider taste.”6 Nutritional excellence is an integral component of ecSatter.11, 12 Based on the Satter Hierarchy of Food Needs,6 Eating Competent, food-secure adults experientially evolve food variety and dietary quality.13 8, 9, 14-16

Consider your clarity

Can you be so clear and concrete in describing your intervention that another person can do what you do? Is there a difference between the way you educate and address uncomplicated eating issues, compared with how you treat established issues?

  • ecSatter addresses uncomplicated eating issues with counseling guidance17 and published self-help information.18, 19 ecSatter assesses and treats4, 5 complicated and established issues with the “How to Eat” method,20which uses a variety of evidence-based cognitive-behavioral techniques such as relaxation and desensitization training.
  • For eating problems in general as well as in clinical intervention, IE utilizes flooding: encouraging access to unlimited amounts of “forbidden” foods seemingly until the foods’ fear potential is neutralized and moderate and stable eating evolves. Clinically, IE utilizes in-session teaching, discussion, and encouragement to replace negative eating attitudes and behaviors with positive ones.6

Make your decision

It is certainly up you, the clinician, whether you use a loosely described intervention or one that is “research-ready.” It all comes down to whether you are willing to clearly define your intervention, test it, and accumulate data. It all represents a lot of work, and not everyone enjoys it! ESI Faculty Member Cristen Harris can help. She does training on doing clinical research21 and can compile your ecSatter-based data with that of others and help get your contribution into print.


  1. Mensinger JL, Calogero RM, Stranges S, Tylka TL. A weight-neutral versus weight-loss approach for health promotion in women with high BMI: A randomized-controlled trial. Appetite. 2016;105:364-374.
  2. Bacon L. Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. BenBella Books; 2008.
  3. Schaefer JT, Magnuson AB. A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. May 2014;114(5):734-60.
  4. Harris C, Crum P, Satter E. Feasibility of Satter’s How to Eat Method Using Two Delivery Modes to Improve Eating Competence Among Previous Dieters in a University Employee Wellness Program. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2020;4(Supplement_2):1306-1306.
  5. Harris C, Estes P, Satter E. Feasibility of Using Satter’s How to Eat Method to Improve Eating Competence Among Previous Dieters in a Metropolitan Hospital System Employee Wellness Program. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2020;4(Supplement_2):1307-1307.
  6. Tribole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating; A revolutionary program that works. St. Martin’s Griffin; 2020.
  7. Tylka TL, Kroon Van Diest AM. The Intuitive Eating Scale-2: item refinement and psychometric evaluation with college women and men. J Couns Psychol. Jan 2013;60(1):137-53.
  8. 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:S154-S166.
  9. Krall JS, Lohse B. Validation of a measure of the Satter eating competence model with low-income females. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2011;8:26-36.
  10. Lohse B, Mitchell DC. Valid and reliable measure of adherence to Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2021:211-222.
  11. Satter E. Nutrition education with the Satter Eating Competence Model. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39:S189-S194.
  12. Satter E. Eating Competence: definition and evidence for the Satter Eating Competence Model. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39:S142-S153.
  13. Satter E. Hierarchy of food needs. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39:S187-S188.
  14. Tilles-Tirkkonen T, Aittola K, Männikkö R, et al. Eating Competence Is associated with lower prevalence of obesity and better insulin sensitivity in Finnish adults with increased risk for type 2 diabetes: The StopDia Study. Nutrients. 2019;12. doi:10.3390/nu12010104 PMC7019577,
  15. Lohse B, Pflugh Prescott M, Cunningham-Sabo L. Eating competent parents of 4th grade youth from a predominantly non-Hispanic white sample demonstrate more healthful eating behaviors than non-eating competent parents. Nutrients. 2019;11. doi:10.3390/nu11071501 PMC6682872, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31262065
  16. Lohse B, Bailey RL, Krall JS, Wall DE, Mitchell DC. Diet quality is related to eating competence in cross-sectional sample of low-income females surveyed in Pennsylvania. Appetite. 2012;58:645-650.
  17. Satter E. Family Meals Focus #28: Counseling with the Satter Eating Competence Model. Accessed May 20 2021. https://ellynsatterinstitute.org/family-meals-focus/28-counseling-with-eating-competence/
  18. Satter EM. Section 1: How to eat Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Kelcy Press; 1999. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/product/secrets/
  19. Satter E. Feeding Yourself with Love and Good Sense. Kelcy Press; 2020. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/product/feeding-yourself-with-love-and-good-sense-grouped/
  20. Satter EM. Treating the Dieting Casualty: Intensive Workshop on Treating the Chronic Dieter. Ellyn Satter Institute. Accessed April 27, 2021, https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/education/workshops-keynotes/treating-the-dieting-casualty-vision-workshop/
  21. Harris C. ESI webinar. Researching Satter: Strengthening the Evidence-Base for the Satter Models. Accessed May 20, 2021, https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/product/prof-web-evidence/


Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family says the secret of raising a healthy eater is to love good food, enjoy eating, and share that love and enjoyment with your child. When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers. 

Family Meals Focus ~ No. 19


This kind, clear, and matter-of-fact booklet shows you how to eat. Discover the joy of eating and escape from struggling with eating and weight!


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