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Family Meals Focus

The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter

Advocating change: Be for what you believe in

by Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist

Follow a division of responsibility with your colleagues and others: Introduce them to the possibilities of the Satter eating and feeding models, and let them make up their own minds. It will be easier on everyone, and, at the end of the day, far more persuasive. You do not have to get you colleagues to embrace the models. You do not have to get parents to follow the division of responsibility in feeding. You do not have to persuade adults to become weight-neutral in their approach to eating. That is you being controlling in the same old ways, even if it is about different issues.

Change is not easy

It’s not easy enacting the Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter), the Satter Feeding Dynamics Model (fdSatter), and the Health at Every Size (H@ES) philosophy in the context of a food-controlling world. You are part of a movement toward change. In taking such a position, you are questioning the conventional approach. But use language carefully. You could easily be characterized as being irrational, destructive, disloyal, or shrill. You are not. You are acting on behalf of yourself, your children, your students, and your public. The word you use to describe yourself determines the stance that you take. You think and act from a position of trust when you do education, clinical intervention, research, and compete for funding. You are not alone. There are lots of professionals and individuals that take that position, in their homes, child care organizations, schools, offices, and university classrooms. 

Revolutionary doesn’t work

To be a revolutionary means to be against something – to try to tear down something else. Certainly, ecSatter, fdSatter and H@ES are fundamentally different from the conventional approach, and taking a trusting stance means turning away from the conventional, control, approach. Still, rather than attacking or tearing down the conventional approach, I find it works much better, in writing and speaking, to introduce people to the possibilities, lay out the evidence, and let thoughtful people make up their own minds. If others aren’t persuaded, I find a way to act on behalf of my readers, patients, and students – until the new day comes.

Iconoclast seems nifty but isn’t

I liked the word iconoclast that someone applied to me a long time ago – it sounded nifty – but then I looked it up. An iconoclast is “one who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration; one who attacks established beliefs, ideals, customs, or institutions.” It is disrespectful of thoughtful and experienced individuals’ convictions to tear them down. The evidence for ecSatter, fdSatter, and H@ES is sound. The models work and don’t do harm, and clinicians and policy makers will eventually recognize this. In the meantime, we just need to keep reminding others of the possibilities. As with a new food, it may take quite a few neutral exposures!

We are not renegades

Renegade is an interesting word, and an even more belligerent one. It implies being a deserter – from one cause, principle, party, or allegiance to another often hostile one – a turncoat or traitor. A renegade may be seen as being unpatriotic. In eschewing prescriptive and controlling approaches, practitioners of trust models are accused of not caring about health or nutrition. The opposite, of course, is true. We care deeply, and the evidence is strong that health and nutrition improve when we use a trust approach.14  I think we are getting warm here, and beginning to understand the kind of negative reaction we encounter when we raise the possibilities for a new way of thinking and acting with respect to eating, feeding, and weight. Renegades are often angry and irrational. If you can be made to be – or seem – angry and irrational, it takes away your power. Don’t go there. It is too hard on you and doesn’t accomplish anything. Instead, be firm and dispassionate. We are presenting professionals and individuals with evidence-based possibilities and choices for how they will think and do. Then we are letting them decide what rings true.

Radical: Back to basics

At last, in a book entitled Tales for Little Rebels, a Collection of Radical Children’s Literature, I came across the word I have been looking for – even if it is the most alarming-sounding of all. The word radical is generally understood to mean extreme or fanatic. What it actually means is “of or relating to the root – proceeding directly from the root.” It means to reduce something to its most elemental form. The Satter eating competence and feeding dynamics models are built on fundamental biospsychosocial processes:

  • Hunger and the drive to survive
  • Appetite and the need for pleasure
  • The social reward of sharing food
  • The biological propensity to maintain preferred and stable body weight

Be for what you believe in 

So there you have it. Be for what you believe in. Don’t waste time and energy being against what you don’t believe in. Be a radical in the true sense of the word.  


  1.   Psota T, Lohse B, West S. Associations between eating competence and cardiovascular disease biomarkers. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39 (suppl):S171-S178.
  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.
  3.    Lohse B, Psota T, Estruch R, et al. Eating competence of elderly Spanish adults is associated with a healthy diet and a favorable cardiovascular disease risk profile. J Nutr. Jul 2010;140(7):1322-1327.
  4.    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. Nov 25 2011;58(2):645-650.

Learn more about ecSatter and fdSatter

For a short course in eating competence and feeding dynamics, read Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.

Family Meals Focus ~ No. 19

Self-study guides

CEU examinations

Facebook community

Monitored by Ellyn Satter and ESI faculty, help with understanding and practicing eating and feeding according to ecSatter and fdSatter. 



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