I have endured a lifetime of disordered eating and am experiencing a renaissance in feeding myself for the first time in my life. It is liberating. It is nurturing. It is nourishing. It’s not going to make me fat or skinny. And I’m sharing this in hopes that it can help even just one person feed him or herself better.
I have recently bought two of Ellyn Satter’s books. She is a clinician with 30+ years of experience as a nutritionist and therapist. Her books have revolutionized the way I feed myself and my family. The highlights of Chapters 1 and 2 of her book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, follow. Chapter 1 is entitled “How to Eat” and Chapter 2 is called “Adjust Your Attitude.” (Much of what I’ve written is taken verbatim from her book.)
How To Eat
You know those people who seem to eat what they want like Cheetos and real Coke, feel good about their bodies, and aren’t obese? I don’t know many of them, but I do know a few. There’s a name for people like that. No, not the derogatory one you’re thinking of. They’re called competent eaters. In short, competent eaters feed themselves what they enjoy and trust their good sense and internal processes to guide them. Competent eating is based on hunger and the drive to survive, appetite and the need for pleasure, the social reward of sharing food, and the biological tendency to maintain preferred and stable body weight.
Competent eaters have several characteristics:
- They are positive about eating and food.
- They like to eat and feel comfortable with their enjoyment of eating.
- The are flexible about trying new foods.
- They are comfortable turning down foods they really don’t want.
- When they are really hungry, they can politely tolerate and even eat food that they don’t particularly like.
- The trust their internal regulators of hunger and appetite as well as their feelings of fullness and satisfaction.
- They are comfortable with eating enough.
- They trust their bodies to know how much it needs to weigh and are able to reject outside pressure to strive for a body weight that is not right for them.
- They take feeding themselves seriously, plan ahead for it, know how to prepare food, and have regular meals and snacks.
- They eat foods that they enjoy.
- They pay attention to basic nutritional principles to guide their meal planning without taking the pleasure or reward out of eating.
Do you recognize yourself in the descriptions of a competent eater? Competent eating sounds like a tall order to me. But it is achievable. Competent eaters give themselves permission to eat joyfully, seek out good-tasting food, and trust themselves to eat as much as they want. Competent eaters are trustworthy about feeding themselves regularly and pay attention while they eat.
Adjust Your Attitude
People who are competent eaters do better with feeding themselves and their children, are in better physical health, have a greater sense of well-being, and are emotionally and socially healthier than people with low levels of eating competence. I don’t know about you, but I want that!
Often times, eating enjoyably comes loaded with guilt and fear while eating properly comes loaded with control and dreariness. And many times we careen from one to the other.
Trying to force weight below its natural level undermines everything about eating competence. While weight loss enthusiasts insist that maintaining a weight that is artificially low for us is necessary for health, studies indicate that the death rate is lower in the BMI category that is considered slightly overweight (25-30) than in the normal BMI category (18.5-24.9) Deaths associated with high BMI do not increase until BMI hits 35. In the author’s studies, people with high eating competence weren’t always thin. Their BMI ranged from 19-31, but all were reasonably satisfied with their bodies.
So what does normal eating look like? Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and to eat it and truly get enough of it, not just stopping because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so restrictive that you miss out on enjoying food. Normal eating is sometimes giving yourself permission to eat because you are happy, sad, bored, or because it feels good. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating is flexible.
What do you think of her approach? Is this realistic? What sort of ideas about eating and your body will you have to address to become a competent eater?
Up next is my summary of Chapter 3, Honor Your Appetite.