Eating Competency, Decoded

Eating Competency, Decoded


Intuitive eating. Mindful eating. Eating competency. Each of these terms describes the same basic concept: feeling positive, comfortable and flexible around food. Developing a healthy relationship with food is critical because it helps shape our diet, which in turn affects our overall health. According to Ellyn Satter, registered dietitian and family therapist and developer of the eating competency model, becoming a competent eater creates harmony between the “wants” and “shoulds” of eating.

While all of us are born with an innate ability to determine the amount of food that is right for our bodies, as we get older we tend to lose touch with our natural hunger and fullness cues. We may eat for reasons other than hunger (socialization, boredom, happiness, etc.) or we may become imbalanced in our eating, either consistently over- or under-feeding ourselves. To determine your own level of eating competency, consider the following questions:

            1. Do you feel good about food and about eating in general?

            2. Do you like a variety of foods and enjoy learning to like new foods?

            3. Do you trust yourself to eat enough for your body’s needs?

            4. Do you take time to eat, having regular meals and paying attention to what you eat?

Understanding your own level of eating competency is important because it is a skill that can be developed; every day brings new opportunities to practice and hone your abilities. So, what’s the secret to becoming a competent eater?


How to Eat

Eating competency, at its core, is a celebration of food and nourishment. The model says nothing about what or how much to eat; rather, it is a way to learn to care for yourself by feeding yourself well. Ellyn Satter describes eating competency as the antidote to the fear and control that often accompany food in our culture.

-Adjust Your Attitude: Competent eaters give themselves permission to eat foods they enjoy in quantities that satisfy them. No food is “off-limits.”

-Honor Your Appetite: Our appetite is not something to be feared, but rather honored and respected. It can be satisfied with nourishing foods.

-Eat As Much As You Want: Learning to trust and obey our bodies’ natural appetite, and having enough food to eat, is essential.

-Feed Yourself Faithfully: Pay attention to the food you eat while you eat it. Treat mealtimes as a special occasion, and develop a habit of cooking for yourself.


Developing a healthier attitude towards food and eating is a process that takes time and dedication. But the payoffs (having a more active lifestyle, sleeping better, having a better overall diet and greater self-acceptance) are worth it!

If you’re interested in more information on developing eating competency, check out Ellyn Satter’s book called “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters,  and How to Cook.”