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When you think about nutrition, do your first thoughts turn to what to eat? Are you thinking about more green salads, a sugar-free diet or a ban on fast foods? Ellyn Satter, a highly respected registered dietitian and eating specialist, shared with a record-breaking crowd that how we eat matters first.

The morning was filled with chatter and excitement as over 230 health professionals flowed through the Fairmont Waterfront entrance on May 20, 2015. With breakfast in hand, guests were thrilled to hear Ellyn Satter, a renowned eating specialist, at this highly anticipated event. Ellyn shared that “when the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” She introduced eating competence, which is all about having a positive and relaxed relationship with food.

Achieving Eating Competence

Ellyn began by describing the Satter Eating Competence Model™. Studies have shown that those who achieve eating competence experience greater weight satisfaction, have higher diet quality, are more physically active, and do better socially and emotionally. So what is eating competence? The Satter Eating Competence Model™ focuses on attitudes and skills. Do you feel positive about eating? Are you in tune with and trusting of your hunger and satiety cues? Do you plan regular meals and snacks? It’s a combination of discipline and giving yourself permission to eat, or in other words, taking care of yourself with food.

The validated questionnaire used to measure eating competence (ecSI 2.0) can be downloaded here.

Find out more about the Satter Eating Competence Model™ by watching this webinar.  

Feeding Dynamics

Perhaps one of Satter’s most well-known concepts is the Division of Responsibility which defines the responsibilities of the parent and child in the feeding relationship. Although the division varies as a child matures from infant to young adult, the child is always responsible for deciding how much to eat, and whether to eat. The key take away? Relax, parents! Your role is to prepare food for regular meals and snacks, make eating time pleasant, model healthy eating habits yourself, and accept and support your children’s growth. Children have a natural desire to emulate parents and family. Ellyn emphasizes that by following the Division of Responsibility, “children will grow up to have the body that’s right for them”.

For more information about how to help promote healthy weights for children, check out this resource.

Feeding Pressure Backfires

With 90% of parents pressuring their children to eat, it’s not surprising that 50% of children have feeding issues. Whether it is bribing, teaching, coercing, explaining, or rewarding, any pressure on feeding should be avoided. Parental restraints and “food rules” are correlated with disordered eating behaviours as adults; children who feel bad about their eating may also feel inadequate in other aspects in their life. Even seemingly harmless positive pressure and rewards teach children to associate food with feelings and situations. Ellyn recommends including “forbidden foods” in your meals and avoiding labelling foods as “good" or "bad”. Trust your own body and teach your children to trust their own body’s ability to regulate food intake. Children have a drive to become confident eaters and eat well.

Two of the most popular resources on the Ellyn Satter Institute™ website address the issues of picky eating and pressure:

Avoiding Pressure

The Picky Eater  

The Bottom Line: Structured Meals

Whether it is addressing feeding issues for yourself or for your children, approaching from the “how” rather than the “what” is a more effective starting point. If you’re having burgers and french fries, then have it as a family meal: sit down together and share the same food. Once you’re in the habit of having regular meals, diet quality then improves. Providing nutrition information is at the very apex of the “hierarchy of food needs” and most people aren’t ready to start at that stage. When it comes to nutrition education, helping people master the mealtime habit is more important than focusing on what food is at the meal.

For a leaders guide and step-by-step handout about mastering meals, check out this resource.

The morning ended with applause and many questions from the engaged audience. The nutrition forum was a very informative and successful event that is sure to impact future directions for nutrition and eating.

Stay connected with Ellyn Satter's community through her newsletter, by signing up here. Thank you, Ellyn, for showing us that how we eat matters!

by Christina Kwan, dietetic intern (and Nicole Spencer, MEd, RD)

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Nutrition Education News, Nutrition Education Articles

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