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I have written before about the work of Ellyn Satter, a leading paediatric dietitian and family therapist from the USA. She is the author of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, which is the gold standard for feeding children. I use her approach in my work with parents. Ellyn Satter is currently visiting Australia to run a series of workshops for health professionals. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to attend her workshops to update my knowledge and skills.

One of the important concepts that Ellyn has developed is that of eating competence. “Eating Competence is being positive, comfortable and flexible with eating as well as matter-of-fact and reliable about getting enough to eat of enjoyable and nourishing food.”

Adults who are a competent eaters

  • Feel good about eating
  • Have regular meals
  • Eat as much as they are hungry for
  • See “forbidden foods” as ordinary foods that you can eat in ordinary ways at meal and snack times
  • Don’t make themselves eat fruits and vegetables
  • Big servings don’t make them overeat. They will eat it all if they want to, not if they don’t

So what has this got to do with feeding children? Parents who themselves are competent eaters are more likely to feed their children so that they too become competent eaters. To become a competent eater, stop worrying about how much you eat and about your weight.

Recent research by Satter and her colleagues shows that competent eaters “do better nutritionally, have healthier body weights, have higher HDL (the good cholesterol) and have lower triglycerides and blood pressure. Remarkably, they are also healthier emotionally and socially. People with high eating competence feel more effective, are more self-aware and are more trusting and comfortable both with themselves and with other people.”

Many parents have grown up feeling that they should be thinner/fatter/have bigger muscles, instead of being satisfied with the body they were meant to have. We are continually being told what we ‘should eat’ rather how to eat to be competent eaters.

The first step to help your child to be a competent eater is to be one yourself. Becoming a competent eater is a process. It takes time. Start by having a meal and snack routine that works for you. As well as structure, give yourself permission to eat as much as you are hungry for.

Happy eating.