Greetings lovelies! I figured it was high time I wrote about this particular topic because I’ve been seeing lots of comments here and on Facebook about people having difficulty becoming internally regulated eaters.
Intuitive Eating is fantastic and it was one of the books I read early on after quitting dieting for good. It’s one way to learn to eat normally – meaning, listening to your gut (literally) when it comes to knowing when to eat and when to stop, feeling relaxed around food, and feeling confident that you are eating exactly what is right for your body. Notice I didn’t say anything about it being a way to lose weight or a way to learn how to eat less. I just want to throw that out there – continually – so nobody is confused about what this eating normally business is all about. It is NOT about weight loss. Ever.
Anyway, as I said, intuitive eating is one of the ways to learn to eat normally – but it isn’t the only way. In my diet-ditching literary travels, I came across other philosophies, ideas, and models of normal eating. I’ll link to those at the bottom of this post, but for now I’m going to talk about my absolute favorite model, Ellyn Satter’s Eating Competence. I’ve been doing some self-study on this model and re-reading some of her books, and I am reminded that this was the model that really clicked for me. If you’ve been struggling for a while with intuitive eating, I suggest looking at this or some other models for normal eating inspiration. For now, I’ll just talk about Eating Competence.
What is the difference between Intuitive Eating (IE) and Eating Competence (EC)? The essential difference, to me, is that IE focuses on eating-on-demand; that is, figuring out when you are hungry, eating exactly then, stopping when you are satisfied, and then starting the cycle all over when you are hungry again. Little is said about structured meal times and it favors listening to your internal regulation cues (there’s a bit more to it than just that, but for short form purposes, that’s the crux of it. Read the book for the full deal.). So IE seems to assume at least some connection with hunger. The problem is that most of my clients don’t feel their hunger.
EC also trains you to eat according to internal regulation cues, but relies on the discipline of providing yourself (and your family) rewarding meals at regular times, and the permission to eat as much as you like at each meal. Here is a more detailed explanation of the differences as written by Ellyn Satter herself. Both reject diet mentality and weight manipulation and embrace body diversity, both use internal signals of hunger and fullness to regulate eating, but one relies on meal-time structure and the other rejects it. I see both as useful models, but over the years I’ve leaned more towards EC because I see great results with clients finding relief with eating.
So how does this meal structure thing work? Learning to plan can help – but since we’re not planning to starve ourselves or trick our hunger, I view this as self-care, not external rule-following. You should count on providing yourself with at least three meals and three sit-down snacks (if you need them) a day, though even this pattern can vary. I often do a lot of work with clients on what schedule of eating works best for them.
The meals must be rewarding – you don’t want to spend a lot of time coming up with meals you don’t want to eat. You can start out with foods that are familiar to you and eat what is available. EC says very little on what you should eat, because this is a model that teaches you to eventually trust your body to guide eating.
With enough work, your eating eventually becomes internally regulated and you will learn to feed yourself well and feel good about this. Consider some of Satter’s books or working with a dietitian who understands this model (like me!).
I can’t emphasize enough that this model hinges on unconditional permission to eat – whatever and as much as you like. Beware of impostors that try to take away that permission, with rules like “eat a vegetable before the rest of your meal,” “fill up on water so you’ll eat less” or “sit and chew your food slowly.” No “tricks,” just permission. If you find yourself making food rules, always try to come back to this statement: “I can eat as much as I want.” You don’t need to be perfect, just honest with yourself.
If you’re struggling with internally regulated eating, just know you have some options. Do some investigation and experimentation, see what works for you, and go for it. You’ll eventually hit meal-time nirvana and never look back.
Episode 8 – The Beach Body Episode is available now! Listen on iTunes and Libsyn.
Welcome to food freedom! Dare to Not Diet LLC is owned by Glenys Oyston, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Therapist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. It's time to feel good about eating, your body, and your health.
I needed this! One of my struggles with IE was the “eat as much as you want, and you’ll be able to stop when you’re full because you know you can always have more of it, the next time you are hungry.” That is so not the case, at least for me. We don’t ALWAYS have a dozen cupcakes or freshly baked sugar cookies in our house…we don’t ALWAYS go out for a favorite meal. If I don’t order a large DQ blizzard, I’m certainly not going to go back out for another small one. Instead, I’ll eat 700 Chips Ahoy cookies and not even particularly like them. And the “when you’re hungry” issue is, as you said, a struggle when you have a family. Looking into EC now…thanks again for bringing this information to light for so many of us.
Reblogged this on and commented:
Excellent read! I needed this 🙂
yes, this is a super helpful article– would love to hear more. I have always done my best to practice EC for my kids (after reading and loving Ellyn Satter’s work on feeding children), which, while allowing kids to decide how much they eat, does also involve parents making judgments that ensure that kids are offered a good variety of foods– ie high and low fat offerings, carbs, protein, fruit and vegetables. More recently, I’ve been reading about intuitive eating and trying to figure out how to heal my own relationship with food. But it is hard to do both, especially as a parent who is responsible for getting everyone fed– I don’t think an IE-only model meshes well with my reality as a working parent.
Thanks – this is really useful. I, like so many of us, have a family to feed, a career and a busy life – intuitive eating is a wonderful concept but there are times when I simply need more structure and EC seems to provide this. In reality I’ve found that a kind of mish mash of both seem to work for me – life is unpredictable and thus there are days when I have the freedom to follow more of an IE model and other days where it’s simply not possible without some stress.
Agreed! That’s why I also have found both to be useful. I can be a bit more spontaneous at meals sometimes, so it’s good to have both models to work from.
You know what’s funny is that when I have lots of food options, say at a potluck or Thanksgiving, I don’t eat as much because food looks plenty. When I sit down to a meal where everyone gets the same thing, I panic that there isn’t enough for me. I know this stems from childhood, though. But choosing and having options helps me eat consciously.
That doesn’t surprise me at all! Food insecurity can certainly drive one to overeat. I love Eating Competence because the emphasis is on providing a variety of foods at a meal – though unlikely to rival the variety of a buffet, that’s true!
Love this. I have no idea how to choose what I ‘fancy’ or what truly ‘normal eating’ looks like. This is helpful. Thank you.
[…] Eating style, but if you’re having difficulty with the demand-feeding schedule, I wrote about Eating Competence last week for this very […]
Hi there. Thanks a lot for this article. I have myself been struggling a lot with regulating my diet, mostly getting sucked into overeating while under stress. The links provided are also helpful.
Thank you for the resources! I will check out a couple of these books.
Love the way you’ve summarized these two important concepts! Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family is an all-time favorite in the non-diet book genre. And of course love the Intuitive Eating book too!