Thoughts on being a normal/competent eater

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I take pride in being a competent eater. Ellyn Satter coined this term, and I’ll do my best to sum it up for you:

Being a competent eater means you understand what your body wants, when it needs it. Also, when your body doesn’t necessarily “need” it, but that sweet dessert sounds SO satisfying. To eat without shame or regret.  Its taking the focus of your weight and body size. Understanding the vital role of pleasure with food, and making food choices from a place of “want” rather than “should”. Its giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. Competent eating is recognizing hunger, embracing fullness, and knowing it’s not always that black and white.

Eating all foods-what you want, when you want- is liberating, especially if you’ve experienced dieting and restriction for many years. (It’s important to note eating what you want when you want is also a privilege that isn’t accessible to everyone, and we should be mindful of this-not everyone can afford to grab a vanilla latte every time they want one). Making the change from restriction to normal eating might mean you eat all the donuts for a while until you feel comfortable with the fact you can have them any time-this is common.

My favorite thing is sharing good food with great company. If someone makes a homemade casserole or if a coworker brings in a sweet creamy dessert, I am right there with my spoon ready to taste test! I love being the person excited to try something someone made with their own two hands.

It makes me sad when people avoid food situations such as these. More than likely it’s an attempt to “lose weight” or “control body size” as society has told us repeatedly this is what we need to do. If people aren’t avoiding the food all together, it’s usually worse: people are making shaming comments about eating. Here are some examples of what you should never say to someone choosing to enjoy food:

  1. “Wow I can’t believe you’re eating that”
  2. “If I ate that I would gain weight”
  3. “How can you eat that and stay X size?”
  4. “I would never eat that, it has X, Y, Z in it”
  5. “You ate the food too! I don’t feel so bad!” (this happened to me recently)

etc, etc,etc.

Making these comments are harmful to all parties involved: those consuming food, people who want to consume food and restrict due to unsolicited shame comments, and harmful to the commenter. It ties guilt to food and eating, a natural part of our life. It seems weird to me- we would never shame someone about other natural parts of life, for example having to go to the bathroom or breathing? Not to mention negative comments about food choices encourages restriction, disordered eating, weight stigma, and shame.

This isn’t to say if you genuinely don’t want the treat/food, that you should force yourself to have it. You are making a conscious choice to have, or not have the food. I believe in autonomy with eating; everyone should make their own choices of when to eat and how much to eat. However, I always ask people to reflect on why they made the decision from a neutral stance without judgement-it’s important to be curious especially if you are focusing on healing your relationship with food. It’s important to explore the choice; was it for self-care or self-control? I hope it was the former :)

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Do you consider yourself a competent eater? Or are you striving to be one? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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