Dietitian and therapist Ellyn Satter has been writing about food and eating for years. I often think of her words when I think about my own or others' eating troubles. According to Satter, the goal for all of us is to have "a joyful, competent relationship with food." Years of research have helped her define what it means, exactly, to be a healthy, competent eater:
Competent eaters have positive attitudes about eating and therefore are relaxed about it. They enjoy food and eating and they are comfortable with their enjoyment. They feel it is okay to eat food they like in amounts they find satisfying.
These three little sentences are about as radical as the Declaration of Independence was 225+ years ago. Consider all the ways in which our culture doesn't encourage us--especially women--to enjoy food, to feel it's OK to eat food we like in amounts we find satisfying. So many of us are terrified of food and of our own appetites; this little manifesto puts the power squarely where it belongs and where it always has been: with us.
Satter's latest newsletter takes her research a step further, in a direction I find very interesting indeed:
Competent eaters do better with feeding themselves and have positive health indicators. None of that surprised me. What did surprise me, although it shouldn’t have, is that competent eaters are emotionally and socially healthier than people with low levels of eating competence. They feel more effective, they are more self-aware, and they are more trusting and comfortable with themselves and with other people.
That's right, folks: Being competent with eating correlates with emotional and social health. Not dieting. Not weight loss. Not binge eating. But maintaining that joyful, competent relationship with food and eating.
Satter goes on to explain the connection:
Consider that being emotionally and socially healthy--emotionally competent, if you will--depends on being sensitive to and comfortable with what goes on inside you--knowing what you feel, what you want, who you are--and being honest with yourself and with others about it. Your comfort and honesty with yourself allow you to act on your feelings in a rational and productive way. You can appreciate not only your own feelings and wishes but those of other people and, as a consequence, be reasonably adept at working things out. Being competent with eating depends on exactly the same processes: being sensitive to and comfortable with what goes on inside you and being honest with yourself and others about it.