Counterfeit Permission

Ellyn Satter
December 16, 2009

In FMF # 26, I summarized the principles of ecSatter by telling you that the common themes in all four parts of ecSatter are permission and discipline: the permission to choose food you enjoy and eat it in amounts you find satisfying, and the discipline to provide yourself with regular and reliable meals and snacks and to pay attention when you eat them. ecSatter is built on trust: Trust in you to take good care of yourself with food, to eat what you need and to eat as much as you need. Underlying it all is trust in your body to weigh what it will in response to your positive habits. While people with high eating competence tend to weigh less than the population average, ecSatter lays out no stipulations about what you should weigh. Your weight is what it is.

More and more consumers as well as professionals are catching on that food restriction and striving for weight loss is counterproductive. Adults who have been trying to manage their weight through restriction, deprivation, and good-food-bad-food thinking are coming to realize that such tactics worsen a weight problem. People in the weight-loss business, both health care and commercial, have picked up on consumer skepticism and reluctance to engage in weight-reduction dieting and advertise that they don't give diets. What they do give is a food plan or some other system that stipulates what and how much to eat. This is not a diet?

Unfortunately, these seemingly "permission-giving" food-management schemes conceal the ulterior motive of food restriction. They are counterfeits. In many cases, the counterfeiting is unintentional. Many practitioners I train in understanding and supporting eating competence genuinely feel they support internally regulated eating. But the control model -- defining what and how much to eat and how much to weigh -- is so deeply embedded in their thinking. During their training, they are dismayed to realize that they unconsciously put a controlling spin on their food selection and regulation messages. In other cases, the counterfeiting is intentional. Control-based practitioners can appropriate any positive and trusting eating message and turn it into a control message. The message seems to be giving you permission to eat what you want and as much as you want, but in reality it is taking it away.

To help you detect the difference, I have excerpted this table from the 2008 edition of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.1 The first column gives you examples of genuinely trusting messages. The second column shows those messages after they have been confiscated by the control folks.

Trust message

Control message
Go to the table hungry but not famished.Fill up by drinking water before a meal.
Eat until you feel satisfied.Stop eating when you are full.
You decide how much to put on your plate. Pay attention to portion size.
To be sure everyone will have enough, make enough to have leftovers.Eat off smaller plates.
Savor sweets; eat until you get enough. Eat sweets in small amounts.
''C'' is for cookie. Cookies are a sometime food.
Go to some trouble to get foods you enjoy. Don’t keep sweet foods at home.
Make eating important by taking time to enjoy meals.Every time you eat a meal, sit down and chew slowly.
Pay attention to how good the food tastes. Remind everyone to enjoy every bite.
If you savor cheese and chocolate, you will get enough. Cut cheese and chocolate into small pieces and only eat a few pieces.
Trust your hunger, appetite, and satiety to guide you at buffets. Skip buffets.
Eat as much as you are hungry for.Don't have seconds.
Eat as much as you are hungry for. Serve food portions no larger than your fist.


Since I couldn't possibly list all the counterfeit non-dieting messages, here is a litmus test: If the message or tactic encourages you to eat less, to avoid foods you like, or to lose weight, it is negative and controlling and will undermine eating competence.

Control tactics may trick your head, but they won't trick your body. In the long run, controlling tactics make you eat more and gain weight. Rather than helping you to eat in an orderly, positive, and internally regulated fashion, such messages make you feel deprived and are likely to precipitate out-of-control eating.

For more about understanding and achieving eating competence, see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook.


1. Satter EM; Chapter 4, Eat as Much as You Want. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook. Madison, WI: Kelcy Press; 2008:27-43.

Copyright © 2008 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

For more information, visit Ellyn Satter's Facebook page.

From the Parents

Similar Articles

The Savvy Library

From the educational to the whimsical, our Savvy editors help you explore your world. You can search our 1977 articles by keyword, subject, or date.

Notable Selection

Below you'll find some of the more popular selections from the Savvy Library: