September 25, 2007

Are You "Eating Competent?"

"People who are confident, comfortable and flexible with their eating habits may be at a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than people who are not."

Or so says a recent study out of Penn State, and Barbara Lohse, one of the researchers. She calls this "eating competence." There is even a questionnaire designed to assess whether you know what you're doing when you shove food in your mouth, but after a few minutes googling exhaustive research, Cranky Fitness was unable to obtain a copy. So Crabby may never know if she is a competent or an incompetent eater.

Of course it's hard not to poke a little fun at the notion of "eating competence." It sounds like just another instance of making a simple idea way more complicated than it needs to be. Right? Who doesn't know how to eat?

Well, actually, plenty of people. As silly as it sounds, those judged by the questionnaire to be lacking in this "competence" were five times more likely to have unhealthy levels of LDL and seven times more likely to have high triglycerides.

So maybe we'll stop making fun of it now.

"Eating Competence" seems to come from a nutritional model developed by Ellyn Satter. (Though the model seems quite sensible, it's apparently named "ecSatter," which, sorry Ellyn, sounds pretty darn ungainly). Anyway, Eating Competence "incorporates processes such as awareness of hunger, appetite and eating enjoyment with the body's biological tendency to maintain a preferred and stable weight."

Sounds good.

Of course, sometimes a healthy "awareness of eating enjoyment" can lead to problems, especially if the food causing that awareness is a double scoop of mocha almond fudge ice cream. Mmmm, does that cause some profound eating enjoyment.

But it really is a huge chunk of any healthy eating battle plan: how to figure out when you're really feeling hunger, not just cravings. And how to stop eating when you're not hungry anymore, even though there are plenty of tasty items left on your plate.

So Crabby is curious about the questionnaire, and she loves to take little quizzes. If anyone runs across a copy of it in their web travels, please do report in. Perhaps we can all find out if we're competent to eat our dinner tonight or we're just going to make a big ol' mess of it.

So, what do you guys think of the notion of "eating competence," and the fact it actually seems to correlate with heart disease risk? Or as usual, check in about anything on your minds!


  1. Sounds like a bunch of hooey to me. My guess would that people people with "eating competence" are just calmer and those people have a smaller risk of heart disease.

  2. It sounds like somebody needed to look busy and pulled this out of the air. The idea of "eating competence" sounds like a half-formed idea that needed justification and some Big Words to Make It Important.
    That said, when I think of eating competence I think of me trying to get the fork to the mouth without spilling too much.

  3. What leah said. If my clothing is still wearable after my meal, I figured I was pretty competent for that meal.
    If I have to change or use an entire Tide Pen, I wasn't.

  4. I can't help you on the survey, but I do know a few people that I observe/revere from afar that would fall into this category. These are the people that go to a family gathering or buffett and eat a balanced meal, neatly arranged on one plate and are truly full and don't graze like a buffalo. They make good choices because that's the only thing they know how to do - I really don't think they are human. But if someone could give me these powers, I would be forever grateful.

  5. I'm confident I could pack away a sirloin steak, portobello mushrooms covered in stilton, three glasses of wine, ice cream and a very large slice of chocolate cheesecake in one sitting. Or, maybe three beers instead of the wine. I'm flexible.

  6. Great, will I now be "graded" on my eating??? *headdesk*

  7. There may be something to be said for the "flexibility" notion. My sister is ten years younger and has high cholesterol. She's also one of the pickiest eaters on the planet! I remember one year where her daily supper was potato chips and peanut butter and by God, she would eat nothing else!

    I've always been open to new foods and new diets, though. So while it wasn't easy, it also wasn't brutally hard or impossible for me to change my diet from that of a perceived immortal (teenager) to something balanced that included whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

    So while the article sounds like it's being worded in such a way as to generate maximum hype, I suspect there's a kernel of wisdom in it.

  8. Mary carefully puts on her asbestos suit and updates her will before going forth to comment

    I'm going to disagree with Bri and Leah. Nicely, I hope. The bit about "awareness of hunger" strikes a chord.

    Sometimes, especially on the weekends when I don't have a regular mealtime schedule, I get so caught up in whatever I'm doing (like reading Crabby's blogs), that I don't notice I'm hungry until I'm ravenously hungry. It's like not listening to someone until they shout at you. Then my blood sugar starts doing a nose dive, and I end up eating something high in fat or sugar. If I'd eaten some healthy vegetables at the first faint hunger pang, that would be competent eating.

  9. I'm really curious about this questionnaire too, Crabby! It looks like it's just a pencil and paper questionnaire, though, and I can't find it anywhere online.

    It's funny all the different schools of thought - there are some people who think that if you stick to just 7 foods (and only 7), you'll be healthier, then these people who think flexibility is the key. I must say, I'm much more inclined to the flexibility camp.

    Once happy note, Crabby, is that when I typed "eating competency questionnaire" into google, your blog showed up on the first page of results! How's that for visibility! :)

  10. So what would the cure for poor eating competence be? mmm, maybe something similar to the cure for emotional and mindless eaters...wait, are they different?

  11. colour me confused.

    so is this the difference between me knowing i should wait until 6pm to eat my well balanced dinner of lean meat, whole grains and veggies vs. letting my "eating awareness" be distracted by high-calorie, high-fat, sodium laden crapola?

    Yup. I think I'm competent. Did i pass? Do i get a gold star?

  12. It makes enough sense to me. I stuggle with the difference between eating until I'm no longer hungry, and eating until I feel full. That having been said, I'd like to have dinner at Norabarnacle's place please?

  13. Bri, good point--they'd sure have to control for personality in some way or the results would be pretty meaningless--perhaps they did; all I had was a summary rather than the full study.

    leah, I have the exact same definition of food competence--and some nights are better than others!

    Marijke, I gotta get me a Tide pen, because we are big spillers in the Crab and Lobster household!

    Amy, ah, yes self-control in the buffet line eludes me as well! I'm getting better at picking the right thing--it's the 'all you can eat' aspect that does me in.

    Norabarnacle--Damn that sounds good! And with all the running you do, go for it!

    Missicat--Yeah, it's an exam you have to "cram" for!

    Bunnygirl, I do think there are actually some solid principles in there--there are really a lot of people who have a very complicated relationship with food. And flexibility is really, really helpful in learning to be a healthy eater.

    Mary, you look so cute in that asbestos suit! However, if you'd like put on some nice comfy sweats instead, I don't see anyone armed with flamethrowers. Good point, actually--I think the concepts make sense, it's just the lingo that gets a bit silly.

    Hi leth! Well, thanks for trying to find it. And yeah, all this stuff gets a bit contradictory doesn't it. (And hooray for CF showing up on the first page of Google for something!)

    Katieo--Hmmm, good question. I'd bet you're right, it's probably the same sort of issues/answers that people toss around for any messed up eating habits.

    Marie--I'm confused too! I think that "awareness" idea only goes so far. You can be aware that you're really hungry or not, but I guess you're not supposed to be aware that you'd rather eat chocolate cake than brussel sprouts.

    Hilary--I'm with you! Lets show up at Norabarnacle's door with big smiles and empty stomachs and pleading looks and see what happens!

  14. I don't know about eating competence as much as just taking the time to enjoy it. I have little willpower and really have to make a concerted effort to eat well.
    I eat too fast and often don't take the time to *enjoy* what I eat. Appreciateing my food was a big part of learning to eat better...and just have small bits of the stuff that's really bad for me makes them not so bad after all :)

  15. geosomin,
    Actually, that's a really good point! And one of the few healthy eating habits I don't have to work at. I love to take my time and savor my food. (But it helps to be a Slacker for that! Go-getter types struggle more with slowing down I think).

  16. As for the Lohse article, it's part of a whole issue of _Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior_ v.39 no.5 suppl.1 Sep-Oct2007. The issue is all about this "eating competency" and Satter is also featured. If you like stats, ecSatter is just for you! Trot over to your local University Library and see if they have the journal. You may now bow in awe to a Librarian, who has tracked the research down.

  17. I always bow in awe to librarians, lisacat!

    Thanks so much for the info. Now if I can just scrounge up a nearby University Library...


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