Healthy Eating: A Summary from the SNEB Conference

I’m a nutrition consultant for various food and beverage companies, but my opinions are my own.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) annual conference in Portland, Oregon on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association. I was very excited for this nutrition conference to hear two speakers in particular, Michelle May, author of the book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, and Ellyn Satter, child feeding expert.

Mindful Eating as a Healthy Lifestyle

May was the keynote speaker for the opening session talking about mindful eating. Simply put, it means paying attention to what you are eating and why. It means knowing when you are really hungry and stopping when you are full for a healthy lifestyle.

One of the light bulb moments of the talk was May really hammering home the point that our focus should not be on our actions, but rather our thoughts. In her words, thoughts drive feelings, which lead to action and then results. For example, when a person “fails” at losing a set amount of weight (i.e., the result), they blame their actions (i.e., “I didn’t try hard enough”) rather than reframe their thoughts (i.e., “I don’t have time to exercise”). Their thoughts tend to be negative to begin with and set up a person for failure, which only discourages them from developing healthy eating

Another resonating message was May’s quote, “If you are mindful, balance, variety and moderation work.” Being mindful is eating with both intention and attention. It goes hand in hand with May’s message that nutrition information is a tool, not a weapon. So often people get caught up in worrying about individual ingredients, rather than looking at the big picture of the overall nutritional value of food. For instance, when it comes to sugar intake, some people are more concerned with the types of sugar present rather than the total amount. Metabolically it is all the same in the body and we need to be eating less overall, regardless of whether it is sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sweeteners or honey.

Eating Competence for Healthy Choices 

Satter’s session was more of a conversation format where the audience drove the content with questions, though she did speak initially about the Ellyn Satter Institute, a non-profit dedicated to continuing her life work of feeding dynamics and eating competence. There is a wealth of information available on the website. Satter’s concept of the Division of Responsibility of the feeding relationship between parent and child is probably more well known than her work on eating competence, which she discussed as being similar to May’s mindful eating, though more structured and evidence-based.

Satter’s eating competence model is based on psychosocial models. Nutrition research shows that eating competence has better outcomes than more prescriptive diets. Eating competence research has shown that people tend to weigh less and have better biomarkers, such as LDL cholesterol. The four components are:

  • Context – taking the time to eat structured meals and snacks
  • Attitude – a more positive eating experience
  • Food acceptance – food should be enjoyed
  • Internal regulation – pay attention to internal sensations and stop when satisfied

The structured part of eating meals and snacks is really key for both eating competence and the Division of Responsibility. Meals and snacks should be eaten at regular intervals and provide a variety of healthy foods. With structure in place, then a person will naturally regulate their own intake to be in line with his or her needs. Interestingly, Satter never discusses healthy eating as part of her models. She believes that it comes naturally when someone is a competent eater.

Whether we call it mindful eating or eating competence, the point is we need to be more aware of why we are eating and pay more attention to our internal cues of hunger and satiety. There is still room, in my opinion, for nutrition and healthy eating. And to me, that is where small changes come into play. Making small changes over time can have big results in the end, though a person must decide what those changes are for him or herself and the pace for implementation. A like-minded health professional such as a registered dietitian nutritionist can be a wonderful guide on such a journey of self-discovery towards better health.