Concerned About Your Child’s Eating Habits? Ellyn Satter Has Answers


Janet’s guest is the world-renowned nutritionist, family therapist, and author Ellyn Satter. Throughout her long career, Ellyn has successfully addressed issues related to eating and feeding and taught parents how to transform meals into happy, healthful, struggle-free events. “There is so much interference with sensible feeding,” Ellyn says. Her wise, empathetic, research-backed advice helps families to reshape their relationships with food, removing the conflict and drama that sometimes accompanies eating, and to discover “relaxation and joyful eating and parenting.”

Transcript of “Concerned About Your Child’s Eating Habits? Ellyn Satter Has Answers”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury welcome to Unruffled. Today I’m thrilled to welcome Ellyn Satter to the podcast. Whenever the topic of mealtimes and eating comes up, someone invariably mentions Ellyn, and what she calls the “Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding.” Ellyn is an internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding. She’s a nutritionist, a family therapist who’s devoted her long career to uplifting the mealtime experience. Ellen’s teachings free parents and children from mealtime struggles and conflicts by helping us to reimagine and reshape our relationships with food. Simply put Ellyn changes lives. She’s an icon. So I’m honored to have her on the podcast to share a bit of her wisdom. Welcome Ellyn, thank you so much for being here.

Ellyn Satter:  Well, thanks, Janet. It’s a privilege to spend this time with you.

Janet Lansbury:  I’ve been aware of your work for a long time because parents have made me aware of it, which is wonderful. Whenever I post any perspective on feeding or eating or mealtime issues with children, invariably, at least several times in the comments, your name comes up, and people are linking to you. You are, I feel, a legend in my communities, and I know you’re internationally recognized as an authority in feeding and healthy eating.

So one of the things you’re most well known for is your Division of Responsibility in Feeding. I would love for you to share a little about what that is, why it matters and how parents can use this to have more pleasant mealtimes.

Ellyn Satter:  Yeah, well, I discovered the Division of Responsibility, I’d say 10 years into my career as an outpatient dietician at a private group medical practice. I had this mother and little boy, eight years old, kind of chubby, cute as a bug, referred to me and the referral note from the doctor was “weight issues.” Now, I don’t know what he meant by that. I suspect he meant this mother is preoccupied with weight, do something about it.

And at that point, I was coming off of being prescriptive with respect to what and how much children should eat. I definitely was clear that weight reduction dieting for children was bad and terrible and totally awful and I wasn’t going to do that, but I didn’t know what to do instead. And so I was sort of flailing about, talking about, food groups and she’d react. And she said, “Well, I’m doing that.”

And I talk about having meals and she said, “Well, I’m doing that.” And so it went on, and with everything, she said, “I’m doing that.” And she was getting madder and madder at me.

Finally, she said, “Well, what am I supposed to do? I have one at home who doesn’t eat enough. And I have this one in here, this little boy….” I mean, he’s totally cowed. He’s sliding down in his chair. He looks absolutely miserable. “…and I have this one who eats too much. So what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to get one to eat more? And the other one to eat less?”

Long silence.

Finally, I said, “Well, I don’t think it’s your job to get this boy to eat less and the other one to eat more. I think your job is the one you’re already doing. And that is doing a good job with choosing food for these kids, putting meals on the table. And after that, it’s up to them how much they eat and how they grow.”

Oh, she looked madder than ever. And I thought, holy smokes, is that really true? But it was the only intelligent thing I’d said that day. So I let it stand. And afterward, I started thinking about it and sort of applying the principle to situations with other children and reading the literature.

There were people out there who were doing research on feeding, and I realized that it was true that feeding children demands a division of responsibility: that the parents do the what, when and where of feeding. And they trust the child to do the how much and whether of eating.

Oh, and by the way, Janet, the little boy, he perked up, he looked interested for the first time all day, he straightened up in his chair. And I always figure that kids know. They are amazingly, instinctively wise and they know when something makes sense. And he was responding to that. He liked the sounds of that very much.

Janet Lansbury:  Empowering him to be trusted. And yeah-

Ellyn Satter:  Well, yeah, in my dreams, I mean, this is an example, I’m afraid, of advice that didn’t take. But if it had, it would certainly have been life-changing for him and his brother who was continually being pressured to eat more than he really wanted to eat.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. It works both ways. Yeah, trust is this powerful, magical thing that’s so simple in a way, but can be so challenging for us as parents. It’s very much centered in everything that I teach: trusting your child to be a competent person, trusting that they’re capable.

Ellyn Satter:  Exactly. And, that’s what I like about your work, Janet, among many things, is the whole idea of child competence. There’s so much that goes on today in the medical and nutrition world that is predicated on child deficit. “We have to get children to eat certain foods and if we don’t, entice or coerce them in some way, then they simply won’t. We have to get children to grow in a particular way because if we don’t, they’re going to be too fat or they’re going to be too thin.” And that’s just not true.

Children come sort of prepackaged with the desire to eat, the drive to eat as much as they need to to survive and to grow and to be healthy. They are hardwired with the desire to explore their world and master their world, and this applies to the food that’s in their world right along with everything else. If parents are enjoying their food and putting food on the table that they themselves enjoy, then the child is going to figure, well, this is what I’m going to learn to eat as well.

And so the parents don’t say a word about it, but they make this sort of tacit mastery demonstration. This is what it means to be a grown-up with eating. And the child sees that and thinks in his child’s mind: well, this is what I’m going to grow up to do and eat.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. And this is another aspect of your work that so closely aligns with everything I learned from my mentor Magda Gerber and everything that I teach — this authenticity that you talk about for us to not be, “oh, I love this wonderful broccoli. Look at this fun tree I’m going to eat!” and instead we can just put it out there and act natural and not have all this pressure on ourselves to try to make things happen and-

Ellyn Satter:  Oh right. And just enjoy it or if you don’t, you say, “Well, I don’t much care for broccoli, but mom enjoys it. And so it’s on the table and I’m going to try it a little bit in hopes that someday I enjoy it too.”

Janet Lansbury:  Right. And she’s not pushing it on me. Another thing I’ve found interesting is with the parents that I interact with, there seem to be kind of almost two types of parents around feeding and eating issues. There are parents that find it a very ho-hum topic. Like they don’t think twice about it and it’s just not a deal to them at all. And there are other parents who are very focused on it, very focused on what their child is eating. I mean, is there a reason for that? Is it our upbringing? Is it our culture? Do you notice this yourself that there are some people that just, it’s just totally natural for them and others that really struggle?

Ellyn Satter:  Well, yes, I have. I have noticed that and certainly, both types of parents can be very successful with feeding their children as long as the not-so-interested-in-food-and-eating ones don’t go to the extreme of being neglectful with feeding. And so long as the worried-and-focused-on-it ones don’t go to the extreme of being controlling with eating. It’s like everything else in parenting, the important thing is finding the middle ground, and that middle ground is being able to put a meal on the table and be reliable about feeding your kids.

And I’m talking about toddlers and older, I’m not talking about structure for babies or kids before the age of two, but being reliable about feeding your kids and reassuring them that they are going to be fed is the bottom line for both sets of parents. For the ones who are ho-hum about feeding, they sort of drag their guts through getting a meal on the table. They choose food that they enjoy so they can sit down and enjoy their children during meal times. They get the job done.

Whereas the folks at the other extreme, well, they’re going to do the same thing. And those folks are going to have to resist their tendency to be interfering with their child’s what and how much the child eats because they themselves perhaps have a long list of good food, bad food, eat this, don’t eat that, worry about my weight and continue to try to get it down.

Which brings us to the whole topic of eating competence and whether or not the parent is in a position to be relaxed and positive about their own eating and trust themselves to eat what and how much they need in order to do well.

Janet Lansbury:  Oh, yes. It always comes down to us first. Doesn’t it? Darn!

Ellyn Satter:  Oh, it does. Well, it’s a cycle, isn’t it? Because we eat the way we were fed and we feed the way we eat. And so, sooner or later, as we say when we go into therapy, this cycle has to stop

Janet Lansbury: If we want it to. Yeah.

Ellyn Satter:  Well, if therapy is successful, the cycle stops and therefore your children and grandchildren have access to better parenting than you did.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. Your work is about changing a cycle, really, where we’re sort of functioning as parents… it may be that we’re not staying in our lane in terms of what our job is versus what our child’s job is in regard to eating. And you’re helping parents to stay in their lane and feel secure in that lane.

Ellyn Satter:  Yes. And therein lies reward, relaxation, and joyful eating and parenting. Over and over again. I hear from these parents who talk about the struggles they’re having with their children around eating, and then they embrace the Division of Responsibility with Feeding. And within days, the child becomes happier, more relaxed, and willing to come to the table. Family meal times become enjoyable for the first time in however long, and the parents say, “he feels better, I feel better. And together we feel better all day long.”

It’s not just at mealtime that this has an impact, but all day long, because, well, probably because together they’ve been dreading mealtime all day long and that predictable struggle that’s going to erupt there.

So the feelings come fast and the relationship comes fast. And once that’s in place, parents are able to relax and let time take care of the child’s getting to the point where they can eat a variety of food. Those feelings and relaxed meal times persist. But if the parent gets caught up again with their agenda, then those good feelings go away pretty fast. In today’s world, it’s darn hard not to get caught up with agendas because there is so much interference with sensible feeding.

Janet Lansbury:  Can you be specific about that?

Ellyn Satter:  Yeah. “Getting your child to eat his fruits and vegetables is tremendously important. If he doesn’t, he’s going to die young.”

Janet Lansbury:  Boy.

Ellyn Satter:  “Don’t let your child weigh more than the 85th percentile, because if he does he’s overweight and you have to do something about it, you have to get him to slim down.” That kind of interference is really standard. Isn’t it Janet?

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. So how can parents get over this hump to trusting? What is the process, or what are some of the ways that you’ve helped parents to see the light or to free themselves of all this burden that they’re putting on themselves to try to control things that we really don’t control?

Ellyn Satter:  Well, if I’ve got the time clinically and, I’m long past doing clinical intervention, but my colleagues and the people we train do clinical intervention where they sit down with the parent and they take a close look at what’s going on with feeding. They’re probably going to do video tapes and sort of analyze what those mealtime interactions are like. They take a look at what happened when the child was a baby and the kind of advice that parents got way back then, whether the child was just a typical kid or whether he had some medical or neurological developmental issues, and what kind of advice they got with feeding way back then. Many times parents come along carrying the baggage of all the advice they’ve gotten ever since their child was a baby. “You have to get him to eat. Get it into him. I don’t care how you do it.” Or, “you mustn’t let him eat that because he’s getting too fat.” Or, “you have to cut down on the amount that he’s eating because he is getting too fat.”

So the assessment helps them to see that, to see the handicaps they’ve been working with and how they’ve gotten to the point where they are. And then we introduce the concept: The Division of Responsibility in Feeding, and we’ve helped them to understand their child’s competence with eating. We make a recommendation that they follow and tell them, “we’ll walk along with you while you do this,” because it is scary. I mean, if the child has been having struggles when they’re doing what they’re doing, how dare they give it up for fear that those struggles are going to get worse? And so we work with them while they make the transition.

But you are absolutely right, Janet. It does take steady nerves and a leap of faith in order for parents to go with the Division of Responsibility and trust their child to eat as much and whether they are willing to eat.

Janet Lansbury:  Yes, that leap of faith. So many aspects of parenting I think are centered around that. But it’s scary. A couple of things that you advise… I mean, even to me, these are scary and I love it, but I want to hear a little more about it. That’s where you say to offer sweets and desserts with the meal…

Ellyn Satter:  Well, I kind of keep my fingers crossed about the meal, because I say at mealtime, if you’re having dessert, let everybody have a single serving of dessert, a child-size serving for kids, and a grown-up-size for adults and that’s it. No second servings of dessert. But then you are creating scarcity. Anytime you have scarcity, a kid’s going to get preoccupied with it. So you have to neutralize the scarcity and you do that at snack time. And that is sit-down snacks, not running around and eating snacks, but sit-down snacks where periodically, you put out a plate of cookies and some milk and let the child eat as many cookies as they want. Or other sweets — put the child’s favorite sweet here.

And at first, kids eat those sweets like there’s no tomorrow. I mean, it’s like, they can’t get enough. But you, again, have to keep your nerve while they do that because after you do this a few times, they are going to eat a couple, and then they’re going to run off and do something else. The sweets lose their magnetic attraction for the child. It’s the scarcity that makes kids eat large quantities of these foods.

And the thing is, I mean, at the same time, it seems scary and unnecessary because after all, you can keep the lid on sweets when the child is at home and little, but you’re going to lose that control when the child gets to be 11, 12 years old and is walking to school and goes right by the corner grocery store, goes to a friend’s house or in other ways gets access to sweets. And at that point, they’re going to eat them like there’s no tomorrow. So what you’re doing with these meal and snack strategies with sweets is equipping your child to manage the world, to not be overwhelmed by the food in the outside world that you’ve been restricting at home.

Janet Lansbury: And is there any research on that working?

Ellyn Satter:  The research talks about how children whose sweets intake is restricted become food preoccupied and eat more when they get the chance and are heavier over time. This is all of the eating in the absence of hunger studies that were directed mostly by Leann Birch, who’s done a lot of the child feeding research over the years. Her studies would bring kids into the laboratory and feed them lunch, ordinary foods that kids feel comfortable eating, and then check and double check to make sure that they weren’t hungry anymore, that they had enough to eat.

These studies were done with girls, I guess. So they take the girls into another room where there are a lot of sweets sitting around on tables. And then they had little projects for the girls and they said they wanted them to do the project. And the girls could eat as many sweets and other snack foods as they liked. And then the researchers would monitor how much each of the children ate. And they found that the girls who were restricted at home ate more in the absence of hunger than the girls who were not restricted. And they followed these kids over a decade or more and they found that over time, these restricted girls, their BMI went up compared with the girls who were not restricted at home.

Janet Lansbury:  Wow. And then this whole idea of putting dessert with the meal. So it’s just, sort of, on the plate with food that you’re offering? See, I can barely say this…

Ellyn Satter: Take a deep breath, Janet.


Janet Lansbury: You mean, are you seriously saying-

Ellyn Satter:  Kids push themselves along to learn and grow, but they also take the easy way out if it’s offered. And with respect to the foods offered at mealtime, dessert is the easy way out because it is easier to like the sweet, high-fat cakes and cookies.

Janet Lansbury:  Right, what’s not to like?

Ellyn Satter:  And so dessert and these sweets really compete unfairly with the other food that’s at the mealtime. And so when kids see vegetables and protein foods and a variety of other foods at the mealtime over and over again, eventually they’ll get to eat those foods and enjoy them. But if there’s always a lot of dessert sitting there and they can fill up on dessert instead of learning to enjoy these other foods, then they’re going to go for the dessert. So that’s why I say one serving because dessert can competes unfairly with other nutritious foods.

Janet Lansbury:  But then with the other foods on the plate… you would allow them to have seconds on as much bread as they want, or…?

Ellyn Satter:  Yeah. Yeah.

Janet Lansbury:  …butter? Okay. So you don’t see a competition with that.

Ellyn Satter:  Well, people tell me, and I’ve seen this with my own kids. The kids will take a bite of dessert, then a bite of broccoli and a bite of potatoes, and then a bite of dessert, or they’ll eat the dessert first and then eat everything else. They have their own ways of doing this. It’s only for grownups that dessert signals the end of the meal. Children have no such compunction.

Janet Lansbury:  That reminds me of this place my children loved. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, and they would love it because they could get all this food, and then they could get ice cream, and then they could get more soup after the ice cream. Only at this kind of place did that seem to happen.

Ellyn Satter:  Yeah. Well, tell me what allowed you to just sort of let them go and see what happened?

Janet Lansbury:  Well, I don’t even like to say this because parents share so many struggles with me that they have, but I never really thought much about this. I knew to offer healthy foods. I don’t have issues with eating personally. And I don’t know, it just seemed natural for me to kind of pass that on. We did have some stuff, but nothing was a big focus or a big deal. And, Magda Gerber taught me about trust and that to me was very easy to do around eating. I trusted them… so it was nice.

Ellyn Satter:  And how much more fun it was for you to go to that buffet restaurant than if you were worrying about whether they were eating the right things?

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. I never really worried about them eating. The only one I even thought about at all was my son who was so active and he ate the least of any of my children as a toddler. And this guy was, he almost couldn’t stop him moving. He was so active and it was puzzling, but he’s six foot four now and really, really healthy and-

Ellyn Satter:  Well, when he was little, was he growing consistently?

Janet Lansbury:  Yes. Yes. He was growing. He was doing fine, but it would seem like he ate nothing. So it was interesting. And I did think a little about it, but I just had to trust him because, yeah, he seemed fine. But I know a lot of parents that their doctors are telling them there’s a problem. Everyone’s telling them there’s a problem.

I would like, if you don’t mind, to read a question to you…

Ellyn Satter:  Well, before you do, I want to comment on your son.

Janet Lansbury:  Okay. Yes, please.

Ellyn Satter:  I’ll see if I can look up this reference: Stanger, Springer, I can never remember the guy’s name, but he published this wonderful summary of children’s range of calorie intake. And they were astonishing ranges like for a toddler boy, the range was between 400 calories a day and 4,000 calories a day.

Janet Lansbury: Goodness.

Ellyn Satter:  And the child who was eating 400 calories was presumably healthy like your little boy who was such an easy keeper that he was seemingly getting along on air, doing well on a very low level of calories. Whereas other children who seemingly eat an enormous amount of calories regulate perfectly well and grow consistently at this upper range.

So again, it’s this child competence thing that children come pre-wired with their homeostatic mechanisms, with their need for a certain level of energy in order to keep them going. And that might be a high need or a low need.

Janet Lansbury:  And they know themselves better than we know them. I think that’s in that too.

Ellyn Satter:  Oh, absolutely. They instinctively know, but they don’t know with their heads. Anytime you try to put something in a child’s head and teach them to manage themselves, things don’t go well. But if you observe their instinctive capabilities, they’re definitely there.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. So a lot of times I’ll hear from parents: “What should I do? My child is telling me they only want dessert, asking how many bites they have to eat to get the dessert.” And your solution to put it on the meal plate really solves that, right?

Ellyn Satter:  Yeah. Yeah.

Janet Lansbury:  Because I would just say if dessert’s not working, if it’s just becoming this distracting thing for your child, then maybe you don’t need to have desserts for a while, not as a punishment, but maybe it’s not necessary. If it’s becoming a bargaining tool or something, then it’s not working for your family.

Ellyn Satter:  Well, I think that certainly is one solution. The other solution would be to say, well, the dessert’s there. Eat it or not. The same kid who wants you to bargain is going to eat his dessert and say, “can I have more dessert?” And you’re going to say no. And he says, “Well, then I’m not going to eat anymore.” And so he threatens you, right?

Janet Lansbury:  And then what do you do?

Ellyn Satter:  You say, “okay, I’ll see you at snack time.”

Janet Lansbury:  Okay. And then what if he starts whining? You put the food away and he’s saying, “I’m hungry. I’m so hungry.”

Ellyn Satter:  “Yeah. Okay. I hear what you’re saying. Snacks in a couple of hours.”

Janet Lansbury:  Right? That’s a hard one for parents because of this whole idea of I’m leaving my child hungry. I mean, I could see how that’s very triggering, that would be triggering for me.

Ellyn Satter:  Generally speaking, I’m not in favor of starving children into submission, but you’re not doing that. I mean, you are offering a variety of food. And from my point of view, the essential meal planning perspective is that you need to be considerate without catering. That is, you need to put on a variety of foods that you enjoy. And by a variety, I mean like a main dish or fruit or vegetable or a couple of carbs, milk. And then you need to put one or two foods in the meal that your child generally eats. It might be bread. It might be rice. It might be fruit. The parents on their Facebook site call these “safe foods.” What they mean is that when the child comes to the meal and sees those foods, he feels safe or they feel safe. How they feel like, okay, there’s something there that I can eat. And contrary to the standard expectation that if something is there that they can eat, that’s all they’ll eat. In reality, children generally feel more adventurous when they feel safer. Well, you know that Janet.

Janet Lansbury: Yes.

Ellyn Satter:  This is a way then of supporting them so they can feel more adventurous with their eating.

Now, this little kid who only will eat his dessert, we have to take a look at the meal as well and say, well, is dessert the only thing at that meal that appeals to him? Is there also bread? Is there also rice? Are there other foods that the child can generally eat? And when parents are making the transition from being sort of coercive and controlling to the division of responsibility and they do this considerate without catering bit with meal planning, they do find that their child is going to spend a week or two weeks eating bread, and that’s all they really want to eat at the mealtime. But eventually, they get tired of eating their favorite foods and they start to look around for something different. But the parent really has to clench their teeth and keep doing the division of responsibility because if they sort of lose their nerve and say, “Wow, why don’t you try this?” Or, “don’t you think that’s enough bread?” Then it goes on longer.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. Because the children, they’re right in there with what we’re feeling all the time. And I was going to say, even clenching our teeth they can feel sometimes.

Ellyn Satter:  They do.

Janet Lansbury:  So trying to breathe through the fear, I guess, or something.

Ellyn Satter:  Yeah. Or saying to the child, “I am going to let you eat as much as you want. It’s hard for me to just see you eating this bread all the time. But I know that you’ll do what you need to do with your eating.”

Janet Lansbury:  Putting those elephants in the room out there. I love that. Yeah. It’s so freeing because children are feeling it right?

Ellyn Satter:  Oh, yeah.

Janet Lansbury:  They’re feeling it. If we say it, it’s like yep, there I am. Here I am with you.

Ellyn Satter:  Right. If it’s out there, you can laugh about it and you can laugh at yourselves about it. And you say, “well, I love bread too so go for it.”

But then you have to be careful not to go to the other extreme of giving your child a lot of inadvertent attention for their eating extremes. You know what I mean, right? Because sometimes when kids eat a lot and an audience gathers and everybody is so fascinated and appalled by how much the kid is eating, actually, they react to that and overeat.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. That’s a brilliant idea to just put it out there. If we’re feeling it, just say it like, “Wow, okay, great. More bread. I’m going with this, a little scary for me, but I’m going with it.” It will help us, I think, to relax too, a little.

Ellyn Satter:  That’s right.

Janet Lansbury:  Okay. So if you don’t mind, I would love to ask you this question. It’s a bit long, but it represents the many comments I’ll get similar to this. Every time I post something about eating people are commenting, “Ellyn Satter, Division of Responsibility.” And then there’ll be a parent that says, “Well, this doesn’t work for my child. My child will not eat unless I make it happen.” So here’s the note:

I’m reaching out to you with a dynamic that has been present since my older daughter was 12 weeks old. She’s now two-and-a-half. After consultations with specialists, ENT, gastroenterology, occupational and physical therapy, we felt like she really was starving herself. At eight months old, we finally figured out that she had oversized adenoids, which forced her to breathe through her mouth and made it nearly impossible to close her mouth to drink from a bottle. While it was so, so helpful to have an answer, I feel like the damage had already been done. I have vivid memories of using a syringe to drop milliliters of formula in her so as to prevent a hospitalization. Feeding for the first year of her life had so clearly been a distressing, traumatizing experience for us all.

While things have gotten better, we have yet to round a corner where eating feels good or even natural for her. Not only is she a very picky eater, but she eats tiny amounts of the foods that she’s willing to eat. Hunger seems like a foreign concept.

Sitting at the table is a success if we can make it last five to 10 minutes. And preparing meals for her, trying to get her to eat is such a battle that it’s my least favorite part of the day. I know that she can pick up on this and that it is definitely contributing to our ongoing cycle. What I’m doing is not working. Some weeks are better than others, but it doesn’t seem to correlate to anything that we’re doing as parents.

Here’s what we’ve tried: At our best, we feel motivated and energized to expose her to different foods even though she won’t eat them and try to make mealtime as routine and fun as possible, and play music she likes. All of us sit down together and eat the same thing without putting too much focus on how much she’s actually eating. Other times I find myself offering her the same exact foods that she’s eaten in the past in an effort to get some, any, calories in her.

At my worst, I feel desperate or I’m noticing a trend towards less and less intake or feel like she is losing weight, I will resort to bribing and rewarding her for eating. “If you eat growing foods, then we can have a treat. If you have one more bite of oatmeal, then we can watch something.” I know this isn’t right. It doesn’t ever feel right and it certainly doesn’t feel sustainable, but I still feel so worried about making sure she eats enough food that backing off and relinquishing control feels nearly impossible.

Ellyn Satter:  Yeah. Yeah.

Janet Lansbury:  And she’s worried. She says: “I’m worried I’ve already caused so much damage that it’s irreversible or if I don’t keep pushing, she’ll stop eating, lose weight, fall off the growth curve and we’ll be back at square one.”

Ellyn Satter:  Oh dear. Yeah. This whole feeding thing has really taken over their lives. Hasn’t it? I mean, I feel for them all. I mean, there is a lot of misery in that message. This is a complex issue that is not going to respond to simple advice. I mean, we could SDOR (Satter Division of Responsibility), but at her best, the mom is following SDOR and it’s really not addressing the issue. So this is one of those cases that I was telling you about earlier on. If we have time to sit down with somebody and do a complete assessment and to really understand fully what the parents are saying about their history with feeding the child, what they’ve been through, what’s happening now, what are all the forces that are being brought to bear on this situation, and then come up with the treatment plan and then work with them as they move through that treatment plan.

Janet Lansbury:  And your institute does this, right?

Ellyn Satter:  Yes. The institute makes available online coaching to do just this, do the complete assessment, do the treatment plan, and then work with parents as they move through the treatment plan. And yeah, I think this mom is an excellent candidate for that. This is a service that costs money, but I think in comparison with some of the other routes that she’s gone down it is probably something that is accessible.

Janet Lansbury:  And then you have resources that obviously wouldn’t be conducive to helping this parent with what she needs, but you have a lot of resources with information for people that want to learn more about your work and you’ve written books.

Ellyn Satter:  The Ellyn Satter Institute has a website that is just packed with information. If your listeners pull up “Ellyn Satter Institute,” they’re going to get to the website, even if they misspell my first name.

Janet Lansbury:  E-L-L-Y-N.

Ellyn Satter:  Yep. That’s right.

Janet Lansbury:  S-A-T-T-E-R.

Ellyn Satter:  And they can click on “how to feed” and they’re going to find a bunch of 250-word articles about different issues with feeding. If they click on “shop books and videos,” they’re going to find a series of 50-page booklets that are stage-related: the first two years, 18 months through six years, six through 13, and 12 through 18, as well as Feeding Yourself with Love and Good Sense. So those are probably the good starter packages.

Janet Lansbury:  Wonderful. Well, I am so grateful that you are out there doing this incredible work for parents. And your reassuring manner, your empathetic manner is just a, you’re a joy to be with.

Ellyn Satter:  Well, thank you so much, Janet. It has been wonderful to be with you. And I really hope that your listeners will be able to discover the joy of feeding and the joy of eating.

Janet Lansbury:  Thank you. That was so helpful.

Ellyn is the author of “Child of Mine – Feeding with Love and Good Sense” along with scores of other books, videos, and healthy eating guides. Her website ( offers a wealth of resources on not only food, eating, and feeding, but emotional health and positive family relationships as well.

For more advice about common parent-child dynamics please check out the other posts and podcasts on my website: There are many of them, and they’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon: No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting.  You can get them in eBook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play or, and in audio at Actually, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.

And if you find this podcast helpful, you can help it to continue by giving it a positive review on iTunes and by supporting my sponsors.

Thank you again, we can do this.

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