Home => Newsletters => April 2011 • Family Meals Focus #56 • Hierarchy of Food Need
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.The school nutrition horror stories in FMF #055 illustrate the consequences of coercive and restrictive feeding tactics. We do the same to ourselves when we try to force ourselves to eat what we don’t like because it is “healthy” and avoid what we do like because it is not. There is a better way: Trust yourself to learn and grow. According to Abraham Maslow, growth occurs on its own, in its own time, in sequence. As we satisfy needs at each level, we address needs at the next level. From the foundation through the apex on Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of growth, those needs are: (1) physiological needs: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, sex; (2) safety, security, order; (3) social affection: love, belonging; (4) esteem, status; self-esteem and esteem by others; and (5) self-actualization: being all the individual can be.1 Arranging food needs in a similar hierarchy, from the foundation through the apex, gives Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs.2
Enough food If you are food insecure, on a weight-reduction diet, or on an airplane with no food stash, your major concern is getting something to eat. The hungrier you are, the more you go for high-calorie food—food that quickly fills you up. Little wonder that the one in five people suffering from food insecurity in this country3 choose foods high in fat and sugar and eschew vegetables. They get more of the calories they acutely need from whole milk than they do from skim milk, are wise to fry rather than bake or broil, depend on putting butter or margarine on vegetables to increase the calories, and are better served by peaches canned in heavy syrup than fresh peaches. Eating a little fat or sugar doesn’t seem so bad when you consider some of the desperate measures that respectable, responsible, and hungry people use to feed themselves and their families. Parents go hungry to feed their children, people overeat when food is available, or eat other people's leftovers. To feed the family, cooks remove spoiled sections, slime, mold, and insects from food, and cook meat found as road kill.4
Acceptable food After you fully reassure yourself that you won't have to go hungry - which can take a long time - your appetite will become more discriminating. Rather than being willing to eat almost anything, you will reject foods that don't taste good or foods you find unacceptable.One person finds using food stamps or food pantries acceptable, another doesn't.
Reliable, ongoing access to food Reliably satisfying immediate food needs with acceptable food frees you to consider feeding yourself the next meal or the next day. You can plan for subsequent meals, accumulate a food stash, and budget for food purchases. You only have food security when you achieve these first three levels.
Good-tasting food Having achieved food security - knowing you will be fed not just today but tomorrow and into the indefinite future, your appetite will become more prominent. Most people prioritize taste in food selection,5 but that is only when they know they will get enough to eat. When you are starving, almost anything tastes good.
Novel food After you have had plenty of time to eat adequate amounts of rewarding food, you will find yourself tiring of even your favorite food and taking more of an interest in new foods or perhaps in familiar foods prepared in new ways. You will gradually increase the variety in your diet, which will improve the nutritional quality of your diet.
Instrumental food Having satisfied your needs at all the other levels, you can consider instrumental food - food that will do something for you beyond satisfying basic needs. People have always chosen food for instrumental reasons - eating or avoiding certain foods during pregnancy to influence the baby’s appearance or temperament, for example. Today's example is eating - or avoiding - certain foods to resist disease, prolong life, or enhance mental and emotional functioning.
Of course, foods at every level can have nutritionally value. We are talking about food-seeking, not nutrient-avoidance. With that in mind, ask yourself:
At what level do you consistently function?
At what level are you told you should function?
How does it make you feel about yourself and your eating to try to function at a higher level than you are ready for?
The Food Hierarchy gives a step-by-step approach of achieving Eating Competence. Cut yourself some slack, accept where you are, be prepared to learn and grow, and take your time. Your growth and change will be comfortable and sustainable when you let yourself move up the Food Hierarchy, one level at a time.
1. Maslow A. A theory of human motivations1943.
2. Satter EM. Hierarchy of food needs. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39 (suppl):S187-188.
3. Holben DH. Position of the American Dietetic Association: food insecurity in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc. Sep 2010;110(9):1368-1377.
4. Kempson KM, Palmer Keenan D, Sadani PS, Ridlen S, Scotto Rosato N. Food management practices used by people with limited resources to maintain food sufficiency as reported by nutrition educators. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(12):1795-1799.
5. Glanz K, Basil M, Maibach E, Goldberg J, Snyder D. Why Americans eat what they do: taste, nutrition, cost, convenience, and weight control concerns as influences on food consumption. J Am Diet Assoc. 1998;98:1118-1126.
For more information, see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see www.EllynSatter.com to purchase books and to review other resources.
Copyright © 2012 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatter.com.
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