Hierarchy of Food

I ran across this image recently and had to share:


As you can see, this is the Hierarchy of Food Needs (not to be confused with, but patterned after, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Current nutrition/diet culture would encourage you to work from the top down but you can’t do that without feeling crazy around food. If you have not yet established a foundation of food security, continuing to cut out or remove or avoid foods will only leave you anxious and unsatisfied. You may think that is due to a lack of willpower or self-control, but actually it’s that you feel deprived. So let’s break this down:


1. First and foremost, you must be eating enough. If you are skipping meals, feeling unsatisfied from food or just generally not eating regularly and consistently, you cannot move forward with success. Establishing regular and consistent, well-balanced meals is ESSENTIAL (even regardless of what you are eating, I cannot emphasize this enough!!).


2. Once your eating habits are normalized, you can then (naturally) begin to decide what foods you like and don’t like. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it…only possible when you have other options.


3. Once you are in a regular rhythm of consistent, satisfying meals and snacks, it’s easy to plan ahead. You can anticipate your needs and plan for the future.


4. Even more so then in #2, you can now easily reject foods you don’t like due to being in a more well-fed, satisfied and food-confident state. Because you are no longer food-insecure, you can pick and choose what would best meet your needs.


5. Now that you have built a foundation by planning, preparing and eating regular, satisfying meals/snacks, you are now ready to get more creative with food – looking for new preparation methods, recipes and food inspiration.


6. Last – and I mean very last – you can THEN choose foods or food patterns to achieve a desired outcome. I would argue that this doesn’t HAVE to happen, you can choose if you want to move to this step. But it cannot be done before you have met the 5 lower food needs.

Trying to bypass a step or move more quickly through the process will be ineffective, frustration and demoralizing. Be patient with yourself as you build on each essential step.


Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD