Eating Disorders

Scientist vs Practitioner

May 2, 2016

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


You'll also love

learn more

A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

The great Dr. George Sheehan is one of my literary heros.  His words make me a deeper thinker.

In one of his books he= explains that scientists focus on the mechanism, while practitioners focus on the why and the mind.  As a dietitian, we are trained to be scientists.  In fact 99% of my coursework was focused on such.  I literally only took 1 class on counseling strategies.  What I have realized in my infant years of clinical experience is that the science doesn't matter much if you aren't an effective practitioner.   Doing and theorizing are two very different things. 

Sheehan points out that this same paradox exists for physical education teachers and doctors too.  They get hung up on the scientific mechanisms of their specialty and it gets lost in translation to their students/patients.  Information, should's and fear are poor motivators.  Doing something you enjoy the benefits of, even if it's difficult or unpleasant in the moment, is much more likely to become a habit.  My husband and I sit down every month to do our written budget because we like the feeling of peace in knowing how we are going to spend our money and that our financial future is secure, not because our financial coach told us to.  When I go for a run sometimes it's hard – maybe because it's hot outside, I'm running uphill, or I'm doing speedwork.  Yet running is my form of play.  It is where I am fully immersed.  Fully alive.  I don't do it because a fitness expert or a doctor told me to.  

In my clinical practice I must keep remembering that the why is paramount to the what I am asking my clients to do.  If I can't understand what motivates them and help them find a sustaining why, no amount of scientific nutritional information will do them any good.  Most of them know a great deal about nutrition already anyway, sometimes too much.  If knowledge were the solution they wouldn't be sitting in my office.  Thus, we must go deeper to understand why their relationship with food is such.

Behavioral research indicates that the number one reason most people choose what foods they eat is taste.  If it doesn't taste good no other redeeming qualities of the food matter.  Nutrition experts can tout the benefits of kale all they want, but if nobody eats it because it doesn't taste good, then who cares.  We've tried to trick ourselves into liking these foods by masking them with more palatable things like green smoothies or cookbooks that show you how to hide vegetables in recipes.  

People with eating disorders have a much more complicated relationship with food.  Their motivators for eating are incredibly complex, even more so than the average Joe.  It takes us a lot of time in our nutrition therapy sessions to untie the knots and understand what makes them tick.  This is where the art of being a practitioner matters so much more than the science of food.  

Recovery is about becoming your own scientist and practitioner.  It is about knowing what you need to do for yourself and finding the why that motivates you to do it.  

Leave a Reply