I'm sure you’ve heard the saying, “When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou said that. Actually, she said something even nicer: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

I love the sentiment because Angelou gives us permission to mess up—“I only did what I knew at the time.” At the same time, she gently shows us the path for a better life—Pursue the goal of “knowing “better.” Unfortunately, “knowing better” doesn’t always work out the way we think it will.

Here’s an example. In one study, a group of researchers devised a nutrition education program for children aged 3-5. Over the course of 2 weeks the children were exposed to a bunch of 30-minute nutrition lessons (9 of them to be exact).

  • At the end of the study, the kids scored higher on their ability to identify healthier snacks. Wahoo!
  • The kids also verbally stated a preference of healthier snacks. Double wahoo!

And yet, when the children were offered a choice between cookies and grapes, guess which snack they choose?  You got it. The kids chose the cookies.

MSPhotographic/depositphotos
Source: MSPhotographic/depositphotos

This study is the perfect example of how “knowing better” doesn’t always translate into “doing better.” In America, examples of this truth abound. Indeed, if knowing about nutrition led to healthy eating then Americans would be the healthiest eaters on earth. And yet, the opposite is true. Never before has a nation known so much about nutrition and yet eaten so poorly.

When it comes to eating, there is a disjunction between “knowing” and “doing.”

I have been talking to audiences for the better part of a decade now, and one of the things that continues to amaze me is how well-versed people are in nutrition but how they struggle to articulate what set of behaviors constitute good eating habits. This explains why so many of us don't do better: we don't actually know better. Our national dialogue never really talks about habits.

There are only three habits that translate nutrition into behavior.

  • Proportion—Eating foods in the right ratios
  • Variety—Eating different foods from day-to-day
  • Moderation—Eating when we’re hungry, stopping when we’re full and not eating because we’re bored, sad or lonely

I didn't make these three habits up. I read about them years ago on the USDA website in a document, Using the Food Guide Pyramid, and I've been teaching about them ever since.

Over the years it has become increasingly clear to me that most people—especially children—never ever hear about these principles. That's a shame because learning how to make decisions about what, when, why and how much to eat is the kind of "knowing better" that actually leads to "doing better."

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

© 2016 Dina Rose, PhD, is the author of the book, It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating (Perigee Books). She also writes the blog It's Not About Nutrition.

About the Author

Dina Rose Ph.D.

Dina Rose, Ph.D., is a sociologist and the author of the book It's Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating and the blog It's Not About Nutrition.

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