Don’t Judge Choice Without Understanding Reason: Building Buy In and Making Knowledge Meaningful in Nutrition Education

In our previous blog we explored the role of the physiotherapist in supporting the development of the whole person. We identified that the physiotherapist often has a critical role to play in asking questions, being knowledgeable and educating others in relation to an array of challenging topics, such as RED-s. In this blog we delve into the area of nutrition education and explore the importance of understanding reason and choice to nutritional behaviours. Drawing from our nutrition delivery framework at Millfield, the epicentre of our program is education. Whether it is workshops, presentations, effective signage or face-to-interactions, we focus on providing meaningful educational messages to support our students’ nutritional behaviours and subsequent practices.

Nutrition education programmes often aim to rectify suboptimal dietary practices by improving general nutritional knowledge and understanding of sport-specific nutritional needs. However, this is based primarily on the premise that superior nutritional knowledge translates into better nutritional behaviours and practices (Heaney et al, 2011). Is this in fact the case? Is simply providing the education of what good nutritional practices are enough, or does how the message is transmitted to its receiver play a role in supporting change? For example, whilst understanding the glycaemic load of carbohydrates and how we should apply this across a training day to maximise fuelling and recovery may be appropriate for certain athletic adult populations, this is likely not a message for a year 9 multisport student who has limited knowledge on what foods classify as carbohydrates.  

Often, I find nutrition messages being pushed over social media, within governing bodies and from other key stakeholders can be grossly over complicated and unrelatable for their target population. I  too have been guilty of wanting to dive right in, use contemporary research to provide nutrition support that looks good on paper, or follows rigid guidelines of what an athlete should do, rather than listening to what their goals are, understanding of what they want to achieve and recognising the external pressures which are currently preventing them achieving these goals from a nutritional standpoint.

As a practitioner, having a strong foundation of knowledge and remaining in touch with contemporary nutrition related research to inform practice is important. However, what often separates successful nutrition support and leads to the greatest or most sustainable results is the ability to build rapport and relationships with our athletes. When we get to know the person, not just the athlete, it becomes much easier to recognise the factors affecting their current behaviours, understand the level of knowledge they current possess and identify how we translate our knowledge into practical solutions which will have a meaningful impact. Fine tuning softer communications skills can support this process and often comes with gaining exposure to an array of different personalities and making the most of Informal conversations walking through the corridor, rather than in the office.

Without the appropriate relationships being in place, appreciation of goals and challenges influencing their nutritional behaviours, the impact of support is often lost in translation, no matter how ground-breaking it may be. With a program underpinned by nutritional education to influence and improve nutritional behaviours, I aim to challenge myself daily not only to provide high quality, accurate nutrition support but provide it in manner that our students will not only understand but more importantly, can put into practice.

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