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Cultivating Doubt to Find the Truth

As I’ve written in my Food and Feelings Workbook, most of us feel uneasy with doubt and some people turn to food when it gnaws at them. We adore certainty because we believe it will lead us away from harm and towards safety and comfort. In reality, the opposite also can be true. Doubt helps us seek the truth, while certainty based on insufficient doubt often leads to false information and practices. Doubt is usually viewed negatively when it is actually valued neutral. We need some, but not too much of it.

Here are (some) ideas on the subject from a presentation by David Allison, psychologist and Dean of Indiana University’s School of Public Health, to graduating students in June 2018. (IU School of Public Health-Bloomington

(, retrieved 6/23/18)

Allison says that: “It takes courage to admit doubt. It takes intelligence. It takes humility. Some of the greatest minds have embraced doubt” and “…pursuing truth requires doubt.” He quotes Socrates writing in Plato’s Apology: “’I am better off than he is—for he knows nothing and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.’”

To bring this issue closer to the eating problems I usually write about, why is it that some of you refuse to doubt the claims of diet programs and books? Why don’t you insist on knowing the research and statistics that are behind their claims? Too often I hear things like, “My friend lost weight on this or that diet,” or “This online article says that I need to do a cleanse to lose weight.” Really? Where’s the proof?

Ironically, dysregulated eaters often don’t doubt when it would be beneficial to do so and doubt when they should trust themselves. For instance, they frequently believe falsehoods about what to eat and how to shed pounds but doubt their own experience with food and weight loss. How crazy is that? If you’ve repeatedly dieted, lost weight and regained it, why is it so hard to recognize and accept the validity of that experience? In another arena, why do abuse victims not believe their experience of being hurt, emotionally, sexually and physically and, instead, believe the words of their lying abuser that things will be different in the future.

Consider how you are affected by doubt. Do you use purposeful skepticism to determine what is true or false? Do you tend to doubt yourself but succumb to believing others, especially authority figures? How could you be more conscious of the part doubt does and could play in your life to improve it?

Best, Karen

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