Have you been diagnosed with an eating disorder or feel that you may have one? Are you wondering, “What do I do next? How do I get eating disorder help?”
It makes total sense that you aren’t sure what your next move should be! No one asks for, or expects to have an eating disorder.
Your doctor may have suggested that you see a dietitian, or maybe you’ve done some reading about eating disorder recovery, and learned that dietitians can help.
Read on to learn about how Eating Disorder Dietitians receive specialized training and supervision, and how they can help you to reach your eating disorder recovery goals!
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are a complex mental health condition. As a result, eating disorders are among the deadliest of all mental health diagnoses, second only to opioid overdose .
Eating disorders include:
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
- Binge Eating Disorder
- Disordered eating (OSFED, UFED)
Who is on a treatment team?
A typical treatment team involves:
- Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian
- Therapist (For example, a Registered Psychotherapist, Registered Social Worker or Psychologist)
Depending on the person and their needs, there may be other professionals on a treatment team. For example a Psychiatrist, Occupational Therapist, Pelvic Floor Specialist, Dentist etc.
Members of the treatment team often work closely together to optimize treatment outcomes.
What is an Eating Disorder Dietitian?
Registered Dietitians are health care professionals that are trained to help people with food and nutrition. Some dietitians practice more generally, while others work to become more specialized.
An Eating Disorder Dietitian is specialized in the treatment of eating disorders.
Eating disorders are very complex. As a result, their nutrition care is very different from other conditions. Therefore, specialized training is necessary to provide safe and effective care.
Areas of specialized training and education include:
Medical complications of eating disorders and specific nutrition considerations:
Eating disorder behaviours like restriction, bingeing and purging affect the functioning of many body systems including: the brain, digestive system and hormones .
Concurrent Mental Health Diagnoses:
Many studies estimate that around 70% of people with eating disorders, also have symptoms of, or a diagnosis of another mental health condition. For example, anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorders etc..
Sensory processing differences seen in Autism, ADHD and other neurodivergent identities can make eating more difficult. This can lead to an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder [3,4,5].
Eating disorders present as being about food and body image, but, they are actually an attempt to cope with difficult emotions and trauma. Consequently, people who have experienced trauma, are more likely to develop an eating disorder .
Gender & Sexual Diversity:
The stress, stigma and discrimination of being a sexual orientation or gender identity minority, can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder .
The trauma and systemic inequalities experienced by people with marginalized identities puts them at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder. Additionally, marginalized groups are also often less likely to be properly diagnosed with an eating disorder or receive proper treatment .
Weight stigma and bullying are a form of trauma, and pose a significant threat to psychological and physical health. It has been documented as a significant risk factor for depression, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. Many individuals with an eating disorder have experienced weight stigma and discrimination .
Most individuals with an eating disorder struggle with body image. Fostering body acceptance and confidence is an essential part of eating disorder recovery .
Most professionals do not receive specialized training in these areas. Unfortunately, this means that if a person seeks help from someone without specialized training, they are unlikely to get the level of help and support that they need.
A comprehensive understanding of how these areas affect individuals living with an eating disorder, is vital to ensure optimal eating disorder treatment outcomes and ensure that no further harm is done.
Eating Disorder Dietitians also engage in clinical supervision. In clinical supervision, the dietitian works with another Eating Disorder Dietitian mentor that has extensive training and experience. The supervision enables the dietitian to work through difficult cases and helps to foster personal and professional growth.
Not all dietitians engage in supervision. However, it is a very common practice among Eating Disorder Dietitians.
Eating Disorder Dietitians undergo this specialized training and supervision so they can safely help people to overcome the unique challenges associated with eating disorders. Just like you wouldn’t see a family doctor for surgery, you shouldn’t see a general dietitian for eating disorder help.
How does an Eating Disorder Dietitian Help in Eating Disorder Recovery?
The role that a dietitian provides in eating disorder treatment depends on the treatment setting (i.e. residential, hospital, community etc.). In general, an Eating Disorder Dietitian assists in eating disorder treatment in the following ways:
- Assess a person’s eating behaviour and patterns
- Teach about meal planning and grocery shopping
- Support people with weight restoration (helping someone who is at a low weight to regain weight)
- Help to manage digestive symptoms caused by eating disorders
- Assist clients in working through food fears and a fear of weight gain
- Help people to reduce the use of eating disorder behaviors (i.e. restriction, bingeing, purging, compulsive exercise etc.), and develop more effective coping mechanisms
- Encourage the client to sort through eating disorder thoughts
- Provide rapport, support and accountability
- Help to reduce stigma and shame
- Empower clients and help them to establish a lifelong positive relationship with food, exercise and body image
- Help clients to sort through thoughts, feelings and beliefs around food, exercise and body image
- Provide credible nutrition education
- Teach people how to discern fact from fiction on social media, TV etc.
How Do I Find an Eating Disorder Dietitian Near Me?
Eating Disorder Dietitians can provide both in-person and virtual eating disorder treatment.
Virtual Eating Disorder Treatment:
Virtual eating disorder treatment reduces barriers to accessing help that may be present for in-person treatment, including:
- Geographical proximity to a treatment centre or dietitian specializing in eating disorders
- Scheduling conflicts and time constraints
- Travel time and costs
The frequency and severity of eating disorder symptoms, along with the amount of personal support you have, will determine if virtual eating disorder treatment is the right fit for you.
If you are a resident of Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Newfoundland and Labrador, I (Brittaney) offer virtual eating disorder treatment and nutrition counselling! Check out my services, rates and website to learn more. You can also book a FREE 15 Minute Discovery call to have all of your virtual eating disorder treatment questions answered.
If you are located in Canada, visit the National Eating Disorder Information Centre to find an Eating Disorder Dietitian in your province.
American residents can visit the National Eating Disorder Association to find an Eating Disorder Dietitian in their state.
If you require hospitalization for your eating disorder, you are encouraged to speak with your medical provider about the treatment programs that are available in your community.
In conclusion, eating disorders are complex and dangerous.
Due to their complexity, it is critical for anyone with symptoms or a diagnosed eating disorder, to seek help from professionals that are specialized in eating disorder care. Eating disorder treatment teams typically include a doctor, dietitian and therapist.
An Eating Disorder Dietitian undergoes specialized training and supervision in order to be able to provide eating disorder treatment and nutrition counselling. In treatment, Eating Disorder Dietitians provide support, education on guidance on meal planning, overcoming food fears, working through body image concerns and much more!
You can work with a Eating Disorder Dietitian virtually or in-person.
Eating Disorder Dietitian: Brittaney Berendsen RD offers virtual eating disorder treatment and nutrition counselling to residents of Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Newfoundland and Labrador. Book a FREE 15 Minute Discovery call to get started!
To find an alternate provider near you, visit the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada) or the National Eating Disorder Association (USA).