Happy March and Happy National Nutrition Month! It only makes sense that given March highlights nutrition, it is also when National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day occurs. National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day falls on the second Wednesday of each March (so this year it’s March 11). What better a time than now to learn more about how a dietitian can benefit you in your eating disorder recovery! If you don’t already have one maybe this post will help you consider adding a dietitian to your team. If a dietitian is already in your corner, maybe this post can help you appreciate them just a little extra this month.
There’s no doubt about it, dietitians are the experts in nutrition. We spend years of learning all about nutrients and how they impact the human body in school, followed by hands on experience working in the field with an internship, and finally a registration exam before we can even get credentialed to begin practice. For most dietitians, nutrition counseling is one of our primary roles. Because of this, it makes sense that when it comes to struggles with food dietitians are a key member to recruit for your treatment team.
A dietitian is uniquely qualified to help you overcome many struggles with eating disorders or disordered eating. Dietitians are more than just someone who is qualified to give you a meal plan. Don’t get me wrong, we are key in establishing an appropriate meal plan and adjusting it as needed, but we also have a lot more to offer. Dietitians can be really helpful in explaining how disordered behaviors impact the body. In addition, we can discuss how to fuel our bodies and why this is important to ensure each patient has a better understanding of nutrition and its effects. The opportunities to learn and practice skills from your RD are endless so I decided to list out just a few unique ways an RD can help you in your battle with an eating disorder:
- Meal/snack exposures either in office or at restaurants. Discussions around fear foods often lead to food exposures. Often times exposures are done in a hierarchy starting with semi-challenging foods and progressively working to scarier or foods the eating disorder has deemed as untouchable. Traditionally exposures begin with your dietitian in office or at a restaurant depending on the specific food being challenged. Your RD will offer support and guidance and help process how the exposure went after the fact. Just remember, exposures are almost always challenging in the beginning but practice makes perfect and eventually, with help from your RD, you can work toward no longer labeling foods as “off limits”.
- Meal planning for success. Oftentimes if you are suffering from an eating disorder thinking about how to prepare well balanced meals seems impossible and overwhelming, but depending on what level of care you are in it may be necessary. An RD can help give you ideas and guidance on how to structure meals that will meet your meal plan. Overtime, you will gain more confidence in your ability to plan meals that will be sure to fuel you for what your day has to offer.
- Grocery store tours. It’s no secret that a trip to the grocery store with an eating disorder can take hours. Indecisiveness about what products are “better” or if you can truly allow yourself to purchase foods you desire vs. foods that the eating disorder deems acceptable plague your mind. With proper planning and support these trips can become much less of a struggle. As corny as it sounds, my dietetics professors always told me “the grocery store is the dietitian’s laboratory”, but it actually is kind of true. RD’s know A LOT about food so who could be better posed to help you navigate this difficult place.
- Hands on cooking experiences/classes. It makes sense that being in the kitchen can increase anxiety when you have an eating disorder. Oftentimes the eating disorder comes into the kitchen with you and impacts how you prepare your foods, for example, you don’t add fats or oils to your skillet when cooking even though it is common practice and useful (i.e. to prevent sticking, enhance flavor, etc.). An RD can use a session to help you out in the kitchen. RD’s can show you knew skills you haven’t yet mastered and give you practical tips as well as discuss the benefits of including all nutrients in your cooking (yes, I’m talking about fats).
- Discussion around movement, sports, and energy balance. Given our training on energy balance, dietitians are extremely helpful in setting boundaries around movement and eventually helping to incorporate it back into your life. Dietitians can even earn a special credential, CSSD, to be a certified specialist in sports dietetics. If you are an athlete, seeking a dietitian with this credential could be beneficial for you. These dietitians are especially helpful in reintegration to sport while also providing guidance on proper fueling for your specific sport and training. However, most dietitians without this credential can also be helpful in establishing a proper meal plan for sport and explaining how energy needs vary with differing levels of activity.
These are just a few of the many services that an eating disorder dietitian can utilize to help you navigate your recovery. Dietitians really are an integral part of the treatment team and should be used to help you safely recover from your eating disorder.
As an important footnote, I would like to mention that while having a dietitian is of the utmost importance for your eating disorder recovery, you need to be selective when choosing one. Finding a dietitian with actual eating disorder experience is imperative. Be sure to talk to a potential dietitian about what past work they have with eating disorders, and when in doubt, ask your therapist for help finding a referral.