How can an eating disorder dietitian help me?

A happy person who saw a dietitian. Obviously.

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you are one of the many people out there feeling like you’ve lost your way with food. Maybe you’ve even started to notice your relationship with food has become toxic. Or, maybe you see no problem with how you eat, but your friends and family members keep saying they’re worried about you. Some of you might even have been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder. If so, it’s likely you’ve been told to speak to an eating disorders dietitian. Then, you probably had this thought (or something like it): There’s such a thing as an eating disorder dietitian?! But, don’t I go see a psychologist if I have an eating disorder?

Yes, you do need to go and see a psychologist if you have an eating disorder. However, the best practice advice on recovery says you should also work with an experienced dietitian. Why?

Having a well-nourished body is crucial for your brain to start making sense of appetite signals, let go of rules and rituals, move out of starvation mode, and stabilise binging if it’s occurring. This is where eating disorder dietitians come in.

What is an eating disorder dietitian?

To be clear, this is not a term used by Dietitian’s Australia, but you hear it used a lot anyway. It describes a dietitian who has done additional training in the treatment and management of eating disorders. Eating disorders specific training for dietitians is important because this is an area where people’s nutrition-related health issues are unique compared to other areas of dietetic treatment. As the World Eating Disorder Action Day website reminds us, Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses” (and yes, that is Keanu Reeves on their website). Put another way, it’s not just a diet “gone wrong”. That means the treatment provided is not a simple case of doing a little nutrition education with a food pyramid!

With specific training, eating disorder dietitians can call on additional counselling and motivation interviewing skills, along with some core cognitive behavioural therapy knowledge to help address food fears. 

Appetite signalling, or, “How to eat, 101.”

Following appetite cues is normally how people know how much and when to feed themselves. But what if they don’t have appetite signals that actually work? This is the case for most people we work with at Bloom Nutrition & Wellness, and it comes about after years of dieting or disordered eating. It’s particularly bad if people have experienced disordered eating since they were a young child, and never really had a chance to develop their sense of how to feed themselves as they grew into their adult bodies.

Eating disorder dietitians help people redevelop their appetite signals by providing advice on the amount of food required to meet their body’s needs, and the type and timing of food options to help stimulate more clarity in hunger and fullness feedback across the day.

Food rules. Should you trust your health to “Dr Google”?

Are you following dietary advice you found on the internet? Ever worry that sometimes when you google this, you get different advice from different websites? In fact, you can get outright conflicting advice from different websites!

Frustrated person googling diets to fix an eating disorder

My personal observation as a dietitian is that people’s anxiety around how to eat seems to have gotten worse as more and more influencers, websites, and glossy-covered books keep telling people what they “should” be having. Remember that the internet is not fact-checked or quality-controlled. Many of the people confidently giving out advice around diets have never undertaken University qualifications for nutrition at all.

The title of “Dietitian” in Australia can only be used by someone who has studied nutrition and dietetics at university.

Rather than relying on yet more googling to resolve the earlier worries about food from previous google searches, why not just speak directly to someone who’s actually done the years of evidence-based study on this area?

How do dietitians help with eating disorder recovery?

A good dietitian will flex and bend a little on this, depending on what your particular background is, your health needs and how urgent they are, and your readiness for change.

Adequate nourishment – ideally not too little or too much – is crucial for recovery from all types of eating disorders.

This helps with:

  • Bringing your mind out of rigid “starvation mode”, crucial for effective therapy to take place
  • Improving concentration and memory (no more “brain fog”)
  • Allowing physical recovery where medical data is not stable because of the eating disorder (eg fainting/dizziness, abnormal blood test results, amenorrhoea/absent menstrual periods, etc)
  • Healing the gut, and digestive discomfort that is occurring because of disordered eating
  • Allowing the body to relearn normal appetite signals. This is protective against relapsing with all kinds of eating disorders in the long-term.

An experienced, specially-trained eating disorder dietitian is a invaluable part of a multidisciplinary treatment team to help people recover from disordered eating. If you have any questions, or wonder if a dietitian might be able to help you with what you’re going through, why not reach out and send us a query?

Other Bloom Nutrition & Wellness articles you might be interested in: Am I binge eating?

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