What Is an eating disorder RDN?

Why is seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist specially trained in eating disorders important?

Nutrition counseling sessions with an eating disorder Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is essential in the treatment of all eating disorders. This type of dietitian has experience in working with patients suffering from irregular food consumption patterns and can help to reestablish normalized food behaviors. The dietitian typically works in collaboration with a patient’s physician, psychiatrist and/or psychotherapist to provide individualized and appropriate nutrition interventions. The eating disorder RDN respects that there are underlying emotional and mental components that play a large role in a patient’s illness. A patient’s relationship with food, eating and nutrition serves as a primary factor of an eating disorder. The Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can appropriately assess how to work with both the psychological and emotional aspects to establish safe eating and body weight regulation behaviors.

The RDN develops interventions based on the individual, however, common discussions during a nutrition rehabilitation session include: the metabolic process and the natural body response with an eating disorder, the innate coping mechanisms related to food behaviors, body image, nutrient requirements and meal plans for the individual, planning for a social eating environment, choosing appropriate portion sizes, food fears and unusual food related behaviors.

The long-term goals of nutrition rehabilitation include normalization of eating behaviors and restoration of natural feeding cues. This process may involve intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is being able to recognize the body’s natural hunger, fullness and satiety signals to establish and maintain healthy nutrition intake. Naturally, it can be challenging to overcome the many worrying thoughts about food or years of ingrained dieting behaviors to develop a healthy relationship between food, mind and body. The dietitian can help the patient to have peace with food and their body and offer information and encouragement to achieve intuitive eating behaviors.

Why is nutrition therapy with a registered dietitian nutritionist necessary to treat eating disorders?

The Registered Dietitian Nutritionist plays an integral role in the treatment team. Nutrition therapy is vital because it is the component that has the biggest influence in regards to the physical health of the individual through restoring normalized eating patterns and nutritional status. Inadequate or excessive dietary intakes can lead to significant nutritional deficiencies or excesses that can affect nearly every organ system in the body. The optimal “medicine” for these health effects is achieving balanced nutritional intake that supports healing of the body and mind. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are highly qualified nutrition professionals that can provide this essential component of treatment through nutrition therapy.

A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help develop a personalized eating plan that supports nutritional healing and regulation of body weight. The initial eating plan varies individually, but is designed to help support normalized eating patterns and adequate nutritional intake. Once increased eating stability is achieved, RDN’s can help individuals learn how to listen to and interpret hunger, fullness and feeding cues and gain trust in the body’s natural ability to guide the eating process, often without the need of a meal plan. The process of learning how to listen to the body for eating cues is called intuitive eating. For more information see “Intuitive Eating.”

In addition to supporting nutritional repletion and body healing, dietitians are also uniquely qualified to provide sound nutrition education. This often involves dispelling common myths about food, eating and body weight that can fuel continued eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. The RDN helps individuals understand the vital role of nutrients in the body including his or her specific nutrition needs, how the body processes food, the importance of body weight normalization and the health risks of under/over feeding. Nutrition education is an essential component of developing a healthier relationship with food and one’s body.

Nutrition therapy is a long-term treatment because the dietitian’s task is to re-establish healthy eating behaviors and normalize thoughts and beliefs around food and body weight. This cannot be accomplished in one or two sessions because disordered eating habits that have been practiced for months to years must be re-learned. In addition to providing personalized nutrition plans and dietary education, dietitians provide ongoing support, encouragement and reassurance to help individuals continue on the path to nutritional recovery. The recovery journey is not without challenges and unforeseen struggles. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists can help individuals overcome these obstacles by listening, strategizing and coming up with a plan to continue moving forward with recovery. The dietitian is a confidant that can listen to the individual and help guide him or her towards health. Nutrition is in essence, the key that can unlock the door of disordered eating.