How a Dietitian Helps You With an Eating Disorder

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For most people recovering from an eating disorder, a dietitian will be an integral part of their treatment team. However, it is important to see a dietitian who specializes and has experience in treating eating disorders, is willing to work with the rest of your treatment team, and is a good fit for you.

What Is a Dietitian? Why Do I Need to See One?

A dietitian is a professional who has specialized training in nutrition. Dietitians typically hold at least a bachelor's level degree and may hold a master's (or higher) degree as well.

It is important to see a dietitian in order to recover from an eating disorder as they can provide valuable information and accountability. Nutrition counseling typically includes education on various nutrients and how your body uses those nutrients as well as information on how much food someone of your size, age, and sex needs to eat to be healthy. They are also able to educate you on how your metabolism works and on how to recognize physical cues of hunger and satiety. If needed, a dietitian can create a personalized meal plan for you in order to meet a number of goals including regaining weight or beginning to include challenging foods in your diet. Whether you're seeing a dietitian in an inpatient or outpatient setting, that might also mean sitting down to meals with them and eating alongside them as challenging foods are introduced.

Because many patients with eating disorders have obsessive tendencies, many sufferers have already read a good deal of information about nutrition and aren't sure why they need to see a dietitian. Also because of the eating disorder, this knowledge is also colored by misinformation. Dietitians are able to help you sift through what you know and help you figure out what is "true" and what is disordered thought. Dietitians can also monitor your weight to make sure that you are healthy enough to remain at your current level of treatment and that you do not need a higher level of treatment.

What Do All of Those Letters After Their Name Mean?

Two of the most commonly seen acronyms among dietitians are RD and LD. RD stands for Registered Dietitian and means he or she has completed the requirements (schooling, internship and passing an exam) to become registered as a dietitian with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. LD stands for Licensed Dietitian and means that the person is licensed to practice as a dietitian in their state. Each state (and country) has different licensure requirements for dietitians. Not all states have a state licensing requirement; so, the RD credential alone upholds the legality of practicing in those states. Because of the confusion between the titles dietitian and nutritionist, the Commission on Dietetic Registration has recently changed the title of RD to RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) if a practitioner so chooses to use its inclusive connotation.

To put it simply, every dietitian is a nutritionist but not every nutritionist is a dietitian.

Registered Dietitians have very specific education and training to provide nutrition counseling (also recognized by insurance and therefore they can work under medical doctors with legal protection), whereas nutritionist is a general term with many variations in training by those who use the title. Actually, anyone can use the title of nutritionist even without any education. It is possible for a practitioner using the nutritionist title to have gone through a reputable certified nutritionist program which often has a more alternative holistic theory focus. Again, credentials and programs vary much under the nutritionist title.

How Do I Find a Dietitian?

There are many ways to find a dietitian, but that may seem overwhelming at first. Because it is important to find someone who specializes in eating disorders, a referral from your therapist or another member of your treatment team is one of the best ways to find a dietitian. This will help ensure that you are seeing someone who has the experience you need and who will work with your other treatment team members.

If your insurance plan covers visits with a dietitian, you may also want to consider calling or looking up dietitians who are considered in-network with your plan. 

You may also want to look for a dietitian who has earned their CEDRD through the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP). These are dietitians who have demonstrated clinical expertise in eating disorders and have met rigorous educational and skill requirements. ​

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