How a Registered Dietitian Helps You With an Eating Disorder


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For many people recovering from an eating disorder, a registered dietitian is an integral part of the treatment team. It is important that this dietitian specializes in (and has experience with) treating eating disorders. They must also be willing to work with the rest of the treatment team and be a good fit for you.

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

Dietitians have advanced training in nutrition. They use this training to help clients improve their health and wellness through food. Working with a registered dietitian can help people recover from an eating disorder in several different ways.

The first is by providing factual information. This is important because almost two-thirds of eating disorder treatment manuals contain information not supported by evidence. A registered dietitian can help you sift through what is true about food and what isn't.

It's also not uncommon for someone with an eating disorder to be malnourished. Working with a registered dietitian can help correct nutritional deficiencies created from consuming too little food (such as with anorexia nervosa) or from purging food consumed before the nutrients are absorbed (like with bulimia).

A registered dietitian also helps people with eating disorders by assisting with:

  • Menu creation: A registered dietitian can create a personalized meal plan to help you achieve a healthier weight or to begin to include challenging foods in your diet. Whether seeing a dietitian in an inpatient or outpatient setting, eating disorder treatment sometimes involves sitting down for meals and eating alongside them to work directly with the issues you face.
  • Nutritional counseling: A registered dietitian can educate you about the nutrients your body needs and why, also advising how much someone of your size, age, and sex needs to consume to be healthy. They can also teach you how to recognize physical cues of hunger and satiety.
  • Weight monitoring: The registered dietitian may be the treatment team member tasked with monitoring your weight. This type of tracking can help verify that the treatment you're receiving is working, while a lack of progress may be a sign that your eating disorder treatment may need to be modified for a better response.

Registered Dietitian Job Duties

A registered dietitian's job duties can include educating you about food and nutrition, creating personalized meal plans to help you meet your health-related goals and correct any existing nutritional deficiencies, and monitoring your weight to help track your progress.

Registered Dietitians, Licensed Dietitians, and Nutritionists

With all the different titles for a dietitian, it can be confusing to know the difference. Here are a few of the most common, along with what they mean:

  • Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN): An RD or RDN is someone who has been credentialed through the Commission on Dietetic Registration. To earn this title, the professional needs at least a bachelor's degree and must have completed an internship. In 2024, the educational requirement for RD and RDN designations will increase to a master's degree.
  • Licensed Dietitian (LD): A licensed dietitian is someone who is licensed to practice in their state. The requirements for licensure vary from one state to the next but can include having an advanced degree, getting a certain amount of experience (under supervision), and passing a licensing exam.
  • Nutritionist or Nutrition Specialist: Credentials and requirements can vary quite a bit under the nutritionist title, with some people in this role having formal education and experience while others may lack in one or both of these areas.
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS): Someone with a CNS title has a master's degree or higher, has supervised experience in this role, and has passed an exam administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. Many states accept this designation for licensing purposes.

Registered dietitians have advanced education and training, whereas nutritionist is a general term with many variations in training by those who use the title. To put it simply, every dietitian is a nutritionist but not every nutritionist is a dietitian. Here are a few of the differences between dietitians versus nutritionists.

  • Typically must have advanced education and training

  • Meets the requirements needed to qualify for licensing in states that require it

  • Qualified to work in specialized settings, such as hospitals and academic institutions

  • May be able to practice without formal education or training

  • May not meet the requirements needed for licensure in states that require it

  • May not have the requirements needed to work in specialized settings

How Do I Find a Licensed or Registered Dietitian?

There are many ways to find a licensed or registered dietitian. Because it is important to find someone who specializes in eating disorders and will work with your treatment team, a referral from your therapist or another member of your team is one of the best ways to find a dietitian with this experience.

If your insurance plan covers visits with a dietitian, checking with your provider can help you find a registered dietitian who is in-network. The International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) also provides a member search that you can use to find a dietitian in your area who specializes in eating disorders. ​

Other factors to consider when choosing a registered dietitian include whether they are experienced with your specific eating disorder and your level of comfortability when discussing your unique condition and concerns. Being able to talk with your dietitian openly is important to eating disorder recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a nutritionist do?

    A nutritionist provides education and guidance for eating in a way that supports optimal health. This can include offering advice on which foods or supplements to consume. A nutritionist can also help address and change unhealthy eating habits.

  • How do I become a dietitian?

    To work as a dietitian, you generally need a bachelor's degree (or higher) in dietetics, nutrition, or a related field. You will also likely be required to obtain experience under the supervision of a registered dietitian, such as through an internship. Check with your state to learn the requirements needed to provide services as a dietitian.

  • What's the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

    A dietitian must typically have formal education and experience to qualify for this title. Conversely, the requirements to work as a nutritionist can vary by state. Additionally, specialized settings such as hospitals and educational institutions often require certification or licensure as a dietitian to work in this type of role.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jeffrey S, Heruc G. Balancing nutrition management and the role of dietitians in eating disorder treatment. J Eating Disord. 2020;8:64. doi:10.1186/s40337-020-00344-x

  2. Voderholzer U, Haas V, Correll C, Körner T. Medical management of eating disorders: an update. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2020;33(6):542-553. doi:10.1097/YCO.0000000000000653

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. How to become a dietitian or nutritionist. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

By Susan Cowden, MS
Susan Cowden is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders.