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Can a Dietitian Help with Disordered Eating?

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Can a Dietitian Help with Disordered Eating?

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

Disordered eating describes restrictive habits that are not severe enough to be considered a diagnosable eating disorder. However, these habits can escalate into an eating disorder without proper treatment, which can have life-threatening consequences. 

A dietitian-nutritionist specializing in disordered eating can help you understand why these habits have developed and teach you new ways to approach food and eating. Keep reading to learn how nutrition therapy can help.

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Disordered Eating Symptoms 

Knowing the signs and symptoms of disordered eating can help you identify if eating patterns must be addressed. Some of these signs may include: 

Many people may experience some variation of these symptoms daily. Some may have learned these food rules by witnessing family members or friends adhere to them. “They don’t have an eating disorder; how bad can it be to follow these rules?” 

Even though the diet industry has normalized these habits, they can be risky for long-term health in some individuals. Eating disorders can lead to life-long health complications - anorexia nervosa has one of the highest mortality rates among all mental health disorders. Although these rules may seem harmless, they can have a devastating prognosis.1  

Who Develops Disordered Eating Habits? 

Regardless of age, people who consume large amounts of social media with diet messaging and fad diet recommendations are at a higher risk of developing disordered eating patterns. A 2018 study found that college women with no previous body image or eating disorder concerns were more likely to display disordered eating habits after plugging into social media platforms only one time.2 

Youth and adolescents are also vulnerable to overly critical nutrition messaging. They are experiencing rapid physical growth and development, including how they view their bodies and build self-esteem. Interestingly, the types of messaging will vary by sex:3 

  • Boys and young men tend to focus on eating habits they believe will build muscle. 
  • Girls and young women are more exposed to messages that promote thinness. 

Exposure to these narratives at a young age may have influenced your current view of food and nutrition. Not all food messaging is negative or harmful, but you may find yourself questioning some rules you followed as a child. A common example is feeling forced to finish everything on your plate or experiencing guilt if you find yourself hungry for a second helping. A dietitian can help you challenge some of these learned behaviors and help you develop a new relationship with food and eating.  

Dietitian Advice for Disordered Eating 

The nutrition recommendations you may receive from a dietitian will vary based on the type of disordered eating patterns you are experiencing. People actively restricting their diet and eating fewer calories than recommended will receive different guidance than those who experience shame around “junk food” because they believe it will harm their health. 

Creating a Safe Space

A dietitian’s first priority will be to provide a safe space for you to talk openly. Most versions of disordered eating are rooted in an intense fear of gaining weight, doing something wrong for your health, and going against the societal norms established by the diet industry. Dietitians will address your fears and help you feel more comfortable and confident in breaking away from the disordered eating habits holding you back. 

As you heal and challenge these habits, remember to be patient and extra kind to yourself. Change is not easy, and it will take time to unlearn old habits. You will make strides if you show up regularly and commit to following treatment recommendations from your dietitian. 

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Disordered Eating Treatment 

Untreated disordered eating can lead to a distorted body image and poor self-esteem. Feeling dissatisfied with your appearance is mentally taxing and may dissuade you from engaging in social events and connecting with others. 

You may spend more time alone because you feel more comfortable without others watching you or commenting on your eating habits. Research has shown that isolation can lead to a decrease in mental health and is a predictor of cardiovascular problems.4

Any escalation of care, such as adding specialists to the treatment team who may prescribe medications, will be made on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes you feel great, but sometimes a roadblock can happen, and your care strategy needs to be changed. Working with a mental health specialist and a dietitian specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy can help you manage roadblocks and unexpected hurdles during treatment.5  

Bring Your Loved Ones On Board 

Studies suggest that support from family members or primary caregivers is essential for recovery.5 Your family members may want to help you through your healing journey but may need to learn how. Bringing them to therapy, including nutrition appointments, or providing them with resources can help loved ones know how best to support you as you progress. 

Work With A Disordered Eating Nutritionist

Getting help from a registered dietitian should be a top priority if you are trying to address disordered eating habits. They are expertly trained in the clinical management of disordered eating, and they can help you build a sustainable plan that will keep you healthy and happy. 

It’s easy to feel nervous or vulnerable about talking with a dietitian. Dietitians are open-minded healthcare providers who practice in a judgment-free space and want to see you succeed in normalizing your eating habits.

Nourish Can Help 

Find a dietitian near you to get started today for as little as $0—94% of our patients pay nothing out of pocket.

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Frequently Asked Questions

References

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