Disordered Eating: When it's time to see an RD
By: Rachel Dodson RD, LDN
It’s a new year! The time of year when we all tend to be more inclined to set goals or intentions for ourselves. I actually really love the new year - a time to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t work so well last year. A time to ask ourselves, “ what needs to stay in this past year and what needs to come with me into the new year?” Sadly, diet culture twists pursuing health as a goal in the new year into pursuing a certain body type, or beginning to engage in disordered behaviors and habits with food and movement. I’d challenge you to consider thinking about your current relationship with food as we begin this new year. If you’ve been struggling with healing your disordered relationship with food, maybe it’s time to consider seeking more external support on your journey.
What does a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) help with?
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN or RD) supports the nutritional adequacy of their client. An RD helps their client learn to be more flexible in their thinking surrounding food, and separate emotions and beliefs about themselves when making food choices. Simply put, an RD guides with the pieces of the puzzle that involve food. Diana Marlin, a mentor of mine, always says, “an RD’s job is to help the client get food into their fridge, onto their plates, and into their stomachs.” Perhaps it’s helping with meal planning, understanding the timing of eating (I promise it’s not as complicated as you may think!), or helping you find your set point weight. The role of a registered dietitian in healing your relationship with food is highly individualized and is highly collaborative with your other providers, such as your therapist, psychiatrist, or other healthcare providers on your team. Truly, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to your health and having a thriving relationship with food!
Symptoms of Disordered Eating
Perhaps you are unsure if you are struggling with disordered eating or engaging in disordered habits with food and movement. Signs and symptoms of disordered eating per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics may include, but are not limited to:
“Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
Chronic weight fluctuations
Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
Preoccupation with food, weight, and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to ‘make up for bad foods’ consumed”
Sadly, from what I have seen as a person who lives in our current world, and as a dietitian who works with clients who are struggling with eating disorders/disordered eating, disordered habits and thinking surrounding food and our bodies are quite common. What is actually considered disordered is sometimes considered having “willpower” or being more “disciplined” in our culture. Even if someone has not officially been diagnosed with an eating disorder, someone showing signs of disordered eating could be experiencing significant physical, emotional, and/or mental stress.
Why see an RD?
A Registered Dietitian can help you sift through the lies you’ve heard about food and discover what is actually true. When it is appropriate in their recovery, I talk about gentle nutrition with my clients. Gentle nutrition is not rigid or prescriptive but is positive and health-promoting. I’ve been talking a lot with my clients about this idea of “viewing food from a nutritional lens” - examining what food is or isn’t doing in order to promote health in our individual bodies. An example of this may be consuming carbs. If you are not consuming carbs, you are probably feeling tired, having a hard time focusing, and aren’t super pleasant to be around (we’ve all experienced that low blood sugar hangry feeling before, am I right!) So, shifting our perspective and viewing this from a nutritional lens may look like:
Studies have consistently shown that low-carb diets are associated with early deaths and more health problems - specifically, a study done in 2019 found that those who had a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer were those consuming the lowest amount of carbs
Knowing that, let’s re-evaluate how we can incorporate carbs into your meals/snacks regularly throughout the day
By doing this, you have the energy to do all the things you love and will have the ability to focus, since your brain will actually have the glucose it exclusively runs off of
See what I did there? Reframing disordered thoughts about food and filtering them through a nutritional lens will open your eyes to see that food and nutrition is not black and white. If it’s black-and-white thinking, it’s probably a diet. If you are focusing more on external factors (think calories, or the scale, or some specific protocol) to dictate your food choices, rather than learning how to listen to your body's internal cues (think hunger/fullness, taste/cravings) This new year, let’s make all the space for gray thinking!
Nutrition research is complicated. You don’t have to bust myths alone. You don’t have to navigate the complexity of re-learning how to recognize your body’s natural alarms, like hunger and fullness, solo. And you certainly do not have to figure out how to eat based on your individual needs and medical conditions without help. A registered dietitian nutritionist is vital to the detection and treatment of disordered eating. RDN’s can help with navigating nutritional deficiencies, coming up with meal and snack ideas, helping you challenge fear foods, giving meal support, educating you on your body's individual nutrient needs, and more.
Nutrition is about taking care of yourself, not controlling yourself. Nutrition is complicated because it can look different for everyone depending on your needs, lifestyle, kitchen skills, and access to food. Rachel Hartley in her book, Gentle Nutrition, talks about how nutrition ebbs and flows with our varying life circumstances. I think that is such a refreshing perspective because your life mission is not to find a perfect way of eating. I promise, your life’s mission is SO MUCH bigger than that! If you or someone you know is interested in seeking help with disordered eating or an eating disorder, we are here for you!
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND
Gentle Nutrition by Rachel Hartley, RD
Marci Evans Nutrition Counseling for Eating Disorders Course
What Is Disordered Eating? (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
Diet Culture (The Real Life RD)
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