Eating disorders can affect people at any stage in their life and in many different forms, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, over-exercising, and over-eating (TFEC, 2021). The treatment for eating disorders depends upon the particular disorder and the symptoms that it presents. Often, eating disorders are difficult to treat because the signs are not always visible and there is no one clear cause (TFEC, 2021).
Dietitians are key members in the successful treatment of eating disorders and are responsible for providing nutritional counselling to clients. The goal of a nutritionist is to help clients incorporate healthy eating habits into their everyday life (Smith, 2020). Over time, their work should help clients develop a lasting positive relationship towards food and their body (Smith, 2020). From educating clients on nutrition to building meal plans and identifying mental barriers, nutritionists are essential in promoting the overall well-being of their clients. Read this blog to uncover some key practices when counselling clients with eating disorders.
Identify Underlying Thought and Behaviour Patterns
Effective counselling for eating disorders should address the underlying causes of the problem – the emotional triggers that lead to disordered eating and your client’s difficulty coping with stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, or other emotions (Smith, 2020). At the same time, nutritionists should pay attention to the physical warning signs of an eating disorder, including rapid weight loss, dizziness or fatigue, and loss of menstrual periods (Renzoni, 2019).
When counselling clients as a nutritionist, it is important to understand the impact of their emotional and psychological state. Depression, addiction, and past trauma are all challenges that can make it difficult to motivate clients to implement a diet that will benefit their health. Students taking a nutritionist course will explore the profound link between an individual’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being in order to utilize every potential tool to help their clients.
Educate Clients After a Nutritionist Course
As a nutritionist, you will be responsible for relaying information to clients that will help them understand their eating disorder and the impact their dietary choices have on the body. The aim of nutrition counselling is to replace unhealthy eating patterns with organized, healthy habits (Leman, 2010). One of the benefits of attending nutritionist college is that the information you give to clients will be grounded in fact and driven by data. This can help to minimize the feelings of fear and uncertainty towards food that eating disorders provoke (Leman, 2010).
Nutritionists can start by educating clients about the role of nutrients, adequate calorie levels, a healthy weight range, and the physiological effects of undernourishment or over nourishment (Leman, 2010). On a practical level, nutritionists can help clients to implement positive dietary changes. Effective strategies include establishing a meal plan for clients, developing a regular eating schedule, and setting a target weight goal (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
Teaching Clients to Listen to Their Body
Generally, clients with an eating disorder have learned to ignore their body’s hunger and fullness signals (Smith, 2020). As a nutritionist, your goal is to help clients reconnect with their internal cues and develop eating habits based on their physiological needs instead of their emotions (Smith, 2020). You can start by encouraging them to let go of rigid eating rules, which tend to fuel eating disorders (Smith, 2020). At the same time, turn the conversation towards nutritious foods that will energize the body, and away from foods that “shouldn’t” be eaten (Smith, 2020). In the process, you can encourage clients to implement practical changes in their eating while interrupting the thought patterns that they associate with food.
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Renzoni, C. (2019). How to Overcome an Eating Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/related/how-to-overcome-an-eating-disorder/
Smith, M. (2020). Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/eating-disorder-treatment-and-recovery.htm#
Leman, C. (2010). Three Power Tools in Eating-Disorder Counseling. Retrieved from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/062810p14.shtml
TFEC (2020). Eating Disorders Counselling. Retrieved from https://www.tfec.ca/counselling-eating-disorders/
Mayo Clinic (2017). Eating disorder treatment: Know your options. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eating-disorders/in-depth/eating-disorder-treatment/art-20046234