3 things new RD's need to know about Eating Disorders

As an RD, I spent 6 years training to put two little letters behind my name. Through all the grueling chemistry, anatomy and medical nutrition therapy classes, I had a one module orientation to eating disorders. This module was a narrow picture of the broad context of the illness- a picture of a cachectic looking, caucasian and young female. Of course, we now know this narrow representation does not encompass the full picture of those who struggle with eating disorders as we know, the illness does not discriminate against race, gender, body weight or socioeconomic status.

Here’s 3 things I want new Dietitians to learn about eating disorders {more than 1 module of training!) &:

It’s more than nutrition science

Training as an RD, there are protocols we use to develop interventions based on the diagnosis of the patient. While our goal is always to deliver education that is individualized, the recommendations are pretty straight forward- limit these food groups, increase these nutrients etc. However, working with the ED population has helped me understand the complexities beyond the scientific facts of nutrition science. We can work to discuss the structure and function of nutrients in the body and help dispel harmful myths around food, however that individual has to be in a place where they are cognitively ready to process and interpret the information {read: in a stabalized nutritional state & ready to receive education}.

Psychological Deprivation

As part of undergraduate training, most RD’s have education around psychology. What we don’t learn is the complex interplay between food and behavior. Providing recommendations as an RD without understanding if that individual has endured food deprivation (whether self induced or external) is paramount to treating them. It’s taken me time to really understand and appreciate how significantly adaptive our bodies are against starvation and deprivation- and how much healing must occur for the our brains to really begin to trust food again. {read: The Minnesota Starvation Studies}.

Nutrition Therapy- Art & Science

I, as many other RD’s who work in the ED field, identify as nutrition therapist. Despite the rigorous training in sciences and strong foundation in clinical skills, I’ve found nothing more beneficial to my practice as the innate “human” skills of compassion and empathy in doing this work. Understanding the complex dance that occur during the treatment process is as paramount as the nutrition myths we work to debunk.  If your considering working in the ED field, getting appropriate supervision is a MUST! Learn more about RD supervision here.

While I knew I wanted to work with eating disorders and mental health, I really didn’t know where to get started with learning more about the field. Fortunately, there are a wealth of resources for like minded #nondietRD’s and #rdstobe

Are you an #EDRD to be? Check out some of my favorite resources here:


Marci RD’s Course in Eating Disorders

#INSPIRDtoSEEK Facebook Group

Christy Harrison