I knew I wanted to become a dietitian after one spoke to my track team during my senior year of high school. I was fascinated by the science of food and how it worked in our bodies, and I’m glad I now get to use the knowledge I have to help fuel athletes without the nonsense of diet culture getting in the way. Speaking of diet culture, the very idea of a dietitian is not immune to its clutches. When most people think of dietitians, they may have a negative idea. Dietitians can be seen as the food police, telling you what to eat or what not to eat. If you have an eating disorder or have struggled with your relationship with food in general, seeing a dietitian can feel scary. This post is written to demystify the dietitian for you!
First, it’s important to define what a dietitian is. Nutritionists and dietitians are not one and the same. A dietitian is someone who has completed a bachelor’s (soon to be master’s) degree, an accredited nutrition and dietetics program, and a supervised internship. They also pass a board exam and are nationally registered. Compare that to a nutritionist, which is an unregulated term that anyone can claim. When working with eating disorders, dietitian are an important part of an interdisciplinary team that also includes doctors, therapists, coaches, nurses, athletic trainers, and more.
What does the work of an eating disorder focused dietitian encompass? There’s two main sides of our work as ED RDs: the practical side and the psychological side. Depending on where you are in your recovery process, one side may take precedence over the other. Let’s explore them a bit more!
The practical side of working with a dietitian involves nutritional rehabilitation and stabilization. Your dietitian will provide evidence-based recommendations, exercises, and education to promote adequate nutrition. Here are some of the practical things your dietitian may help you do:
Following an individualized meal plan to meet your body’s unique needs
Address any medical or physical problems you may be having and adjust nutrition recommendations as needed
Address behaviors or fears that come up around meal and snack times
Complete exercises to challenge you, such as fear food exposures
Provide relevant nutrition education, such as the function of different nutrients, nutrition needs for sport, metabolism, and supplements
The psychological side of working with a dietitian involves processing your relationship to food and body and exploring how to improve that relationship using various education and counseling techniques. Here are some of the topics you may address with your dietitian:
Food rules-their origin and how to challenge them
Motivators for recovery and following nutrition recommendations
What a healthy relationship with food looks like
Returning to exercise and how healthy movement may look for you in the future
Body image concerns
Nutrition myths from society and/or sport
Using evidence-based nutrition education and empathetic counseling, your dietitian’s goal is to help you heal your relationship to food and body and know how to fuel yourself appropriately. I love what I do because I see people’s lives transformed as they journey through recovery. Working with a dietitian can be part of that freedom with food all athletes deserve.
Abby Olcott, MS RD