Explaining the Role of the Dietitian in Eating Disorder Treatment

  • May 18, 2023
  • Posted by Hala El-Shafie

Explaining the Role of the Dietitian in Eating Disorder Treatment

The Role of the Dietitian in Eating Disorder Treatment is an integral part of any recovery program. 

Here Hala El-Shafie, Consultant Dietitian at Sage Clinics, explains why … 

Eating disorders are incredibly complex and potentially life-threatening, with anorexia nervosa having the highest rate of mortality of any mental health disorder, which is why it is essential that your dietitian is not only a specialist in this area but also experienced in the field. A dedicated multidisciplinary team (MDT) of professionals is fundamental in the management of eating disorders, as the physiological and psychological complexities that eating disorders exhibit requires a whole team approach. The specialist eating disorders dietitian is a pivotal member of the MDT in identifying immediate physiological and medical risks that may present, as well as the potentially fatal consequences of refeeding syndrome to manage risks of malnutrition.   

A key aspect of any patient’s recovery is identifying harmful attitudes to food and their eating behaviour, which includes challenging the deeply ingrained, harmful myths and misconceptions that often drive the disordered eating of an individual. Whilst very often these thoughts can be intrusive and irrational to others, they can be so overwhelming for the individual with an eating disorder that it requires the sensitivity, understanding and expertise to effectively support and address difficulties. This forms the core of the therapeutic work between an eating disorder dietitian and client.  

In treating eating disorders, we see “Food as medicine” – and indeed, the most important medicine we can provide a patient. However, the nature of an eating disorder can make it hard for a patient to recognize or accept this. Even if the individual can see this, their fear of food and uncontrollable weight gain may be so strong, they cannot eat. The relationship between client and dietitian requires a mutual sense of trust, teamed with a therapeutic approach to manage and challenge these mindsets. Supporting individuals, as well as their family to understand the very basics of nutrition and wellbeing, dispelling myths surrounding food, health and body image is an important role of the eating disorders dietitian. 

Often people assume that seeing a dietitian means only talking about calories and being given a strict meal plan, however, a dietitian in an Eating Disorders Service does not work like this at all! In fact, it is the polar opposite to this, as the work centres around working with patients to develop a relationship with food that no longer dominates their life with a conscious move away from calories and preoccupation with food. 

So, when it comes to seeking support for an eating disorder either for yourself or a loved one, ensure that the team you’re seeking support from not only has a dietitian but that they also have the knowledge and expertise to ensure you will be in safe hands.  

Whilst recovery can be a very long road for some, if you ask anyone who has recovered from an eating disorder, they will all tell you that not only was it worth it, but that they wish that they had sought help sooner. 

The road to recovery may be long, but it will always, always be worth it!

Written by: Hala El-Shafie
Dietitian at Sage Clinics

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