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What is an Eating Disorder Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian?

For those with an eating disorder, planning meals throughout the day or deciding what to buy at the grocery store can be daunting. However, optimal nutrition is essential for anyone to be healthy, especially those with eating disorders that may lack or need to intake the proper nutrients. Eating disorder nutritionists work with eating disorder patients to teach them how to have a healthy relationship with food. You may be wondering: What does an eating disorder nutritionist do? How could I benefit from working with an eating disorder nutritionist? How can an eating disorder nutritionist help me achieve my goals? If you are looking for answers to these questions, you've come to the right place.

At a Glance

  • What Does an Eating Disorder Nutritionist Do? An eating disorder nutritionist teaches patients how to make sound nutrition choices and build a better relationship with food
  • What are the Credentials of an Eating Disorder Nutritionist? At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, thousands of hours of supervised training, and a board certification
  • What are the Benefits of Working with an Eating Disorder Nutritionist? Personalized nutrition plans, nutrition counseling, and motivational work and support, among other things

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Why Do People Consult With Eating Disorder Nutritionists?

While most people can understand basic nutrition guidelines, misinformation from social media or inaccurate online sources can make it harder to know what's true or false. People with eating disorders have different nutritional needs than others due to their eating disorders and any underlying conditions that they may be suffering from. Some patients may need more protein or carbohydrates to build energy, while others may need to learn how to track their calorie intake.

Eating disorder patients can rely on nutritionists and dietitians in the eating disorder field to help them accomplish goals such as losing or gaining weight. Along with potential exercise and proper mental health techniques, nutritional care is key to any patient's road toward eating disorder recovery.

What Does an Eating Disorder Nutritionist Do?

Every eating disorder nutritionist works in a different setting and has unique responsibilities. Most eating disorder nutritionists offer expert advice and teach patients how to make sound nutrition choices and build a better relationship with food. Eating disorder nutritionists assist individuals suffering from eating disorders or abnormal eating behaviors by giving them factual nutrition information and expert advice on how to develop and maintain healthy eating habits.

While an eating disorder specialist like those affiliated with Top Nutrition Coaching can offer advice on disordered eating nutrition, the MEDA mentions that an eating disorder nutrition professional does much more to help patients by:

  • Assessing patients' eating patterns and behavior
  • Providing nutrition counseling and education
  • Creating individualized meal plans for patients
  • Assisting patients to develop more effective coping strategies

What is the Difference Between an Eating Disorder Nutritionist vs. an Eating Disorder Dietitian?

Eating disorder nutritionists and dietitians share some core similarities, but there are some notable differences between them. An eating disorder nutritionist should have an undergraduate degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field from a school approved by a nationally recognized accrediting agency. This professional must also have specialized training or expertise relevant to eating disorders. A nutritionist with this specialty counsels patients by teaching and advising them on healthy eating habits.

On the other hand, an eating disorder dietitian can do everything a nutritionist does, but this person must often meet stricter requirements. A registered dietitian or a registered dietitian nutritionist may have a bachelor's or master's degree but must also be licensed or certified by the state they're training in. This person can be a board-certified specialist in eating disorders or psychology.

While most do not have the authority to diagnose health conditions, they can help with eating disorder treatment by providing specialized dietary recommendations and guidelines. Eating disorder dietitians can order lab tests for their clients to assist in treating eating disorders.

What Are the Credentials of an Eating Disorder Nutritionist?

As mentioned earlier, the required credentials for eating disorder nutritionists and dietitians are slightly different. To become an eating disorder nutritionist, candidates must meet specific educational, training, and certification requirements mentioned below.

Nutrition or Dietetics Education

Nutritionist specialists should have at least a bachelor's degree in their field. Those with graduate degrees often fare better in the job market. To apply to become a certified nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders, you must first meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)
  • Be a member of the IAEDP
  • Demonstrate core course expertise
  • Have accrued a minimum of 2,500 eating disorder-specific practice hours under the guidance of an IAEDP-Approved Supervisor

Supervised Training

Candidates must undergo special training after completing their education to become a nutritionist. To apply to become a certified nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders, you must accrue and document 2500 hours of work in the field. These hours are supervised and signed off by your supervisor. A few things to note about these hours:

  • 75% of the hours must be in direct patient care
  • 25% of the hours can be in indirect care, including charting and documenting
  • Hours must be accumulated over a minimum of two years
  • Of every 120 hours of patient care, 1 hour must be directly supervised

Licensing and Certification

Many states require licensing and certification with an appropriate governing body to practice as a sports dietitian. Board certification from the CDR is also mandated. To become a certified nutritionist specializing in eating disorders, you must pass the CEDRD board examination. Once you pass the exam, you must renew your license every two years.

What Are the Benefits of Working with an Eating Disorder Nutritionist?

Medical professionals can provide an exact eating disorder diagnosis. Still, only a certified nutritionist or dietitian can work with you to create healthy eating habits to treat eating disorders. Working with a Top Nutrition Coaching eating disorder nutrition specialist will enable you to enjoy some excellent advantages. Here are some of the benefits of working with an eating disorder nutritionist. 

Personalized Nutrition Plans

No two people recovering from an eating disorder are the same. Every patient's nutrition plan will differ with numerous illnesses, underlying health conditions, age, gender, and other factors. An eating disorder nutritionist will work with you to create a personalized nutrition plan tailored to your needs and situation.

Nutrition Education and Counseling

A large part of nutrition counseling includes education and behavioral counseling. Nutritionists specializing in eating disorders encourage healthy eating while emphasizing the importance of pleasure and moderation in the eating process. Individuals with eating disorders hold a lot of distorted thoughts about food and their bodies. The dietitian helps challenge and reframe these thoughts while providing accurate and helpful information on nutrition and metabolism to support recovery.

Motivational Work and Support

Recovering from an eating disorder takes more than forming healthy eating habits. You need the mental strength and motivation to embark on your recovery journey. An eating disorder nutritionist will often do motivational counseling to help move patients toward change. The patient must be invested in the work, but a certain degree of uncertainty and fear is average. A good dietitian or nutritionist will determine what motivates their patients and help support them through complex changes.

Am I a Good Candidate to Work with an Eating Disorder Nutritionist?

Many eating disorder patients look for guidance from an eating disorder nutritionist. Suppose you need advice for grocery shopping, meal planning, or maintaining a potential exercise routine. In that case, you're an ideal candidate to work with an eating disorder nutrition expert, in addition to the factors below.

Eating for Recovery

Recovering from an eating disorder is no easy feat. For some individuals, it can take several decades to fully recover from an eating disorder. Many people with eating disorders never achieve a full recovery. No matter what kind of eating disorder you are recovering from, eating can suddenly become a daunting task. You can learn how to form healthy eating habits from a Top Nutrition Coaching-partnered eating disorder nutritionist.

Managing Health

When recovering from an eating disorder, it's common for you to feel weak or exhausted due to your body's lack of nutrients and energy. Maintaining healthy eating habits can become even more challenging if you have other health conditions aside from an eating disorder. People with eating disorders are at an increased risk of also developing psychiatric disorders. Research shows that 55-97% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder also receive a diagnosis for at least one more psychiatric disorder. 

Managing your physical and mental health can be a struggle, but you don't have to handle it alone. Solving challenges like these often requires an eating disorder nutritionist's expertise.

Navigating Dietary Restrictions

Patients with food allergies or dietary restrictions can face unique challenges getting the nutrients they need, especially when recovering from disordered eating. A Top Nutrition Coaching-affiliated eating disorder nutritionist can teach you how to eat healthily without triggering allergic reactions or suffering nutritional deficiencies.

Still not sure? Read more about what an eating disorder nutritionist does here. 

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About the author

Nicolette Star Maggiolo, RD, LDN
I'm a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with education from Boston University and clinical training from both Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I specialize in helping the military and non-military individuals embrace nutrition as a partner in both their mental and physical health.

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