Hey there, fellow dietitians! Today, we’re diving deep into the complicated world of food and feelings, especially in the context of eating disorder recovery. It’s time we chat about these complicated emotions, and why it’s important to acknowledge these emotions in our practice. Keep reading to learn 7 ways dietitians can tap into the emotional side of practice with clients.
Why Are Feelings Important When It Comes to Food?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s understand why this is a big deal. When we’re helping someone recover from an eating disorder, it’s not just about eating disorder behaviors and physical symptoms. Food is intertwined with emotions, and emotions can play a massive role in maintaining unhealthy eating behaviors. Ignoring this emotional connection would be like trying to swim with one arm tied behind your back – you’re missing out on half the experience.
Now, some dietitians might feel a bit out of their comfort zone when it comes to feelings. But guess what? It’s entirely within our scope of practice! We’re not therapists, but we are experts in nutrition, and that includes understanding how emotions affect eating habits. I truly believe that we cannot talk about food without talking about the emotional side effects it may have on our clients.
So, how do we embrace the emotional side of food and feelings in our sessions? Below are 7 ways you can incorporate more compassion into your practice.
1. Create a Safe Space
First things first, create a safe, judgment-free space. Let your clients know it’s okay to talk about their feelings surrounding food. We’re not here to criticize or be the “food police”; we’re here to help and support.
2. Listen Up
Active listening is our secret sauce. Let your clients share their feelings about food, and when they do, validate those feelings. “I hear you” goes a long way.
3. Empathy, My Friends
Put yourself in their shoes, and really, I mean really, try to understand their point of view. You don’t have to have experienced an eating disorder yourself to be empathetic. Be a supportive ally on their journey.
4. Unearth the Roots
Encourage your clients to explore the roots of their emotional connection to food. Past experiences, family dynamics, societal pressures – these are the puzzle pieces that make up their relationship with food.
5. Set Realistic Goals, Without “Fixing It”
When you’re planning nutritional goals, don’t forget to factor in emotions. It’s not just about “eat this, avoid that.” It’s about helping your clients cope with their feelings without turning to their eating disorder. Let them know it’s okay to feel and teach them healthier ways to deal with emotions.
To avoid jumping into “fix it” mode, it’s important to approach the planning of nutritional goals with sensitivity and understanding. Instead of immediately prescribing specific dietary changes, focus on acknowledging and addressing the emotional aspects of your clients’ relationship with food. Encourage them to share their feelings and concerns without rushing to solutions.
6. Incorporate Coping Strategies
Share some healthy coping strategies! Breathing exercises, journaling, mindfulness – these are all tools that can help your clients navigate the tricky waters of recovery.
7. Celebrate Small Wins
Finally, celebrate those small victories, no matter how teeny-tiny they might seem. Every step forward is a step toward a healthier relationship with food.
Looking For Support As A Dietitian?
Courage to Nourish offers clinicians supervision for dietitians working with eating disorders. Our supervision offers a safe, confidential space for dietitians to reflect, grow, and refine their skills. We aim to empower dietitians to be the best support system for their clients.
Final Thoughts On the Need to Embrace the Emotional Side of Practice
So there you have it. We can, and we should embrace the emotional side of food and feelings in our sessions, especially when helping folks on the road to eating disorder recovery. It’s absolutely within our scope of practice, and it can make all the difference in the world. So, let’s keep an open mind. You’ve got this!
Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland. and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Virginia, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.
Emilee Young, RD, LD, is an eating disorder dietitian who serves Alexandria, VA, Richmond, VA, Charlottesville, VA, Norfolk, VA, Virginia Beach, VA, and Roanoke, VA. She provides in person services in our Alexandria, VA office and virtual services elsewhere. Emilee also sees clients who live in Maryland and DC.
Take one of our eating disorder quizzes:
I am a Registered Dietitian dedicated to helping those in recovery. I enjoy helping individuals work towards body acceptance and find food freedom. I am a fat-positive and anti-diet dietitian practicing from an intuitive eating lens. I enjoy working with folks who struggle with binge eating disorder (BED). I serve clients virtually and in person throughout DC and Maryland. Growing up in Virginia, I am passionate about supporting clients throughout the greater areas of Richmond, Virginia Beach, Charlottesville, and Roanoke.