The Role of the Dietitian in Eating Disorder Treatment
Eating disorders are neurobiological illnesses that have both psychological and physical manifestations. They are complex and require comprehensive treatment teams to greatly increase a client’s chance of success.
That’s why The Emily Program employs a multidisciplinary team of eating disorder specialists to deliver optimal care to every client. Here, we believe care demands, at a minimum, medical, psychological, psychiatric, and nutritional components, along with family and other supports. If any of these components are missing, treatment will likely be less successful.
In this blog series, we highlight different vital roles within our care team, focusing on one team member’s daily responsibilities and their part in getting clients on the road to recovery.
Jessica Parker is one such team member. She’s a registered dietitian working with adolescent clients who suffer from binge eating and compulsive overeating at our Seattle location.
At The Emily Program, our dietitians go beyond the typical role of a dietitian, offering clients nutritional evaluation, counseling, education, and meal-planning services to promote their mindful, nourishing eating patterns.
“I feel like we walk this line between being an educator and clinical practitioner, but also jumping into the therapy or counseling side of things,” Jessica said. “My days are split educating clients about food and how to plan meals for the week, but also motivating and encouraging them throughout mealtime to eat.”
Jessica runs several groups each week. On Tuesdays, she leads a nutrition group, blending nutrition education with mindfulness practices — important components of recovery. For example, she works closely with clients to help them recognize hunger cues, whether they’re coming from an emotional or physical place, as well as signs of fullness.
On Wednesday nights, Jessica takes clients into the kitchen for hands-on learning. She teaches clients about portioning their food, basic cooking, and meal planning.
She also supports clients at mealtime two nights a week. She takes a seat at the table with clients and conducts exercises with them to help them get through each meal. For example, if clients don’t want to finish their meal, she walks them through a series of questions to find out if they’re full and how they know.
She also practices with clients to slow down their pacing, such as putting the fork down between bites or taking 4 deep breaths between bites.
“The goal is to make clients more present with their meals,” Jessica said. “The goal is not to eat and leave. Clients come in and discover something about themselves before getting up from the table.”
Lastly, once a month she takes clients out of their comfort zone to a nearby restaurant to practice their skills in the real world.
“The work we do is really hard and emotional for clients, but we also try to make it fun as part of the recovery process,” said Jessica. “Part of our job is to put clients in a situation that may cause distress and then help them find ways to cope. It’s difficult figuring out how far to push clients and knowing when to step back, but seeing clients have an a-ha moment or benefit from taking that risk is a really cool thing to see.”