Nutrition counseling is a form of eating disorder treatment that is part of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary treatment plan that can also include medical interventions, talking therapies, family therapy, and other treatment methods. A dietician who specializes in treating eating disorders can deliver nutrition counseling to achieve positive outcomes in patients by improving relationships with and attitudes toward food and eating. (1)
During nutrition counseling sessions, the dietician or nutritionist will discuss the various nutrients the body needs, as well as how much food someone of a specific age, body type, and gender generally requires to adequately nourish the body and remain healthy. The dietician will also teach Individuals how to recognize the cues of hunger and satiety (absence of hunger), as well as how metabolism works.
Nutrition counseling is an important step in the recovery process for an eating disorder, as it provides valuable information and accountability. (2)
Nutrition counselors are essential members of a multidisciplinary clinical team treating people with eating disorders, including therapists, nurses, and care partners.A dietician in this role has the advanced training needed to effectively treat people with eating disorders and understands the psychological, physiological, and neurobiological aspects of eating disorders. (8) Nutrition counseling for eating disorders will focus on the person as a whole. It includes repairing the relationship with food, as well as working on body image, addressing emotional dysregulation, weight restoration, body-weight maintenance, and development of neutrality toward food.
A good nutritionist will tailor eating disorder treatment to an individual’s specific needs, taking into account unique fears, food attitudes, medical history, and any co-occurring disorders. The nutritionist will offer emotional support, as well as providing correct nutrition education and addressing nutrition misinformation and eating disorder beliefs.
Nutrition therapy is usually done in conjunction with other forms of counseling, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This helps individuals understand why they might engage in certain eating behaviors and learn to replace harmful ones. (3)
A nutrition counselor can also create a personalized meal plan, designed to meet specific goals. This plan can help patients reconnect with food, and nutrition in a healthy, harmonious way.
The type of eating disorder dictates the goals of nutrition therapy. (4) In most types of eating disorders, one of the primary goals is to develop neutrality toward food by re-learning to recognize feelings of hunger, fullness, and satiety.
Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Bulimia Nervosa (BN)
The nutrition counselor will work closely with each individual, listen to concerns and provide support when facing new challenges and food fears.
The primary goal is to help restore a healthy relationship with food and improve eating behaviors. They may also make recommendations for dietary supplements if certain nutrients are deficient.
The nutritionist will create a personalized plan to help individuals learn:
Nutrition counseling can result in improved digestion and nutrient absorption in patients with eating disorders by promoting healthier eating habits. Healthier eating habits can improve overall gut health and address nutritional imbalances common for people with eating disorders.
Gut health is a key factor in maintaining a healthy immune system, and improving the gut through a better diet boosts immune response.
Addressing nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12, sometimes seen in patients with eating disorders can help reduce feelings of chronic tiredness. Plus, adopting a balanced diet allows the body to stabilize blood sugar levels, which can increase energy levels.
The nutrition counselor teaches skills and tools to last for the long term. With solid knowledge of proper nutrition and how to challenge negative food behaviors, individuals can help their bodies stay healthy for a lifetime.
When treating eating disorders, nutrition therapy is essential for the patient to regain normal eating habits and restore a more appropriate body weight. (5)
Intensive nutrition therapy, along with an initially high energy nutrient intake, results in significant weight gain, increased fat and muscle mass, and reduced food-related anxiety in people with anorexia nervosa (AN). (6)
A combination of nutrition and cognitive therapy have been shown to result in significant decreases in binge/purge behaviors, as well as an increase in self-control and improvement in dysfunctional attitudes in people with bulimia nervosa (BN). (7)
In traditional treatment programs, nutrition counseling will only involve meal planning for the week. At Within Health, we decide the meals for our patients as a part of their exposure. So our nutrition counselors will get into the patient’s food beliefs, working to debunk myths they may perceive as truth (e.g. myth: “sugar is the devil”). Within Health offers nutrition counseling to our patients on a daily basis, as well as in weekly nutrition groups. If you would like to learn more about what nutritional counseling Within Health offers, or are interested in starting treatment at our virtual care program, please call our clinical care team now.