I recently gave a presentation to therapists titled “Practical Approaches to Treating Eating Disorders.”
As you may or may not know, eating disorder work is a very niche group. I love working with this population and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But, it’s important to know that it’s not for everyone. For example, just as I love eating disorder work, working in the kidney disease population is not for me. I find it quite confusing and I have a ton of respect for dietitians who do that work! There are many therapists out there who do amazing work with their client and they don’t have adequate training in ED. Either they aren’t often exposed or they having gotten training. I was appreciative of the therapists who came out to my training. Many of them had seen an influx in clients with eating disorder symptoms and they wanted to know how to best support their clients. Even if best supporting them meant referring out.
1. Ask yourself, is eating disorder work right for me?
Like I said, it’s not for everyone! And that’s totally fine. It doesn’t have to be a good fit for you. Marci Evans, a dietitian in Massachusetts, created a quiz for health practitioners to take in order for them to see if ED work is a proper fit. You can find the link to the quiz here. If it’s something that interests with you, I encourage you to get additional training. Training is very necessary working with the eating disorder population. Many health practitioners in the ED field also get supervision from colleagues who may have more experience, so they are able to get support and feedback.
2. Get the family involved.
Many individuals who are struggling with eating disorders either do not want to get help or they are afraid to get help, just as this may be the case with other mental illnesses. I have had so many clients come into my office with food struggles who are fearful of admitting they are struggling because they don’t know what will happen next. Getting the family involved and helping them to understand the severity of eating disorders (both the emotional and the physical piece) is so important. Often times, it is the family members that encourage their loved ones to get the support they need to recover. I encourage you to have appointments with family members along with your client. I also strongly recommend that family members attend their own support groups. We have a loved one group that meets twice a month in our Columbia office.
3. Separate your client from his/her eating disorder.
Remember, your client is not his/her eating disorder. What does this mean? It’s the idea that the eating disorder (or ED) is a separate mindset/voice from the recovery mindset. The “ED” voice bullies the client into negative and hateful thoughts about him/herself. However, clients who are recovering do have some thoughts that are positive and focused on recovery. It’s helpful to bring out those thoughts and challenge the ED voice. I recommend reading the book Life Without ED by Jenni Schaefer to get a clearer picture of what this looks like.
4. Understand that eating disorders have serious medical complications.
It’s so important to make sure that an eating disorder client is medically stable and that you are checking in with behaviors that may cause medical complications (purging, restricting, over exercising… to name a few). I recommend to have a doctor with ED knowledge on board whom the client can see on a regular basis.
All of us want to be heard and understood. Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can do for someone who is struggling with an ED is to listen to their worries and concerns. Ask more questions and make them feel validated and understood. As with most (if not all) mental illness, it can feel like a lonely place. Someone with an ED wants to be heard. The more you listen, the more information you can gather to offer support/advice the client may need to move forward in recovery.
Want more information like this? Stay tuned. I am working on creating webinars for RDs, therapists, RD2Bs and other healthcare professionals to learn more about identifying and treating individuals with eating disorders. If you’d like to learn more, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.