Yeah…Immaeatthat

Jan 18

My path to becoming an eating disorder dietitian.

Hey guys! Two things before we get to today’s post:

  1. Jess Lively is hosting a FREE webinar on crafting values based intentions tonight (January 18th). I’m joining in, so I wanted to let you know about it.  While I would not recommend some of Jess’s food thoughts/practices she mentions for those recovery from eating disorders, a lot of her life stuff really resonates with me.  If you aren’t sure what your values are, join in.  Can’t hurt:) I’m excited for it.
  2. I was on another podcast! It was the Finding Body Freedom podcast with Cait! Here it is.

On to today’s blog post…

I wanted to answer a question I get asked via email weekly.  The question is: One day I’d like to work in eating disorders, so I’m wondering…how did you end up working in eating disorders?

I never, ever, ever thought I’d work in eating disorders.  Becoming an eating disorder dietitian isn’t something I intentionally worked towards.  I was going through life moving towards things that gave me energy and made me feel alive and just kinda ended up here.

I never thought I’d work in EDs because from ages 14-23 I was somewhere on the spectrum from eating disorder to disordered eating (see graphic below).  While I hear a lot of people pursued a career in nutrition because they were obsessed with food/had an ED, I never wanted to study nutrition because I thought I would have to change the way I ate.  My restrictive-bingeing-overexercising ways were my only coping mechanisms for how I dealt with life’s unhappiness, I didn’t want to have to get rid of them.  I didn’t know at the time that (unfortunately) probably half of dietitians have eating disorders themselves and I could’ve easily chosen to stay in my ED and be like so many of my colleagues.  (SUPER GLAD I DIDN’T CHOOSE THAT OPTION THOUGH!) 

For the first 3 years of college, I thought I was going to vet school.  I took all the science-y classes.  Got good grades (at the expense of my mental health).  Got an interview with Texas A&M’s Vet School.  Had my interview and…didn’t get in.

I remember after my vet school interview it was raining and I was wearing a skirt suit outfit (that I hated…it just didn’t feel like me) and heels.  I took off my heels and ran barefoot to my car.  Texas A&M is a BIG campus so it took me awhile to get to my car and I was drenched by the time I got there.  I really felt like that was a turning point for me.  I look back on that day with a lot of fondness.  I felt like that was the day I was literally running away from vet school and moving on to other things.  

When I didn’t get in to vet school I was crushed.  Not because I wanted to go, but because that meant I didn’t know what I was doing with my life.  I had no idea what to do next.  I had spent 3 years working towards something I wasn’t sure I wanted.  My options were: 1) wait a year and apply to vet school again or 2) switch directions.  I didn’t even know what a registered dietitian was at this point.  That’s when I stumbled on Kath’s blog and then Jessica’s blog and started considering having a career dealing with food.  I read their blogs A LOT until I got tired of consuming information…I wanted to put stuff out into the world!  I was very dramatic and felt like my life was falling apart so I started my own blog in 2011 around the same time I learned I didn’t get in to vet school.  

I was still at Texas A&M at this time taking classes and trying to figure out what to do next.  The only places I had worked in high school/college were large animal clinics, a veterinary dermatology clinic (yep, that exists.), horse stables, and small animal vet clinics.  So I started applying for jobs and just trying things hoping I’d stumble upon something I liked.  I interned at a gluten free bakery (a bakery where to get hired I had to be gluten free…my eating disorder happily applied.  I’m pretty sure that’s illegal to only hire someone if they have Celiac’s…so it goes.), I worked in a restaurant kitchen in Houston (where I set a towel on fire.  I hated working at the restaurant because I felt it ruined the magic of eating out.  I imagine that’s how actors feel when they watch movies.), and then I got an internship with Robin Plotkin after a professor at school knew her and mentioned that she was looking for an intern.  With Robin I started to realize the potential a blog could have.

Blogging saved me in a lot of ways.  While I was obsessed with food because I had lost touch with how to eat and was restricting-bingeing-over exercising, blogging gave me direction and my first hobby that I enjoyed.  When my two dear college friends were finished with college and moved away and I had to stay an extra year, that was the year I poured myself into blogging.  I’m so grateful for those of you who were reading the blog then (and, of course, grateful for all of you reading the blog now).  I would stay up into the wee hours of the morning working on the blog.  I loved it.  While I still love blogging now, it was different then.  From 2012 to 2013 I’m not sure I would’ve been okay if I hadn’t have had the blog.  I’m crying as I’m typing this up.  The blog brought me genuine happiness for the first time in a really long time.  I hated college…mainly because having an eating disorder isolates you + being introverted isolates you + having some level of social anxiety and struggling to open up to people isolates you.  Pair all that with the expectation that college is supposed to be “just the best” and feeling like it wasn’t “just the best”…it was actually “just the worst.” 

Somewhere in all of this I was sure I didn’t want to go to vet school (something my mom had been lovingly trying to point out to me for the last few years…moms just know things…it’s creepy), so I switched majors not really knowing what a dietitian did or what I was going to do with it.  I was LOVING blogging multiple times a week at this point, but also wanted some credentials behind my name in case I didn’t want to blog in the future/blogs became a thing of the past. 

My disordered eating and exercise behaviors were still near and dear to me.  When Andrew proposed that’s really when things started changing for my ED.  Andrew learned about the eating disorder after we were married.  If you have an ED you know how sneaky it can be and the person ED makes you into.  I started telling him snippets of old thought patterns/destructive behaviors here and there.  He knows everything now and he’s been learning about intuitive eating and health at every size as I have.  My mom told me that one of the keys to marriage is being able to change with your spouse.  Andrew’s been there for me as I’ve changed.  We are all so engrained in the diet mentality.  If you are choosing a non-diet mentality, you need to bring your spouse along with you.  You can’t expect them to be in a non-diet mentality.  They grew up in the same society you did.  I’ve wanted Andrew to write a post for the blog on the journey he’s been through with me, maybe he will in the future or maybe he won’t.  I think it would be helpful for boyfriends/husbands supporting a girlfriend/wife with an eating disorder to read.  I changed in my recovery (for the better, in my opinion).  I went from an athlete running marathons to someone doing zero movement.  I went from toned and miserable to soft and fleshy and happy.  I went from a girl who avoided particular foods on weekdays to an intuitive eater who eats everything.  I went from someone who hated her body to someone who rarely thinks about her body size.

When we got engaged I didn’t want the ED behaviors anymore.  I didn’t want to have a list of foods I couldn’t eat.  I didn’t want to have to wake up every morning and go for a run.  I didn’t want to hate my body.  I didn’t want thinness to be a value of mine.  I didn’t want to feel insane around food.  I didn’t want to waste brain space thinking about all this stuff.  It was so much of a soul suck for me and I was desperate to find something new.  I wanted another way to live.  

So I started doing things that made my eating disorder/disordered eating mentality really uncomfortable.  I started overwhelming myself with intuitive eating and health at every size messages.  I threw away our scale and asked for the doctor not to tell me my weight at doctor’s appointments.  I started honoring my cravings.  I started getting in touch with my hunger and fullness cues.  I started setting food challenges for myself.  I started incorporating all the food groups at every meal.   I stopped exercising for a couple months.  I eventually started yoga and started to get out of my head and learned/am still learning to flow with every part of my body (especially the soft fleshy bits).  

For years I sat with the uncomfortableness all those changes brought until I stopped feeling uncomfortable.  If you are in your eating disorder, the anxiety and uncomfortable feelings around food and your body do go away.  You have to choose to tolerate the uncomfortableness though.

There were times I felt like I was completely recovered and out of the blue I’d have a draining/exhausting/overwhelming day and be sitting on my couch watching TV in the evening and I’d look down at my arm.  And then I’d be like, “wtf.  Why did I just body check?”  It never felt like a conscious thought of, “i’m going to body check now…”  Eventually I would just say “lol” in my mind when it happened because it’s crazy how engrained those behaviors get.  It was just how I had taught myself to cope with stress.  I had trained myself into certain destructive behaviors in response to stress and overwhelming life happenings.  I had to create space between my thoughts/feelings and my behaviors.  I had to have awareness of my thoughts and emotions and choose a non destructive behavior in response to them.  For instance, when I caught myself body checking I would lovingly remind myself, “oh I don’t do that anymore.”  I realized with the body checking that my body was trying to take care of me how I had taught it to.  So instead of body checking I started asking myself, “What am I feeling right now?” and “What do I need?” Then I would choose a more healthful coping mechanism. 

Also, Intuitive Eating and Body Respect rocked my world and helped me so much.  Along the way someone mentioned the hunger and fullness scale and I was like, “omgsh.  I can eat when I’m hungry.  Stop when I’m satisfied (which may be past fullness sometimes and that’s okay). Move my body in a way that feels good.  And I can find the body size that is right for me.”  <– And I was like, “Imma do that.”  So I did.  

After finishing my prerequisites course work for a dietetic internship at Texas A&M I put all my eggs in one basket and applied to one dietetic internship, University of Texas School of Public Health.  I knew I needed to be in Houston (that is where Andrew’s job was) and UTSPH was the only internship program that I had ever heard anyone talk positively about.  With UTSPH I did a 2 year dietetic internship that had a masters program attached to it.  I LOVED my classmates.  There were only 9 of us and I always felt supported by them.  

The last month of my dietetic internship I did my specialty rotation (aka a rotation I got to choose).  I was deciding between 1) going to New York City for 2 months for a nutrition communications internship or 2) staying in Houston and working at an ED private practice.  For a number of reasons, I choose the outpatient eating disorder private practice, which is the private practice I’m still at today.  A lot of the decision in choosing the ED private practice rotation was curiosity around if working in EDs was even a possibility for me given everything I’d been through. 

I ended up have two mentors who I got to be with for a month and with them (over time) I was able to be open with past eating and body image struggles.  We also work with an eating disorder specialized physicians assistant who grilled me to determine if my eating and exercise behaviors where healthful.  We laugh about it now, but it was intense for me as a lowly dietetic intern haha.  I think she nearly made me pee my pants.  

I believe you can only take clients as far as you’ve taken yourself, so I’m glad someone was inquiring about my recovery.  If you choose to work in eating disorders you have a responsibility to make sure you are taking care of yourself and always practicing and moving towards a place of truly healthful eating, movement, and self-care patterns.  You choose to constantly be checking in with yourself and others about how ED clients are affecting you.  You choose to make sure you are okay in your body.  I’m currently working towards my certified eating disorder registered dietitian credential and should have that within the next two years.  YAY!

I never thought I’d be recovered enough to work in EDs, but here I am.  I know I can help people get to the place I am right now, which is a pretty good place.  That’s the reason I work 4 days a week seeing clients in an outpatient setting and why I created the course.  The course is excellent for everyone, but especially for those who can’t afford one-on-one nutrition counseling or dietitians who are in their ED/disordered eating and may feel embarrassed/overwhelmed about reaching out for help.

So that’s my story.  Thanks for reading<3

32 comments on “My path to becoming an eating disorder dietitian.”

  1. Kylie, this was a beautifully written post and wonderful to read. Thank you for showing us your soul and sharing your story. You nearly had me in tears at one point. I can resonate with a lot of this. I just want to let you know that I really love your work, you and your blog. Your blog and your words have been very helpful in lots of ways for my own healing journey and for that I am incredibly thankful.
    I hope you have a lovely day <3 xx

  2. Wow, I am bookmarking this post for future reference. Reading all your posts on ED recovery, but especially this, is so inspiring. I feel it’s the best way to get out of my head and into reality. Everything thing you say resonates so well, thank you. PS I can tell you my boyfriend for one would read/appreciate Andrews post !! Definitely a cool and important perspective thats not really addressed. xo

  3. Thank you, Kylie. I especially love the part about your marriage- your mom’s advice is so true.
    I love reading or hearing how people choose their career. my undergraduate path was similar with deciding to go to grad school and become an RD during my last year. I felt a shift in me and came to see God was leading me there all along. It’s incredible to see in you how God is using your past and present to shape the lives around you.
    I have a rotation coming up where I get to work with eating disorder patients and I’m really excited to see if that is where I fit. Yet at the same time, working in outpatient at hospital I have come to see that disordered eating is common in all types of patients.

  4. Wow… what a great post and amazing story! I love how you will keep it completely real especially with calling out dietitians with eating disorders- thats something that always makes me cringe- how can you help someone have a healthy relationship (whether you’re working with ED clients, DM, wt loss, etc.) with food if you don’t!? Thanks for sharing <3

  5. I found your fb page about 3 months ago and I think you are awesome! I am a LMFT and I work with clients teaching body trust and intuitive eating. I’ve recovered from my own restrictive, binge, over exercise cycle. I love food and I love your posts. You share my joy for food and eating. Please know I am cheering you on and I think you are so precious. I know the courage it takes to change ingrained patterns around food, and sometimes in the this diet obsessed culture, we can feel like we are the only ones. I look forward to your pics of food and your posts. xoxo

  6. Awesome post, as usual! I love reading in the mornings because it sets a tone for the day. I have a question that is going to sound really vain, but here it goes. How did you deal with wedding dress shopping, fitting, etc when you were changing your habits? I’ve been struggling for 15 years with anorexia/over-exercise. I just got engaged and am in the process of looking for a dress. My dietitian has told me that I need to put on weight (she is very much about the intuitive eating/HAES, but is trying to be frank with me that, no, my is a good deal below where it wants to be). It’s hard to try on dresses and tell the consultants that I will be putting on weight and need to order a bigger size. Again, it sounds so vain typing this, but it definitely causes some anxiety. Did you have to deal with any of that? Or things fitting differently on your wedding day? Also, I would love a post from Andrew. My fiance is trying to be supportive, but has no idea about eating disorders. His engineer, logical brain is baffled by the complete illogical notion that is an eating disorder/starving your body.

  7. I love this so much, and I’m proud of your accomplishments! Thank you for sharing your path to becoming an RD. I think it’s sad that, as you stated, there are many RD’s with poor eating habits/disordered eating behaviors. I was there once, and just as you discussed, Matt has been there for more than a decade watching me finally come away from those thoughts and behaviors to who I am today. I would love to hear Andrew’s perspective, if he chooses to share! I appreciate this post very much.

  8. I LOVE THIS!

  9. I love this post! Thanks being open and sharing, you are such a positive influence 

  10. Wow, two posts in a row. Nailing it. I have wanted to be an RD for a long time…planning out meals for our doll “patients” while my sister revived them with wires from our alarm clock. Anyway… A c in chemistry in college (which felt like an f) made me completely change career paths to become a lawyer. #poorchoices. But I’m not giving up on my dream! Two questions: 1. How important is the school you go to? I live where I live and I can’t move, but the only nearby school is totally unknown. 2. Have you heard anything about the Tufts degree in nutrition communication? I know you can’t see clients, but I wouldn’t mind writing and helping other RDs behind the scenes. I’d welcome any thoughts and advice!

    • I have heard of the Tufts program! I looked into the program for a bit, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do nutrition communication. I imagine you could still see clients even if you did that program. I would think the program would still HAVE to involve some clinical component for the commission on dietetic registration to name them an accredited program…but maybe I’m wrong.

      I honestly don’t think the school you go to is that important. As long as it’ll get you the RDN behind your name it is fine!

  11. Thank you for this. So much of what you wrote resonated with me. I went through a similar struggle in high school and most of college with an ED. I also had thought for the longest time that I would go to law school, but once I took the LSAT and realized the score wasn’t what I wanted, I had to confront so many different about myself, among them being what do I want to do with the rest of my life if not a lawyer, and do I want to keep feeling inadequate and hungry all the time. I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, and while I didn’t know it at the time, not pursing law school definitely put me on a healthier, happier, path ahead.

  12. Wow. That’s the first time I’ve ever known anyone to articulate what my college experience was like. I’m really sorry about your experience but so thankful because I’ve spent 30 years thinking I was the only one. I too was able to finally get to a healthy place but it took years. You and Robyn have helped me more than you could ever know. Thank God for compassionate bloggers like you two who are really trying to make a difference.

  13. And then in fall of 2012, we became BFFLs <3

    I love this blog post so much. You are a constant inspiration and I'm so fortunate to have been on part of this journey with you and have you as a mentor. Love you to pieces, Kylie!

  14. Thanks for sharing your story! My dietitian has been one of the biggest influencers in my own anorexia recovery. Having suffered herself, she always “got it” but still pushed me and never gave up on me. I have worked with her for almost 6 years, and I finally chose real recovery (i.e. not the half ass kind) in August. I put my complete trust in her and have gained X pounds since then. I believe ED specialized dietitians are invaluable in the recovery process.¬†

  15. Thanks for sharing this Kylie! So inspiring and encouraging. Your one in a million xx

  16. I would love to talk to you about how you managed to do all that after switching your major your senior year! I am a senior in college and only recently discovered my passion for dietetics, but I’m scared it’s too late to go down that path.

    • I was lucky that there was a lot of overlap between the coursework for my biomedical sciences major (for vet school) and my nutritional sciences major (for dietetics). So I ended up staying an extra year and was able to get both of those majors. It would’ve been more difficult for me to switch if I would’ve done a non-science major.

  17. Thank you for sharing your story! First time caller, long time listener- big fan of the blog :). It’s really kind of freaky how similar your recovery process and decision to work in eating disorders is to my own! I very clearly remember the phase in my life where my mind slowly gave my body permission just to be and it was magic…period normal again, skin cleared, IBS gone. I took an eating disorder internship at the end of my DI as well, and it was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made. I didn’t know if working in eating disorders would be good for me, but man oh man I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.

  18. Wow! What a great post! I’m a new RD and although I haven’t personally had an eating disorder, I’ve definitely had patterns of disordered eating in my past with obsessions over measuring my food or black and white thinking when it comes to food and so I’ve asked myself the same question — “can I work with this population?” and your words have given me so much clarity. I love your message and your guidance (even if you don’t know it!) is always so appreciated!

  19. This is so so wonderful! Just like every blog post you’ve made. I hope you do grrr Andrew to write that post you mentioned <3

  20. Kylie I love this post! I started reading your blog back in 2011 in the throws of my own eating disorder and in 2013 I started going to school to be an RD. I also never expected while on this path to grow and learn how I have and eventually become free from my ED. It’s pretty cool because I feel like we have been growing at the same time and learning the same lessons, and I love reading your thoughts about them on your blog! Also pumped that you might be coming to speak at my school in March! Bouta fangirl everywhere. You rock and I’m so thankful for you.

  21. Kylie, I love love LOVE your story and hope to share mine with the world one day too! You’re turning something bad into something beautiful – and that’s pretty amazing. Love your work!

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  24. Thanks so much for this. I loved reading your story, Kylie! (Being grilled by that eating disorder specialist sounds super-intense. That would probably make me want to pee my pants, too!)

  25. I love this! If I could get through Chemistry I would be a RD too!

  26. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am currently finding myself in a somewhat similar situation. I am in college, but lately I have been questioning whether or not my degree is actually something I want to continue pursuing, and the thought of having a blog really intruiges me. I, too, have come from an eating disorder and I can’t say I am completely free from it, though the Lord has brought me a really long way. I am at a place in life where I am questioning the next step and how to get there.
    Anyways, thanks again for sharing! I am a new reader, but I am already seeing your heart pour into your blog!

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