My path to becoming an eating disorder dietitian.
Hey guys! One thing before we get to today’s post:
- 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 five 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
If you’d like to read about another dietitian’s experience…here’s Anne’s post on how to become a dietitian.