So You Have an Eating Disorder, Now What? A Practical Guide to Finding an ED-Savvy Dietician

This is a guest post by Olivia Knieff, sharing her real-life experience navigating recovery from an eating disorder.  

When I was diagnosed with an eating disorder in the spring of 2014, my medical practitioner gave me two recommendations:

  1. Find a psychologist who specializes in eating disorder treatment.
  2. Find a dietician who specializes in intuitive eating.  (If you’re thinking, “intuitive what?!” you can find more information here).  

My head was spinning, but I kept these suggestions in mind and began my search with the help of my dear friend, Google.

Starting the Search

Finding a psychologist whose areas of expertise fit my needs was relatively easy because of reputable sites like Psychology Today.  However, I quickly got lost in a sea of self-proclaimed “health coaches” and “wellness experts” when I searched for a dietician. From the work I’d already begun doing with my psychologist, I was learning that “diet mentality” (those big promises of a better life with just a few less pounds and inches) was something I needed to avoid in order to progress in recovery.

Eating disorder recovery is about developing a balanced and sustainable relationship with food and with your body, not about the kind of results that can be measured on a scale.

It’s helpful to know that the terms “dietician” and “nutritionist” can be used interchangeably.  The education and credentials behind the moniker are what’s important, and I learned that significant differences exist among people who consider themselves experts in nutrition.  This can range from someone who has become a nutrition coach after taking an online course, to someone with a doctorate in food/nutrition science. Licensing and credentials can vary widely, too.  A reputable dietician should have at least a bachelor’s degree in food/nutrition science (or similar) from an accredited institution. If you come across someone promising results of weight or size loss, or trying to sell you a weight loss or fitness product, avoid them. Eating disorder recovery is about developing a balanced and sustainable relationship with food and with your body, not about the kind of results that can be measured on a scale.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions

When searching for a recovery-savvy dietician, you are looking for someone you will have a long term relationship with, so it’s important that this person is a good fit for your nutritional needs and also that your personalities and values line up.  Think of your initial phone call or meeting as an interview.  Just as your potential dietician should be asking you questions to ascertain whether they can meet your needs, you should be asking questions, too.  Here are some suggested talking points and questions (feel free to use this, modify it to something that feels better for you, or not use this verbiage at all!):

“Hi, I was recently diagnosed with  _________.  I am looking for a nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders.  It’s important for me to have a dietitian who will respect my recovery process and collaborate and communicate with my therapist and doctor.

  • What is your educational background?
  • What experience do you have supporting people with eating disorders?
  • What are your treatment philosophies (for example, Health at Every Size or Intuitive Eating)?
  • What are your goals for your clients?
  • How do you measure progress?
  • What are your expectations of your clients?”

I was so grateful and relieved to find a recovery-focused dietician relatively quickly.  My previous experiences with dietitians and nutritionists hadn’t been positive.  I constantly felt like I was failing – like I was a failure – because I wasn’t sticking to a plan, losing weight or bulking up the way I was “supposed to”.  I felt terrible when I either wasn’t meeting or was exceeding my daily calorie counts.  No matter what I did, it seemed like the wrong thing.  This is not how a recovery-focused dietician (or anyone!) should ever make you feel.

Give Yourself Grace

Above all, it is important to give yourself grace throughout this step of the recovery process.  If you’re looking for a dietician who specializes in eating disorders, chances are you’ve been recently diagnosed.  You are probably overwhelmed and you might be feeling the fear and uncertainty that comes with a new medical diagnosis.  Know that any step toward healing is a step in the right direction.  Start slow.  Start here:

Intuitive Eating
Empowering you to create a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body.

NEDA – National Eating Disorders Association
NEDA supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care.

Heath at Every Size
The Health at Every Size community supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors. It is an inclusive movement, recognizing that our social characteristics, such as our size, race, national origin, sexuality, gender, disability status, and other attributes, are assets, and acknowledges and challenges the structural and systemic forces that impinge on living well.


Olivia bio photo

  Olivia Knieff has been kicking ED’s ass since 2014.  She is a non-profit program manager in Northern Colorado and is passionate about supporting and advocating for marginalized individuals.  She enjoys connecting with others, especially with Seinfeld references. In her free time, Olivia can be found in deep conversation with her pups, laughing at inside jokes with her husband, or FaceTiming with her 6-year-old nephews.cropped-qm-logo-fb-prof-pic-01

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