The Importance of Choosing an Eating Disorder Treatment Specialist

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“What do you mean you don’t like your body, you’re thin!”

“What you need to focus on is ‘good fats’ instead of ‘bad fats’”

“I used to not eat enough either, it’s no big deal!”

These are all (unfortunately) examples of statements that were either told directly to me by a therapist/dietician who didn’t specialize in eating disorder treatment, or things that I have heard from other clients about what they were told by someone who was well meaning, but wasn’t educated in how to treat eating disorders.

It can be really overwhelming to find a therapist or a dietician in the first place, so we’re here to walk you through what you need to focus on to make sure that you’re getting someone who is going to be properly trained in eating disorder recovery. When you’re first starting to look into eating disorder help, you’re probably going to be thinking about:

  • A therapist
  • A registered dietician
  • Support groups
  • A doctor

With each of these options, you’re going to want to make sure you are working with a professional that has experience and expertise with eating disorders. While a clinician might mean well and want to help, if they don’t have the language or the tools to help you, then it’s not going to be very useful, and might accidentally make things worse. That was definitely my own experience, and I know that has been the experience of other people as well.

So, what should you look for?

What kinds of questions should you ask?

Here’s a handy guide to help you know where to start. See below for further explanation of what types of answers you should be looking for.

See below for a full explanation of the reasoning behind each question and how to approach it. 

Do you specialize in eating disorders? What is your experience?

See if you feel comfortable with the level of experience and expertise that your potential provider has specifically with eating disorders. If they don’t specialize in that or have experience treating eating disorders or body image, that doesn’t mean they’re not a great clinician, it just might mean that they won’t be able to deep dive into the food and body work that you need.

Do you practice from a HAES (Health At Every Size) perspective?

If the provider that you’re thinking about working with isn’t familiar with HAES then I would view that a s a big red flag. Someone who is familiar with and practices HAES is going to be able to help with large scale systemic issues around body dysmorphia, fear of weight gain, and body acceptance.

What is your personal food philosophy?

The answer to this should look something like “The goal is for food to just be food” or “Food is a part of your life, not your whole life” or “Food is a way to nourish yourself to meet your goals and a connection with loved ones, but not a mechanism for coping with trauma, control, or other emotions.” Anything about “Healthy eating” or “Eating the right foods” is a big red flag to me.

Can I involve the whole family if necessary?

Much eating disorder work involves the larger system of your family. This is a case-by-case basis thing, and sometimes it’s not in your best interest to involve the family, but you would want to know if your provider would be comfortable with that if the issues does come up.

Do you ever advocate for dieting?

I personally believe that, as a responsible eating disorder specialist, you need to practice what you preach. If a provider is ever talking about dieting and ok with that, then it’s not going to be a good fit for healing from an eating disorder. This one is pretty hard when it comes to doctors, because the medical system is very pro-diet, but it’s a good thing to be aware of for yourself.

Will you communicate with my whole recovery team?

You want all your providers to be in contact (with your consent of course!) to make sure that everyone is on the same page with your recovery, goals, and coping tools. This accelerates the recovery process for you.

I know how hard it can be (and sometimes intimidating!) to ask these types of questions to a professional. I’m here to let you know that it’s ok to advocate for yourself and what you need in your eating disorder treatment. As a therapist myself I welcome these kinds of questions and I’m more than happy to answer them. You wouldn’t buy something nice, expensive, and time consuming without first doing a little research and weighing your options, so why should eating disorder treatment be any different?

xx Annie 

Click here to learn about all the different levels of care when it comes to eating disorders

Looking for an eating disorder specialist in your area? Click here to search

Interested in learning more about HAES? Click here

Like podcasts? Listen here and here to learn more! 

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