The most common reason to reach out to a food therapist is to help treat an individual struggling with an eating disorder. Though there are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), in a very broad sense, eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Eating disorders are complex psychological conditions that involve extremely unhealthy eating habits. If left untreated, eating disorders can have devastating effects and lead to severe short and long-term consequences. The treatment plan for an individual with an eating disorder will be unique and cater to his or her nuanced needs. It may include certain medications, a distinct combination of therapeutic modalities, and most treatment plans will require direct supervision from a food therapist. There are a couple of different types of professionals that may act as food therapists, such as a dietitian and a nutritionist.
Dietitians are experts in dietetics, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “the branch of knowledge concerned with the diet and its effects on health, especially with the practical application of a scientific understanding of nutrition.” A registered dietitian must gain certification through the completion of a bachelor’s degree, supervised experience (at an accredited healthcare facility, community agency, or foodservice corporation), and passing a national exam administered by the Commission of Dietetic Registration. Dietitians develop diet and nutrition programs that are tailored to each person’s objectives and personal needs. They play an integral role in the treatment of eating disorders, as they can provide the pertinent support needed to address abnormal eating behaviors.
Nutritionists provide general support through nutrition education and community health. They can offer advice on how to live a healthier lifestyle and work with people to help them achieve health-related goals. Depending on one’s needs, a nutritionist may provide an individual with basic eating plans, motivations for eating well, and/ or address one’s fears and concerns regarding food and weight. Nutritionists are usually employed in hospitals, cafeterias, schools, athletic organizations, and long-term care facilities. Food therapists are not only for individuals recovering from an eating disorder. Anyone can benefit from working with a dietitian and/ or a nutritionist, as they are qualified experts on food and nutrition. Food therapists can help people learn how to better nourish their bodies, offer personalized guidance, and customized support.
It is important to note that although one may assume a nutritionist or dietitian may provide feeding therapy services, they do not. This service requires an entirely different skillset and is often facilitated by a trained occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist. Feeding therapy is used to treat individuals who lack proper feeding and swallowing skills (e.g., an adult recovering from a traumatic brain injury, a young child with low facial muscle tone, etc.). It is a therapeutic intervention that is designed to improve oral motor abilities, and provide comprehensive management of feeding, eating, and swallowing conditions for those in need.
The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.