Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating

Can a nutritionist help with eating disorders?

April 10, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Millions of Americans struggle with eating disorders.
  • Eating disorders are complex health conditions.
  • Eating disorders can impact anyone, irrespective of age, sex, race, or social factors.
  • Eating disorder treatment involves teaming up with experts, including Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, to improve your relationship with food.

Almost 30 million Americans are estimated to have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the help they need.

Although eating disorders and disordered eating patterns are extremely tough to deal with, with the right help, recovery is possible. 

Let’s explore the key role a dietitian can play in your eating disorder recovery.

What are eating disorders?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), eating disorders are complex health conditions that affect a person's behaviors and attitudes toward food and body image.

Types of eating disorders

There are many types of eating disorders. The most well-known of these are anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder. Anorexia, in particular, has the highest death rate compared to other mental illnesses, and binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

Others include night-eating syndrome, orthorexia, pica, ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), and OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders).

What causes eating disorders?

There are many factors that may lead to an eating disorder, including biological, psychological, social, and much more. 

What many may not realize is that eating disorders can happen to anyone of any age, race, or sex. Data, however, shows that while females are more likely to deal with eating disorders, one in 3 people with an eating disorder is male. 

Many people with eating disorders may also have a history of trauma or experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), studies show. 

Having a team of experts, including a Registered Dietitian, in your corner can help you break free from your eating disorder.

Do you need a nutritionist or dietitian for eating disorder treatment?

Consider if you need a nutritionist or a Registered Dietitian, as their roles and expertise can differ significantly and impact your recovery journey. Read on to find out.

What do nutritionists do?

A nutritionist is a broad term for people who counsel others on nutrition. A nutritionist can work with you on general nutrition and meal plans, but they are not qualified to diagnose or treat illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or eating disorders.

Eating disorders are serious conditions and need expert medical nutritional counseling; a Registered Dietitian may be your best choice

What do dietitians do?

In the United States, Registered Dietitians (RDs or RDNs) undergo advanced and rigorous training to become board-certified experts in food and nutrition, including the science of how food helps our bodies.

They are trained to provide evidence-based advice based on scientific research.

Why are Registered Dietitians better for eating disorder treatment?

  • They receive accreditation from a governing body like the Commission on Dietetic Registration, which is the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). 
  • To identify a registered dietitian, look for the letters ‘RD’ (Registered Dietitian) or ‘RDN’ (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) after a person’s name.
  • RDs need a minimum of a Master's Degree in a reputed nutrition program, pass a board exam, and then gather work experience in the field.
  • Certain states also require their RDs to have a license to practice, like your doctors. This means they have to adhere to a code of conduct to uphold public health.
  • All dietitians also have to regularly learn about new advances in their field, which makes their knowledge more current and up-to-date.

As you can see, the process of becoming and staying a dietitian is intense and designed to safeguard public health.

Now, let’s look at how RDs can help with eating disorder recovery.

How do registered dietitian nutritionists help with eating disorder treatment?

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, here are some ways a Registered Dietitian can help you recover:

1. Assess your needs and develop personalized nutrition meal plans

Registered Dietitians will learn about your eating disorder history and medical background, including any medicines you're on and your way of life, and assess your nutritional needs. 

If you have been dealing with an eating disorder for a while, you may have nutritional deficiencies that need to be addressed to kickstart your recovery.

Eating disorder dietitian Rita Faycurry, RD, says, “An RD will also seek to understand your living conditions, any nutrition restrictions, any religious or ethical food-related restrictions, and food preferences. Based on this information, RDs will help you set achievable goals and provide you with a personalized nutrition plan for your meals.”

2. Offer nutritional guidance

RDs have been trained for years to increase awareness about nutrition. They can help you understand how different foods may improve your physical and mental health, explain what recovery typically looks like, and guide you in discussing your nutrition with others.

3. Bust eating disorder myths

Having an eating disorder can lead to feeling isolated, which may lead some people to follow unqualified, and sometimes even harmful, advice about nutrition. 

Sometimes, even well-intentioned loved ones may offer unhelpful diet or weight-related advice, which may set you back in your recovery. 

While support from others is crucial, a Registered Dietitian can help debunk myths and counter bad advice about eating disorders. Plus, if you are worried about potential triggers online, an RD may be a safer space for you to talk about your recovery.

4. Help you plan for real-life scenarios

Eating disorder recovery can be a long road. Particularly when you’re getting started, you may wonder how to deal with social situations, triggers at home, meal prep, travel, stressors, and much more. Your RD can help you anticipate and plan for these scenarios.

Rita Faycurry, RD, adds, “Additionally, if you're dealing with depression or other mood issues, there might be days when you just don't feel like taking care of yourself, including getting the nutrition you need. Your RD can help you prepare for these days with time-tested strategies.”

5. Collaborate with other experts on your recovery team

Eating disorders are complex mental health issues, and getting better usually means working with a team of health experts, including doctors, psychiatrists, and counselors.

Registered Dietitians often team up with other health specialists to help make your eating disorder recovery journey stronger.

How to find an eating disorder dietitian nutritionist near me?

It’s great that you’re looking to get help with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits—for you or a loved one.

The first step is an introductory meeting with your Registered Dietitian to discuss your needs.

Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist near you, covered by your insurance.

Here are some common questions you may have before meeting with a dietitian.

Will a dietitian nutritionist weigh you during meetings?

If being weighed or knowing your weight is a trigger, your Registered Dietitian will evaluate your nutritional progress using other means. However, if weight measurement is necessary, there are tools that do not disclose your weight to you. Do talk to your dietitian about your concerns during your meetings, and feel free to repeat and reiterate them when you want.

Who can work with a dietitian for eating disorder treatment?

Our Registered Dietitians work with adults, teenagers, and children to meet their nutritional needs during eating disorder recovery. Depending on each individual case, additional healthcare providers may need to be involved in the recovery process.

How much does a dietitian cost?

Being able to afford a dietitian can be a very common worry when you're looking to get help with an eating disorder. While a session may cost anywhere from $150-$200 out-of-pocket, with Fay, you may end up paying much less, depending on your insurance. You may even pay less than $15 per session. Get your estimated price.

How can a dietitian help with your eating disorder?

Registered Dietitians undergo rigorous training to be able to guide people on their individual health journeys, including nutritional advice during eating disorder treatment.

Fay can help you connect with a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.