Sharing my journey to becoming an intuitive eating dietitian and steps you can take as a registered dietitian who wants to practice intuitive eating and a non-diet approach.
My Journey to Becoming an Intuitive Eating Dietitian
When I became a registered dietitian (RD) in 2010, I had no idea what intuitive eating was. In fact, I don’t think I heard of it until six years later, in 2016. When I first became a RD, all I knew was a weight-centric approach to nutrition counseling. I assumed that was the only way to practice. And so when I landed my first job doing outpatient nutrition counseling at a weight management clinic at a top hospital in Boston, I thought I was doing meaningful, life-saving work. Because during my nutrition academia, we were taught that our role was to help fight the “o-word epidemic”. But my work never felt quite right. Even back then I knew that I didn’t agree with putting my patients on meal replacement programs and the idea of counting anything (calories, grams of this or that) never sat well with me either. I didn’t want to tell my clients that they had to avoid certain foods because I wasn’t avoiding them – it didn’t feel fair. Looking back, I was taught weight bias in that clinic. I remember my colleagues describing patients as being dishonest about what they were eating “because if they were actually eating that little food, they would be losing weight”. I know now that weight loss is NOT a simple calories in versus calories out equation. I also know now that there are protective mechanisms our bodies put into place with attempts to restrict calories, such as decreased metabolism and holding onto fat stores. I know now that my patients were not being dishonest. We, as providers, were showing our internalized weight biases. And to my former patients, I’m sorry. In reflecting on this first job what I actually enjoyed about it was my interactions with patients. Getting curious about their experiences. Listening. Validating. Providing hope. Being their cheerleader. I loved the counseling piece and developing a therapeutic relationship with my clients.
When I was just under a year of working at this clinic, I was recruited by Chobani to join their team as their in-house RD and health communications manager. I decided to take a leap of faith and join the team because I wanted to expand my skillset as a dietitian and knew that a growing company like this could help me hone my communication skills. Fast forward two years of working in the yogurt biz and I was laid off. Getting laid off SUCKS. And as hard as it was, it was an opportunity for me to pause, reflect, and pivot.
After months of inner work and self-reflection, I decided to start my own nutrition business! Per the advice of a respected colleague, I planted a lot of different seeds to see what would grow. I rebranded my blog, I did more recipe development, began writing for the media, started speaking at conferences around the country, promoted my nutrition coaching services, and worked with food brands and agencies. What grew those first 3 years was my blog and brand work, not my private practice. Which makes sense given that at the time I wasn’t very clear about my approach to coaching or my target audience. I promoted a “holistic approach to health and nutrition,” which to me meant that we would focus on nutrition and everything else that impacts your health, but my few clients in those early days just wanted to learn how to lose weight holistically and sustainably. Since I wasn’t clear in my marketing back then, my clients and myself would be left feeling disappointed after a few sessions together.
After about three years of focusing on growing the blog and my brand partnerships, I felt like something was missing. I was spending all day, everyday in front of the computer and while I was interacting with a large audience online, I missed that 1:1 interaction. I missed connecting with people face-to-face. So I decided that in order to switch gears and devote more time to building a private practice, I had to let something go. I let go of a long-term consulting client, and decided it was time to get really clear on my nutrition philosophy and who I wanted to serve in my private practice.
I remember hearing Marie Forleo say in one of her videos about purpose to “think about the thing that breaks your heart – that is the work you are meant to do.” When I spent time after getting laid off reflecting on what brought me to the field in the first place I was brought back to my own eating disorder history. A history that I kept quiet for the first six years of my career because a past professor had said to a group of us that if we have our own eating disorder history we should seriously reconsider going into the field. But it was that history that inspired me to go into the field. And thanks to reading lots of Brené Brown, I was finally ready to own my story.
It was my own personal history with food that inspired me to learn more about intuitive eating. I was always intrigued by mindful eating (which has some similarities to intuitive eating but also core differences) because of my yoga and mindfulness trainings and intuitive eating felt similar in that there was a strong mind-body connection component. And I knew that intuitive eating aligned with my celebratory and positive philosophy around food. I remember when I first relaunched my website in 2014 my first tagline was “let me help you learn to love food again.” Proof that once again this approach has always been at my core, I just didn’t have the language for it.
How I Became an Intuitive Eating Dietitian
First things first. I read the Intuitive Eating Book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This book solidified that this was the approach I wanted to take in my private practice and I was hungry for more continuing education after.
Since I was eager to learn more, I signed up for Evelyn and Elyse’s intuitive eating counselor certification program. It was an investment but I felt it was important to become skilled in this paradigm from which I was going to practice. The training consisted of a test that went along with the book, a 6-week online course, and 3 supervision sessions with Evelyn or Elyse. It was a fabulous training and I cannot recommend it enough if you are considering practicing as an intuitive eating RD. The other big benefit of this certification is you are added to their counselor directory on their website and I’ve had a few clients tell me that is how they found me!
As I started marketing intuitive eating, I started getting inquires from clients who had an eating disorder or disordered eating. I knew I was interested in working with clients who had eating disorders but I didn’t feel I had the skills or tools to do so effectively. Once again, I signed up for an online training to hone my skills and I can’t say enough about Marci Evans’ Eating Disorder Online Training for Dietitians. She is a wonderful teacher and I continue to take workshops with her and do supervision with her until this day because I always learn so much from her. She’s also just a wonderful human and friend.
I also signed up for the first annual EDRDpro Symposium to learn more about eating disorder treatment. They have a monthly membership where they hold webinars each month and a Symposium once a year. I haven’t done any of their trainings since that first Symposium BUT I am super excited because this year’s Symposium is an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) Training, and I use parts of this modality in my counseling but am eager to learn more and hone my skills and expertise of this modality further. It starts April 6th so there’s still time to sign up/become a member!
In addition to all the continuing education I did that first year, I also just practiced. I love the saying practice makes practice (contrary to the practice makes perfect sentiment). I will never be a perfect intuitive eating counselor. Because perfection does not exist. But to hone our skills, we must keep showing up, and learning my doing and making mistakes. And learning from our clients because they are often our greatest teachers.
Finally, I started doing individual and group supervision. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, supervision is something that’s commonly practiced among therapists. A less-experienced therapist will bring their challenging cases or questions to a more-experienced therapist for feedback, support, and insight. Supervision helps clinicians feel more competent, supported and less likely to succumb to burnout. While it’s not as common among dietitians, supervision is considered best practice for eating disorder dietitians. And if you are specializing in intuitive eating, chances are you will have some clients who come through your door with an undiagnosed eating disorder or disordered eating.
Today, I’m happier than ever practicing from a weight-inclusive, intuitive eating paradigm. I have the privilege of witnessing my clients’ profound transformations as they heal their relationships with food and their bodies. I see how this healing trickles into all other areas of their lives. How spending less time thinking about food and weight frees up mental space to think about other things that are truly important to them. How once they can let that go, they are liberated to start living their best lives. I feel like now I am truly doing holistic work. Looking at the whole person. Treating them as an individual. Focusing on behavior change and not one number on a scale.
Steps You Can Take as a Dietitian Who Wants to Practice Intuitive Eating
- Read the Book. They are releasing a new edition this June so be on the lookout!
- Continue reading supportive literature like Anti Diet, Body Kindness, and Health at Every Size.
- Consider the Intuitive Eating Counselor certification if it’s accessible to you.
- Get curious and honest about your own relationship with food. Research shows that nutrition students have higher rates of orthorexia so if you are struggling to let go of some of your own food rules, know you’re not alone, and it’s important that you do your own healing work before helping others. There’s absolutely no shame in asking for help.
- Find an intuitive eating supervision group – ask your colleagues if they know of any dietitians facilitating groups or you can form your own peer supervision group!
- Invest on continuing education to learn more about topics like Health at Every Size, non-diet approach, body image healing, etc.
- Check your own internalized weight bias. If you grew up in this culture (and definitely if you went to school to study nutrition), you have your own weight bias. If you want to practice a paradigm that does not conflate weight with health, you must check your own weight bias. There are a number of ways to work on dismantling your own biases and this is not an exhaustive list but for starters you might explore this in therapy (with a weight-inclusive provider), supervision, reading fat activist literature, and diversifying your social media feed to be inclusive of all body shapes and sizes.
- Read the scientific literature. There are over 90 studies on intuitive eating – get familiar with the science.
- Follow intuitive eating dietitians on social media to immerse yourself with the language.
- Start seeing clients! You’ll never feel 100% ready because again there’s no such thing as perfect! Stay humble and curious and learn through practice.
Tell me, are you thinking of pursuing intuitive eating as a dietitian? I hope this post was helpful for you! Leave any lingering questions in the comments!