In my experience, when patients enter residential or inpatient eating disorder treatment, they can generally not decide who to hate and fear more; the person telling them that they’re going to eat (the dietitian), or the person cooking and serving their food (um, hello, chef?!).
In the end, though, you can only move into recovery by facing and overcoming fears and phobias. And upon leaving treatment, people in the programs where I have worked usually moved from absolute fear and hatred of the dietitian to deep, deep gratitude for a strong, caring ally who gave them tools for caring for themselves in the most fundamental ways for the rest of their lives.
In my years of working as a chef in eating disorder treatment, I witnessed what dietitians do in a most direct and inspiring way. They challenged me and many others to use all our culinary skills, as well as gardening, field trips, food education, and many other creative endeavors. Just as eating disorders aren’t caused by food, dietitians are not just about the food, especially in this complicated clinical setting. The best of them have a deep understanding of the incredibly complex ways that food, nutrition, medicine and psychology intertwine (and can sometimes tangle) in our lives.
The picture below is from one of the many field trips we made with our patients to Fickle Creek Farm in Efland, where they explored new perspectives on food. At Fickle Creek, the kitchen garden and at farmer’s markets, they learned how to involve all of their senses in preparingand eating food, as well as the ever-important lessons on gathering eggs and catching chickens.
Working with dietitians to create challenging and compassionate food-immersive treatment gave me a deep and profound respect for their training and dedication. Chefs and dietitians are natural partners in creating the culinary and nutritional framework to support patients in effective treatment and long-term recovery. That chapter of my life was the most fulfilling and rewarding work I’ve ever done, and I am deeply grateful to the dietitians with whom I’ve worked.
Hug a dietitian!