Courtenay Vickers, RD, and Emily Tam, RD
March 2, 2020, 1:01 p.m.
March is Nutrition Month and this year, Canadian dietitians are uniting to highlight the broad scope of their work. Each year, Dietitians of Canada works hard to promote Nutrition Month and educate the public about what dietitians do. This year’s Nutrition Month theme, More Than Food, therefore feels very true for many dietitians, including those working in the field of eating disorders and disordered eating.
Dietitians promote eating nutrient-rich food, of course. But that’s not all. Dietitians recognize that ‘healthy’ eating is about More Than Food – that in talking and thinking about it, we need to consider so much more than the act of eating nutritious food. While they work in many types of settings and fulfill diverse roles, a thread that ties them together is the understanding that the relationship between health and food has multiple aspects. For dietitians practicing in the areas of eating disorder prevention and treatment, understanding the multi-faceted nature of this relationship is especially important.
So, how DO dietitians help with More Than Food when it comes to prevention and treatment for eating disorders?
“We focus on so much more than nutritional adequacy”, says Susan Osher MSc, RD, CEDRD. Dietitians are often viewed as having a singular focus on the food itself, when in reality, they consider it part of a bigger picture. Vincci Tsui, RD explains, “It's a myth that dietitians tell people ‘what’ or ‘how much’ they should eat. In fact, I rarely talk about food and nutrients in my sessions, and let my clients do most of the talking. Many of them have shared with me that they appreciate having a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about their relationship with food, eating, and their bodies.” Cora Loomis, RD says, “I love to help people connect to all the different pieces of the puzzle that contribute to their health”.
“More Than Food means addressing client’s overall health and wellbeing and finding ways to improve it, by optimizing one’s relationship with food and body”, contends Yulia Khayat, RD. Emily Paige Mork, BScHN, RD adds, “[More Than Food] because how you feel matters too”.
Nicole Pin, MAN, RD shares her perspective working in a university setting: “I encourage our campus community to engage in balanced behaviours that enhance overall wellbeing. This includes sustainable habits, the importance of community, joyful movement, and literacy when it comes to marketing and media influences”.
“We live in a society driven by diet culture”, notes Lindsay Gervais, RD. It can be difficult to not internalize the vast number of messages about which dietary patterns and which types of bodies are ‘best’, and to simply enjoy eating. “[S]ometimes we forget about the other important aspects of eating: sharing a meal with the people you love, family traditions, and learning about a different culture”.
Dietitian duo Hannah Robinson, RD and Ali Eberhardt, RD offer this perspective: “Eating well is about having freedom with food so you can enjoy the taste and experience of eating, share meals with the people you care about, and fuel your body so it’s able to do the things you love”.
“I support people with More Than Food by helping people rediscover food enjoyment”, says Richelle Tabelon, RD. Rhea Lewandoski, RD sums up her position similarly: “I work with individuals to discover and develop their relationship with food and their body”. “Together with my clients, we strive to find variety and flexibility in nutrition, challenge [diet culture] rules and perceptions, nourish our body and mind, practice self care, and [put] joy back into eating again”, states Amy Chow, RD.
Grace Wong, CEDRD-S thinks about those actively struggling with an eating disorder and how diet culture can make healing that much more difficult: “Eating can be very challenging and intimidating in a culture where food decisions are moralized. A positive eating experience is more important than what is on their plate. Letting go of expectations of what we should eat is often the first step in changing our relationship with food".
It’s also important not to forget that the eating environment plays a role here too. Sue Ward, RD shares, “I explore ways to create a nourishing eating environment with my clients, because I believe this is just as important as the foods they choose to eat”.
Mun Cho, RD reminds us, “Food holds deep meaning depending on our culture and upbringing. Let’s not forget that.” According to Alida Iacobellis, MHSc, RD, “Your food identity encompasses how you feel about food, what place it holds in your life, how you like to eat, your food preferences, and any social/cultural/religious significance food holds for you”.
Dietitians recognize food as a form of connection explicitly in their practice. “I help people to enjoy their favourite foods by including these foods in cooking, social events and doing their favourite activities”, says Laura Morrison, RD. Katie Haneke, BASc, MAN, RD also incorporates this in her work: “I encourage my clients to continue to include foods that are a part of their celebrations, traditions, and/or culture in their diet”.
This Nutrition Month, these dietitians, and others across the country, invite Canadians to adopt a broad definition of healthy eating that includes not only the 'what' but the 'how'. It’s also a time for considering how dietitians help with More Than Food.
If you are experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder and would like to find a dietitian to work with on repairing your relationship with food and your body, check out NEDIC’s service provider directory.
Courtenay Vickers is the program coordinator for Body Brave, a national registered charity dedicated to helping people recover from disordered eating and eating disorders, by providing the best in community treatment as well as breaking down systemic barriers to recovery. Learn more about Body Brave here.
Emily Tam is a special projects lead for NEDIC.
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