Nutritional Education Programs

Nutritional therapy is an important component of eating disorder treatment. While counseling addresses the causes of eating disorders, nutritional therapy addresses the underlying problems: inadequate nutrition and unhealthy eating habits.

Nutritional Therapy Goals

Nutritional education programs help the patient focus on her health, rather than her weight. In nutrition therapy, the patient learns how to:

  • Avoid dieting
  • Create and plan healthy meals
  • Develop healthy eating habits (i.e., several meals per day)
  • Establish a more positive view of food and eating.

What to Expect From Nutritional Education Programs

Nutritional education programs teach patients normal eating habits, which are exempt from anxiety and guilt about eating, obsessive-compulsive behavior and purging behaviors. A dietician or nutritionist helps the patient review her current diet and outlines the steps the patient must take to adopt a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. The dietician encourages the patient to become comfortable with the idea of a normal weight range, rather than focusing on one specific number on the scale.

In order to help the patient develop healthy eating habits, the nutritional therapist works with the patient to create weekly balanced meal plans that support an adequate intake of calories. Some dieticians may even help the patient shop for groceries and prepare meals. The patient may be asked to keep a food diary to track her successes and failures. This useful tool can help patients identify events and emotions that trigger disordered eating.

Throughout the eating disorder treatment, the dietician continues to monitor the patient’s body weight, eating habits and nutrition level. If problems arise, the dietician reports this information to the patient’s treatment team.

Nutritional Therapy and Psychotherapy

Some overlap exists between nutritional education programs and psychotherapy. The nutritional therapist doesn’t just teach healthy eating habits; she also helps the patient identify the barriers to healthy eating habits, such as poor body image. Nutritional therapy often incorporates cognitive behavioral techniques to help the patient overcome these barriers.

Nutritional Therapy Challenges

Patients with eating disorders often fail to recognize the need for nutritional therapy. They inaccurately equate their months or years of calorie counting and dieting with a good understanding of nutrition. The dietician may find it difficult to overcome these entrenched ideas and convince the patient that her ideas about nutrition are distorted and harmful to her health. The patient may be very resistant to the idea that eating more, and eating previously “off limits” foods is beneficial to her health.


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The Mental Health Group. (2007). Areas of work – Eating disorders. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from