How Nutritionists and Therapists Collaborate to Support Eating Disorder Recovery

Lady in field experiencing feelings in eating disorder recovery

We all have, within us, the power to combat the challenges that come our way. Even so, doing this is a lot easier with the support of others behind us. In eating disorder recovery, that support comes in many forms.

It comes from doctors to therapists to nutritionists to family to friends and others in recovery. Research shows that the likelihood of long-term recovery increases based on the amount of support an individual has.

This is particularly true in relation to the eating disorder recovery treatment team, as the more dynamic the skills of the treatment team are, the more well-rounded an individual’s recovery becomes.

As such, effective collaboration between these team members is hugely important.

Equally Important

First, lets lay out the roles the nutritionist and therapists play in eating disorder treatment. One article aptly described that both professions help with two vital aspects of treatment – addressing “underlying psychological issues and the patient’s relationship to food [1].”

Nutritionists are crucial to an individual changing their relationship to food and understanding the reality of the role food and nourishment play in our lives. The American Dietetics Association long ago emphasized that nutritionists have “unique skills to address food-related behaviors and assist in medical monitoring [1].”

One study explains that there are varying models of how the nutritionist is included in treatment and that these “range from continuous contact with the patient and MHP throughout treatment, to direct intervention to help the patient change eating behavior (the behavioral model), to nutrition education only, to the provision of only a food plan or occasional, ad hoc sessions as requested by the MHP [1].”

For the Therapist’s side, they often become more involved later in treatment, once the acute medical risk has been reduced. Therapists help to support the emotional processing of the disordered eating behavior, recognizing that it isn’t simply a question of increasing eating behaviors but considering the mental and emotional factors the trigger and perpetuate disordered thoughts and behaviors.

Equally Informed

The nutritionist and therapist on an eating disorder recovery team are both equally intelligent and vital. However, they have different areas of expertise that the other simply cannot make up.

While they likely understand the other’s education and role tangentially, they have not spent the same amount of time learning and treating from that perspective. They are two parts of the puzzle that cannot be complete without each of them.

Effective Collaboration

One study was honest in stating that, “high level of potential medical risk to patients, differences in treatment strategies and therapeutic goals, the potential overlap of services, and the emotional intensity that accompanies intervention for eating disorders can set the stage for professional conflict that might undermine treatment [1].”

Group of ladies laughing in an eating disorder recovery teamWith this knowledge, it is crucial for professionals to consider aspects of treatment that increase their likelihood of effective collaboration.

One study found that the main reasons nutritionists and mental health professionals experienced conflict are “power struggles within teams, uncertainty regarding role boundaries and scope of practice, concerns about accountability, and disagreement on treatment strategy.”

This study also noted that one of the most effective ways in which nutritionists and therapists collaborated was to “cultivating provider networks and clarifying the collaboration plans at the outset [1].”

They further elaborated that discussing specific topics at the outset of therapy reduced the incidences of conflict, as everyone made sure they were on the same page regarding treatment.

These topics included, “(a) medium and frequency of communication; (b) content of communication; (c) providers’ treatment philosophy and approach with a particular patient; (d) how each provider defines and evaluates progress; (e) policies regarding disclosure of patient’s grievances about the counterpart; (f) level of colleagues’ training in intervention for eating disorders; and (g) emergency protocols [1].”

The truth is that professional conflicts occasionally happens, particularly when working with a high-risk individual and professionals that care so deeply about providing the best care.

The relationship between the eating disorder recovery team is similar to any other relationship in that it requires contact checking-in and communication with one another.

Rest assured that nutritionists and therapists do this often in order to provide the best care for you or your loved one.


[1] Dejesse, L. D., Zelman, D. C. (2013). Promoting optimal collaboration between mental health providers and nutritionists in the treatment of eating disorders. Eating Disorders, 21, 185-205.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published April 1, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on April 1, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.