How to Become a Specialist in the Eating Disorder Field


Eating disorders are more widely known among the average person these days, however, this awareness has not yet translated to a reduction in diagnoses. As the impact of eating disorders continues to grow, so does the eating disorder treatment field. Many individuals passionate about fighting these disorders and supporting those struggling are coming together in various capacities such as research, advocacy, therapy, dietetics, and medical support.

If you are interested in joining the fight against eating disorders, it may seem daunting as to where to begin. After all, eating disorders are a specialized field which require thorough education and understanding to effectively treat.

Below are some helpful tips that can get you started on your path as an eating disorder specialist.

Ask, Ask, & Ask Again

Eating disorders are incredibly complex and require a great deal of education and experience to comprehend enough to treat. If your intention is to specialize in this population, it is important that you get very comfortable with not having all of the answers and not being afraid to ask.

No one can become a specialist in something until they first acknowledge that they are not currently a specialist. This means acknowledging that passion does not equal knowledge. You can be incredibly passionate about combating eating disorders without having the knowledge necessary to treat or advocate. Begin with humility, acknowledging that you have a great deal to learn.

Once you do so, get excited about the learning process. Do not consider your lack of education or understanding as a negative. Instead see it as an opportunity to absorb what is needed for you to truly help in this field. Get curious about the aspects of eating disorders that interest you.

Choosing a Profession

If you explore the eating disorder field with excitement and curiosity as mentioned above, you will likely gain an awareness of which aspects of it interest you the most. Since eating disorders are multi-faceted biological, psychological, and social disorders, there are many professions that help to treat them.

Therapists provide the clinical work of exploring what is beneath the eating disorder that mediates the behavior. They support the individual in gaining awareness of their habits, cognitions, and patterns. They also support individuals in building more effective skills to combat and replace eating disorder behaviors.

Registered Dietitians are involved in the nourishment and body image piece of eating disorder treatment. These individuals specialize in exploring the medical impact malnourishment and eating disorder behaviors have had on the individual’s body and how this can be healed through appropriate nourishment. They work with the Therapists to explore the clinical side of the eating disorder and support the individual in turning this into behavior change at the table, in the grocery store, at restaurants, and in the kitchen.

Psychiatrists support individuals struggling with medications that might support reduction of eating disorder behaviors as well as stabilize any co-occurring mental health disorders.

Doctors and Nurses help with the medical stabilization and monitoring of individuals with eating disorders to determine the impact the disorder has had on the body and work with the team on how to heal this. Individuals in the medical field that work with eating disorders are often trained psychiatric nurses and/or doctors that have an awareness of the intersection between mental and medical health.

A Woman in counseling

Researchers might engage in any of the professions above but also engage in studies in order to better understand eating disorder risk factors, behaviors, recovery trajectories, and effective treatment solutions.

Finally, eating disorder advocates engage on the front-lines of the fight against eating disorders, often dedicating websites, blogs, and social media accounts to increasing awareness and providing resources and support.

Choosing which profession you are most passionate about will help you be the most useful you can be in the eating disorder field.

Specializing in Eating Disorder Treatment

Unfortunately, gaining in-class training in eating disorders is difficult to come by as many universities do not provide coursework on the subject. In fact, many doctoral programs do not even have a full course on eating disorders despite their severity and prevalence.

If you are looking to gain a better understanding of eating disorders, absolutely check your university or online universities for coursework. Additionally, many eating disorder professionals have created their own coursework and education to keep people informed.

Beyond this, the best way to gain understanding in the eating disorder field is to work in it. Whether you begin as an intern, mental health worker, or diet tech, it is possible to begin your experience without having to wait until you have a license.

To begin any of this, your best resource might be reaching out to an eating disorder professional you admire and beginning to create your network through asking questions, getting to know what they do, and hearing if they have any advice for you as you are starting out.

Credentials & Resources

Aside from receiving a license related to your chosen profession, such as Registered Dietitian, Registered Nurse, Licensed Professional Counselor/Marriage & Family Therapist/Social Worker, there are additional options for you to become certified in eating disorders.

The International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) and Academy of Eating Disorder (AED) provide certifications such as Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS), the Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD), and the Certified Eating Disorder Creative Arts Therapist (CEDCAT), and the Certified Eating Disorder Registered Nurse (CEDRN).

Professionals that have these certifications have to demonstrate clinical expertise in eating disorders through their consistent work in the field.

These sites can also provide directories of certified professionals as well as resources.

Now more than ever, eating disorder specialists are needed. If you have a passion for this population, you can absolutely be an asset to helping others recover.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 17, 2022
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About Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC

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.