Afraid to See a Nutritionist for Eating Issues that Remain

By January 9, 2013

Years ago, during my late high school and early college years, I struggled with a severe eating disorder that included under-eating and over-exercising. Since that time, I’ve been in recovery and have managed to ‘move on’ with my life and professional career while maintaining quasi-normal eating habits and a healthy exercise routine. Yet, I still count calories for every bite that goes into my mouth, and I struggle with fringe difficulties such as low blood count. I also utilize inordinate amounts of artificial sweetener and cringe at the thought of consuming refined sugar; my struggle began years ago when my sister was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Yet, despite these abnormalities, I am far removed from my former obsessions that included hours of daily exercise, often in the middle of the night, as well as fear of eating at all and/or a refusal to eat anything with any grams of fat. After years of healing, I have come to find that focusing too much attention either on my weight (I haven’t looked at my scales in years, even when I go to the doctor) or on food itself, is a trigger for me to spiral further back into old habits. Yet, I seem to have reached a barrier that has kept me from releasing the need to trust my body’s sense of fullness, or to drop sweeteners in favor of moderate amounts of sugar. I’m under the care of a psychiatrist and medical doctor, but I cannot decide whether to see a nutritionist in order to attack the vestiges of these eating issues, or to avoid doing this in case (as I fear) it will further exacerbate the situation. What if she/he encourages me to “learn more” about food values and/or the negatives of what I’m currently eating? I fear that I’d then shut down and react in familiar ways by further restricting rather than becoming freer. What should I do? – Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

First, let me commend you for the amazing progress you’ve made in your years of recovery. It is very positive that you are able to clearly articulate the inner conflicts and fears that remain regarding calorie counting and consuming sugar—and that you are seeking direction to resolve these issues.

The first question that comes to my mind, however, is if you have discussed your concerns with your psychiatrist. Since he (or she) knows your whole history, he would be able to advise you regarding the best person to counsel you (or may provide insight himself). A nutritionist who specializes in disordered eating and understands triggers could be very helpful, but you may benefit more from a therapist who can guide you in overcoming your fears. Let me just say that an experienced nutritionist would not take a negative or obsessive approach to teaching you. Check out the article “Finding a Nutritionist” to help you further assess your needs, but ideally, your psychiatrist would recommend someone specifically if you both decide to take that course of action. Keep in mind also that before committing to regularly seeing any health care provider, it’s okay to question them about their philosophies and counseling techniques to assure that you are a good fit.

I am a bit concerned by your comment that you consume “inordinate amounts of artificial sweetener.” Although most experts believe that moderate amounts are safe, there are some who are concerned about the long-term effects of excessive amounts. For a more in depth discussion of this topic, read the article “Sugar Substitutes – Are They Okay?

Regarding your fears about refined sugar, it is true that many people are consuming far too much today, which is contributing to unhealthy weight gain. But small, moderate amounts of sweets can be part of overall healthy eating. There is no need to worry that you will develop juvenile diabetes. All carbohydrates are broken down to sugar; we just want to avoid excessive amounts of the simple ones, which don’t give us sustained energy. I have a couple of other articles that you might find helpful: “The Truth about Carbs” and “Eating Treat Foods Without Guilt.”

Although we have lots of helpful resources here on our site, I strongly encourage you to pursue individual counseling to help you overcome your lingering fears and move forward. Your future is bright!