Last month, I had the privilege to attend the Hungry for Hope Summit 2018 hosted by FINDINGbalance. If you haven’t checked out FINDINGbalance yet, please do! They are “the leading Christian resource for DAILY help with eating and body image issues, including self-tests, online support, curriculum and 600+ videos.” I’m so thankful an organization like this exists and thrives.
This 2-day seminar for clinicians and community members was held in Franklin, Tennessee. It had the feel of an: (1) an eating disorder symposium + (2) a physiology or neurobiology class + (3) church, all at the same time. At times throughout the weekend, I was overwhelmed with information, while other times I was overwhelmed with emotion. Since returning, I’ve been wanting to sit down to process the whole experience.
The concept of heart change came up a few times throughout the weekend, and then popped up again in my local church’s sermon the next day. Another theme I was noticing was relationships. Heart change AND relationships in the healing of an eating disorder…those were some of my take aways.
If only I knew about the idea of heart change when I first started working in this field. Sigh. It would have saved me from carrying a huge, heavy backpack of burdens during the first few years of being a dietitian in the ED field. See, I thought it was my job to change people.
Afraid of food? I will teach you ALL the good things about food, demystify ALL the lies you’ve heard about diets, give you reassurance and encouragement until you can successfully eat EVERY item on your fear food list.
Underweight? I’ll make up the perfect meal plan that is specific to all your preferences and individualized to your needs, I will look over every detail in your food records to see if you are following it, carefully monitor your weight change, coach you through meals, meet with your family to give them tips on supporting you, call the nurse at your school to make sure you’re being monitored at lunchtime, and on and on. I wanted to micromanage my patients because if they didn’t get better, I was failing them.
It. Was. Exhausting.
I’m not saying these are bad. It is very helpful and needed and good…signs of a good dietitan. However, for most (or all?) people struggling with eating disorders, the problem is rooted much deeper than behaviors. It’s a soul-level issue that a dietitian cannot solve.
“First clean the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean too.” Mt 23:26
I was trying so hard to help clean the outsides of my patients’ cups, while I stayed far away from the insides. After all, that was the therapist’s job, right? I don’t have a degree in psychology, so I’m gonna stay away from the insides!
But guess what I’ve been recognizing? The insides contain more than just your brain and thoughts. Your heart is in there too! There’s such a difference between the two…do you see and feel the difference?
The good news is that God is the one who can and wants to transform hearts. Learning and understanding this fact takes away the pressure of saving my clients. I can hand over the weights of the heavy backpack to God because he can carry those burdens. This is much less exhausting.
The scary news about understanding heart-change made me question what I was doing as a dietitian trying to treat eating disorders. If it’s not really about the food, but deeper stuff that I’m not fully trained in, WHAT IS MY PURPOSE?! AH!
While it’s not my job to CHANGE people, there is an important role for us dietitians. First off, clients still need support in the area of food. Even though this isn’t deep, soul-healing work, meal plans and nutrition education are imperative in the treatment of eating disorders. With the burden lifted of forcing people to change, I can provide that information and support with less worry about its effectiveness. For example, some people have great success with meal plans, yay! Other people don’t…but it’s probably not because the meal plan isn’t good enough…it’s likely because they aren’t ready for outside change because their insides need transforming first.
Even though I don’t have the power to change your heart, my role as a dietitian is to come alongside you before/during/after this heart-transformation process. To listen. To ask questions. To let you feel. To remind you of the hurdles you’ve already jumped when you’re intimidated by the ones in front of you. To give hope. To tell you that, yes, it’s hard. This is the relationship piece.
Relationships aren’t just a tool in eating disorder recovery. I believe they are a requirement. We aren’t made to live alone, especially when we’re fighting battles like eating disorders. I encourage you to find a healthy, supportive community if you don’t already have one. If you’re having trouble finding one, that’s where FINDINGbalance can be another resource for you.
I’m talking about relationships where you have the freedom to be vulnerable. Where you can be honest. Where you can make mistakes without fear of rejection. Where you can be truly known and loved. This was God’s intention for us when we were created.
It’s clear that relationships were abound at the Hungry for Hope Summit in Franklin last weekend. Husbands with wives, moms alongside their daughters, individuals in the midst of the recovery process connecting with their fellow support group members. It gave me the chance to reflect on the RD-client relationships I’ve had in the past and be grateful for them. The whole experience was wonderful timing, giving me HOPE as I head back to work after an almost 2-year break…