What does it take to recover from an eating disorder? Nutritional, physical, psychological, and emotional needs must be addressed, so it helps to have a variety of professionals comprise a “treatment team.” One essential player on this team is a Registered Dietitian (RD): a health professional with an accredited university degree in nutrition and dietetics who has completed supervised hours of clinical practice and passed a credentialing exam. But not all RD’s specialize in eating disorders.
Maiken Wiese, East Coast Director of Nutrition for Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists (EDRS), is an RD who decided to devote herself to helping individuals navigate the highly complex nutritional component of recovery. Her mission is to help clients rebuild a relationship with the inherent wisdom within their body, which an eating disorder shuts off.
With palpable passion in her voice, Maiken asserts: “Nutrition is about more than just knowing what to eat or how it eat. It takes into account your feelings about food, the culture that you’re from, what you have access to.”
Maiken has always been interested in food and how we feed ourselves. She began her professional journey by obtaining a Master’s in the science of nutrition, doing research, and exploring the community’s role in what and how we eat. But she craved to learn more about the psychological counseling aspect of it. While shadowing a private practice RD who specialized in eating disorders, Maiken observed how dietitians with this specialization are able to really dig into the interplay between food and emotions. She suspected this was the perfect path for her.
So after graduating, Maiken interned at an eating disorder treatment facility. It was there that she picked up many of the philosophies that steer her work today: “I loved the messages: All foods fit into one’s life. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Everybody’s body is different.”
Next, Maiken worked at a facility focused on intuitive eating, an approach that’s aimed at individuals who are several steps into their recovery. At the same time, Maiken began working as a coach for EDRS: “Treatment facilities are crucial for many acute disorders and an important part of recovery from an eating disorder. We have the unique ability to work within an individual’s environment, giving them practical skills and support where they struggle most.”
In addition to her private practice, Maiken oversees the variety of services EDRS offers to clients and their families on the East Coast, which includes individual meal support at home or a restaurant, grocery shopping, cooking and eating a meal together, and group meal support at home or a restaurant that includes friends or family members.
Recovery must ultimately take place in people’s day-to-day lives. To help with the transition out of eating disorder patterns into healthy routines, Maiken explains: “We go to the grocery store that is closest to you, the restaurants that you actually go to. And push you to try restaurants in your neighborhood that are outside your comfort zone, but that part of you wants to try. We encourage you to incorporate the food that is accessible to you and that you want to do into your recovery.”
Support like this can be especially useful for clients stepping down from higher levels of care. Maiken reflects: “In treatment facilities, some of the people with whom I worked would struggle to apply the skills they were learning when eating on their own. Stepping down to a lower level of care, they would suddenly be taxed with doing all the shopping and food preparation on their own that they had been supplied with in treatment. For some, this was very overwhelming to manage and would lead to relapse.”
EDRS’s services are described as “gap-care”: support for people in their day-to-day lives outside of a clinical office. Not only is this intimate style of care essential for many to sustain recovery, but it is also a tremendous responsibility and honor for coaches who enter into their client’s daily life: “It’s amazing to be a part of filling in that gap,” Maiken says.
The greatest rewards for Maiken in this line of work are when she gets to “work with a client through independence—to see them flourish and apply the skills, have successes in their recovery. That is really exciting.”
“I find myself tearing up when a client says, ‘I went to the grocery store and didn’t get the diet product, I got the product that I really wanted.’ Ever fiber of their body is telling them ‘No!’ To make the decision that is recovery-focused and to take the support that is offered takes a tremendous amount of bravery. It is humbling and amazing to see how much they’re working for their recovery. To be witness to that is an incredible privilege.”
At the same time, recovery can be an arduous journey, which can be hard for a provider to witness. Maiken acknowledges, “There are definitely times when it’s really hard, when people are struggling more and you have to hold them and support them for as long as you can until they’re ready to do recovery.”
But Maiken copes well with the challenges of caregiving in eating disorder recovery, by reminding herself: “This is a field that is super challenging, but it keeps me on my toes—that is a big draw for me. There are really exciting and wonderful people in the world that are working with this population, and a wealth of inspiration among clinicians. It’s great to be a part of that community.”
Ultimately, Maiken feels profound gratitude for the work she has the privilege of doing, which not only helps others but also contributes her personal growth. She reflects, “Witnessing others go through struggles like that has helped me develop my own self-compassion.”
If you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, contact EDRS. We are here to assist in your journey to recovery.