As Diana grew up, she was exposed to unhealthy attitudes about food and body image in the world of competitive dance. “I was around eating disorders and disordered eating way more than I realized,” she said. This exposure, in combination with her love and passion for food, cooking, and science, inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition, and Diana eventually became a Registered Dietitian (RD).
First, Diana worked in the weight loss industry. But she quickly learned that she didn’t subscribe to that approach to wellbeing. “Weight loss wasn’t ‘fixing’ a lot of problems. Dieting wasn’t working long-term. It caused me to reevaluate the beliefs set up by my education around nutrition, and the media messages that weight loss ‘fixes’ everything.”
Through this reevaluation, Diana was led into the world of eating disorder treatment. She simultaneously pursued a dietetic internship at the Bronx VA Medical Center, and a Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition at New York University. Her internship preceptor at the Bronx VA noted Diana’s strength at counseling and connected her to Melanie Rogers, a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian who founded a nutrition company in New York City called Balance Eating Disorder Treatment Center. Diana joined their team, which specialized in eating disorders, and eventually took on a management role running their intensive outpatient and day treatment programs.
Diana had discovered her niche. The combination of nutrition and science, with the interpersonal dynamics and psychological components of eating disorders, fit her to a tee. “This is what I’m meant to do!” she said. “I’m good at analyzing and working with people. I love the field.”
Diana began to refer Balance clients to Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists (EDRS) for additional meal support. When Diana eventually left her position at Balance and moved to San Diego, EDRS had spread nationwide and Founder, Greta Gleissner, asked Diana to join the team. She eagerly accepted the offer and took the title of West Coast Director of Nutrition. Diana’s responsibilities now include building EDRS’s nutrition programming, establishing management aspects of the organization, and developing in-service trainings for EDRS clinicians. But perhaps most rewarding of all, Diana works one-on-one with clients.
To be a part of a client’s journey as their care provider involves seeing them in some of their most vulnerable states. Diana is honored to be trusted in that process, noting, “To be witness to the struggle that is an eating disorder, and gradually watch them progress, come into their own and find their voice – that’s a really beautiful thing to me.”
Diana describes the client’s journey as one which often begins “in a place where the eating disorder voice is all-encompassing, and then they slowly figure out what their preferences are, what their needs are, what their own belief system is. Often, clients haven’t figured that all out. Being able to witness how, as they get better nourished, their own cognition comes through – that’s a really powerful part of the process.”
The stage when a client is controlled by the disorder is often the most challenging. Diana explains, from a scientific standpoint, the connection between food and brain. “When a client is actively using behaviors and is malnourished, they cannot see through the haze of the eating disorder.” Once clients emerge from the malnourished haze, they can begin to discover and allow for their own food preferences. For instance, if they sense they want ice cream, they eat ice cream. And Diana is with them along the way. “I’m there helping to facilitate what they want their relationship with food to be like.”
Not only do Diana’s academic and professional experiences qualify her to partner with clients on their journeys, but so too does her own personal work with food and wellness. ”There were points in my life where my food choices weren’t completely intuitive. As I’ve gone through this work, my own relationship with food, while always stable, has really flourished. I am able to continuously check-in with my own preferences and needs, and that wasn’t always easy for me to do.”
Practicing what she preaches is very important to Diana. “If I’m telling a client that self-care is important – which means not only do you need to eat your meals and your snacks, and drink water, and honor your preferences, but also practice recovery strategies like listening to music and taking a break – that’s a reminder to me, too! I am able to honor my needs better than I ever would have before I entered this career.”
Of course, working with clients who have eating disorders comes with great challenges, too. Foremost, Diana points out, “The client has to want to get better, and it’s heartbreaking when that’s not the case.” She works hard to help her clients identify even just a small bit of either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Then, she enlists them to drive the process. Diana says, “I’m not one to set goals for the client. Rather, I have them set their own goals. It’s about honoring where that client is in that moment, and enlisting them in the process to figure out where we can go from there, what feels realistic and attainable in terms of small behavior change.”
Along the path towards recovery, clients will invariably experience resistance or ambivalence. At these points, Diana encourages them. “Take one step. Just take one step. It’s going to be really uncomfortable, and it’s not going to be easy. But, just dip your toe in and, eventually, that leads to diving into the recovery process. Look at what is possible.”
Diana emphasizes the importance of having clear motivators. She advises clients to surround themselves with things and people that encourage them to stick the course. “Whether it’s support groups, supportive friends and families, continuing with your outpatient team even when you don’t want to. Just show up. Pick one thing that you can do, and start there.”
Even when there are setbacks, acknowledging any progress is vital. Diana explains, “A lot of our clients have a harsh inner critic, and it’s vital to acknowledge what has been done. It’s important to fill your cup back up, instead of continuing to look at everything that isn’t right.” There is always something positive and courageous to acknowledge. Sometimes, it just takes a partner (or several!) on the journey to help you refill your cup.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and feel you need assistance from a recovery coach during the holiday season, Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists can help. Call 1-866-525-2766 or fill out our contact form and someone will be in touch with you soon.