EDAW 2015 with Sarah Patten

It’s no secret that I love my job. I mention it a fair bit on this blog. And one of the many things I love about my job is the colleagues I collaborate with on a regular basis. And I am truly one lucky lady to call Sarah Patten my friend and colleague. I teach my clients all about “intuitive eating” and use the same principles in my every day life…and that applies to the people I hire in my practice. I hire based on my intuition and gut sense. I hired Sarah because I intuitively knew she possessed the natural warmth, compassion, and psychological-mindedness to do this work! And after nearly two years, I can truly say I am fortunate to know her and work with her. And I know that her clients are in the best of hands. In this post, Sarah shares with us what she has learned and what she values in working with the field of eating disorders.

Every year, as we approach Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I am given the unique opportunity to reflect upon the work that I do and remind myself of the immense gratitude I feel for finding my way into the field of eating disorders. This reflection allows me to take a step back from my typical “day to day” and think about how choosing to work in this field has changed me as a person and broadened my lens of how I view the world. It’s allowed me to attain a whole new level of understanding around just how damaging our society’s attitude regarding achieving the “perfect body” through diet and exercise are and just how pervasive these messages are in our culture. It’s introduced me to some of the most intelligent, brave, hilarious, and compassionate people that I know – my clients. I am consistently amazed by the people I work with and the incredible courage and determination they show on their paths to recovery. I truly feel blessed to look forward to coming into work every day.

When I tell people I’m a dietitian, the typical response is an assumption that I’m the “food police” and my role is to help people lose weight by cutting out all of the “bad” foods in their diet. I am all too happy to reply to them that, in fact, my job is just the opposite. I get to spend my days helping those who struggle with guilt and shame around food and their bodies learn to trust themselves again by coming to understand that ALL foods can have a place in a healthful diet. I’m able to use so much more creativity in my work than I ever would be able to in a traditional RD role and am therefore able to see how helpful thinking outside the box can be. There is no template or cookie cutter path to recovery, and working in this field has opened my eyes to the beauty of thinking outside the box.

Becoming an eating disorder dietitian isn’t necessarily the traditional path for a lot of RD’s coming out of their training, but for me there was no other area of nutrition that I could see myself feeling so passionate about. I am privileged to be able to do the work I love each and every day and am constantly learning to be more compassionate and less judgmental. My clients teach me so much, and I have so much gratitude for their willingness to share their hardships, darkest moments, successes, and hopefulness with me.

Just recently, I was reminded of how powerful this work can be when I spent a session mindfully eating a piece of dark chocolate with a client who previously had felt too terrified and guilt-ridden to complete this seemingly “easy” task on her own. Her surprise and relief when she found she could both give herself permission to enjoy the chocolate and be left satisfied by a small amount was incredibly moving and it reminded me how much bravery and resilience my clients demonstrate on a daily basis when faced with eating occasions.

Another reminder of the power of recovery came recently after talking with a client who has struggled with anorexia for years and is now eating regularly and adequately, resulting in a weight that is healthy for her. Although it wasn’t easy for her to accept her changing body along the way, she was able to reflect upon how dramatically her life had changed for the better once she stopped fighting her body. She now has the energy to do the things she loves, the brainpower to get herself through her busy days, and the ability to maintain healthy relationships with those she had previously pushed away.

I’ve been fortunate to witness so many incredible journeys and have seen with my own eyes how a life can transform from rigid and limited to flexible, spontaneous, and joyful through eating disorder recovery. Without a doubt, recovery is hard work, but I can confidently say that through the observations I’ve been privileged to witness, it’s absolutely worth it.

To all of those who continue to struggle with eating disorders, I continue to hold the hope for you that you will decide to embark on the journey to recovery – your life is waiting and you deserve to embrace that life 100%!