Q&A with Elizabeth Saviteer

Ed Feature


This fall, we are thrilled to bring Elizabeth Saviteer, MS, CN, LMHCA, to Portland for a unique workshop on an important topic, disordered eating across the spectrum. To give you a preview of the content and approach, we asked Elizabeth Saviteer a few questions that might be on your mind as well. We we were impressed by the insight, wisdom, and expertise she has shared.

Enjoy, and please don’t wait to register for her workshop if is one you are interested in taking! The earlybird rate is only available until August 5.

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Why is it so important for nutritionists and other holistic professionals to be aware of symptoms of disorderd eating?

Disordered eating is very common and shows up in a variety of ways in our clients. Nutritionists are often the first point of contact for someone with an eating disorder, but they may be coming in for something else, such as weight loss or symptoms related to the eating disorder.

Health professionals need to know the red flags and how to assess eating disorder behavior to either help their client toward recovery or refer them to appropriate care.

Practitioners in all disciplines are likely to encounter patients with eating disorders. Because the nature of the illness is to hide and downplay symptoms, it can be easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for.

The stereotypical images we have of what people with eating disorders look like are false. People with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, ages, sexualities and socioeconomic statuses.

How is working with clients on the disordered eating spectrum different from other client interactions?

The work isn’t as straightforward. You need to focus on your relationship with your client and use more counseling skills to help motivate them to make changes.

For someone coming in with a simple GI symptom, like GERD or constipation, you can make several recommendations and the client will have an easier time implementing them.

For someone with an eating disorder, the psychology of the disorder is involved in making any changes, and often you’re asking someone to do something that feels anathema to what they believe they should be doing.

Can you share an (anonymous) example of a client of yours who showed symptoms of an eating disorder? How did you recognize them, and how did you address them in the conversation?

It’s common for someone to come in for weight loss who actually has several symptoms or full-blown eating disorder.

I worked with someone who came in for weight loss, who had been yo-yo dieting for nearly her whole life. From the beginning, I quickly got a sense that her dissatisfaction with her body was so intense that it led her to go to extremes to try to control her weight.

When I asked further about what she did to control her weight, she admitted to starving herself, abusing laxatives and then binging. Because she wasn’t coming in to work on her eating disorder, I had to assess the severity in a way that would feel safe for her to talk about. I use a gentle but direct approach to asking these sorts of questions.

I want my clients to feel that they are in caring, capable hands, that “I’ve heard it all before” and I can handle what they’re going to say and can respond with strength and compassion. I always focus on being non-judgmental and normalizing one’s struggle, and offering hope that this is something we can work on and they don’t have to suffer like this.

What are some newer developments related to this topic that you find many nutritionists aren’t yet familiar with, or that are not being addressed in most training curricula?

Health At Every Size is a critical component to working with people with eating disorders. I think it’s becoming more wide-spread, but it isn’t built into the curriculum in most programs. Health At Every Size is a weight-neutral approach to working with clients on health behaviors, and most importantly it challenges practitioners’ biases about weight and size.

I think it’s crucial that all health care providers are trained in HAES, so that we can better understand the life experiences of our clients and help them develop self-compassion, which is probably the best way for us all to take better care of ourselves.

What is the most important thing you want professionals to take away from the weekend workshop you will be teaching here in Portland in September?

Many professionals who don’t specialize in eating disorders feel overwhelmed and insecure about helping these clients. I think recognizing our limitations is a great place to start, but I want participants to leave with a sense of confidence that they can recognize an eating disorder, complete an assessment and do it in a way that is helpful for the client.

From there, I want them to have specific, concrete information and tools for working with these clients, or knowing how and when to refer these clients, so they can go out and practice to increase their effectiveness.

I want more practitioners to be competent practicing in this field and to share my experience that these are complex, intelligent, strong, courageous individuals, and that this work is incredibly fulfilling.

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