I often get asked why I decided to get into the field of eating disorders. My short answer is that I sort of stumbled into it. For the long answer, keep reading.
My original career interest in high school was psychology and criminal profiling. This was before the TV show Criminal Minds had become popular. I'm so cutting edge, right? I read books about serial killers and behavioral science. I wanted to study at Quantico. But the thought of carrying a gun and my fears that I couldn't pass the physical fitness requirements made me chicken out. (The ironic thing about the fitness test is that it was the running that freaked me out and I have since become a marathoner). Somehow I decided on studying nutrition instead after attending a food science workshop at Iowa State University. I was hooked.
So I completed my undergraduate degree in dietetics and the required dietetic internship and went on for my master's degree. My plan from there was to spend my career in oncology. Cancer had fascinated me ever since my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in grade school. I was ecstatic to secure my graduate research project and assistantship with a cancer center, and even more thrilled when they hired me after graduation. I worked there as a study coordinator for clinical trials.
One of the studies we did was in breast cancer survivors. Their cancer treatment put them into premature menopause which caused weight gain, and the weight gain increased their risk of cancer recurrence. So we needed to help these women reduce their risk of recurrence by helping them lose weight, right?
We put them on a 6-month diet and exercise program and they did lose weight. And then over the next 12-months after the diet was over they proceeded to regain the weight they lost, plus some. While losing weight they inevitably lost muscle mass along with body fat, and when they regained weight it was mostly just body fat. When it was all said and done their body composition was worse than when we started, their weight was higher, their self-esteem was lower, and we had effectively increased their risk of cancer recurrence.
I dug into the literature on eating behaviors and psychology. I came across this thing called "mindful eating." Really cool stuff, it looked promising. Like the type-A academic that I was, I made up a proposal backed with tons of research articles in a 3-ring binder and showed it to my boss. And I was shut down.
In the meantime, our study participants were coming back to me in distress. Their body image was horrible. Imagine having part or all of your breasts removed, basically castrating you as a woman, losing weight and regaining it and being told that your risk of the cancer coming back had increased because you couldn't control your eating well enough. You would feel like an asexual failure and a ticking time bomb for cancer. Heartbreaking, truly.
I Googled local resources that addressed the emotional and psychological side of eating and body image, and that's how I stumbled into the world of eating disorders. It immediately clicked. Everything I read made so much sense. I started applying this in my work with the cancer survivors, and became hungry for more of this direct clinical work. The research setting didn't allow for this. I was bound by protocols and limited in my capacity as a study coordinator. So I chose to leave that job.
I started a part-time private practice and dove in to training for nutrition therapy for eating disorders. Still needing to pay the bills I did some corporate wellness (hated it) and hospital dietetics (loved it). When the job for the inpatient eating disorder RD came open I was all over it. I loved the duality of working with both inpatient and outpatient eating disorder clients. I loved my coworkers. And then the hospital decided to close down the inpatient unit, citing that there wasn't enough demand (there was a need for the service, they just weren't making enough money on it). So I made my outpatient private practice a full-time gig.
And here I am today.