How National Nutrition Month can be Triggering for Patients

This March, National Nutrition Month is taking place. Introduced by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a way to “Eat Right Bite by Bite, National Nutrition Month campaigns for not only healthy eating but being educated and informed about ways to improve one's overall health in the form of food.

Diet culture is everywhere, and it isn’t only in the form of fads and unrealistic body image standards. It can also come in the form of lifestyle changes, such as starting a Whole30 program or monthly “health” campaigns. 

This March, National Nutrition Month is taking place. Introduced by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a way to “Eat Right Bite by Bite,” National Nutrition Month campaigns for not only healthy eating but being educated and informed about ways to improve one’s overall health in the form of food. 

Although this may seem that it encourages “healthy” eating and being mindful about the food that is put in one’s body, it can be triggering for patients who are challenged with disordered behaviors involving their eating habits. Being aware that this sort of movement can harm one’s progress when it comes to recovery from an eating disorder is vital.  

Challenges associated with National Nutrition Month:

Patients may feel threatened that they aren’t eating healthy enough. 

With the dialogue throughout the month encouraging people to eat healthy foods and learn healthier eating behaviors, patients who are struggling with an eating disorder may feel that what they are eating isn’t “healthy” enough, even though these foods might be encouraged by their nutritionist or physician. This could inhibit the progress they’ve made in a treatment program. 

Food discussions are heightened, which could put pressure on patients’ trigger points.

Many patients receiving a higher level of care for an eating disorder might not be ready to openly discuss food and eating. Because this month is all about nutrition, the dialogue will take place throughout the web and on social media. 

Foods are basically categorized into good/bad groups, which can go against the education patients are receiving from their nutritionists. 

Some patients who are receiving treatment for an eating disorder are encouraged to at some point eat foods that have once triggered their disordered behaviors. If National Nutrition Month is encouraging certain foods and not others, patients might get confused about what they should be eating.

Language like “healthy weight” and “eating right” can trigger negative thoughts and emotions. 

In ED treatment, professionals may be discouraged to use words and phrases that categorize body types or words that either approve or disapprove of foods. Seeing this language in the media can trigger patients, especially when they do not accept their body. 

Supplemental resources provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics might not serve your patients’ best course of action for their recovery. 

A great amount of research goes into the resources and programs eating disorder patients are receiving. If these patients go by the standards and guidance of National Nutrition Month, their current course of recovery could be compromised. 

How to encourage patients during National Nutrition Month 

•    Don’t mention this campaign to your patients, unless they bring it up. 
•    Reiterate the value of your patients’ current treatment program. 
•    Encourage your patients by celebrating their progress. 
•    Offer additional support and resources during campaigns like National Nutrition Month.

Some analogies:
Peanuts (legumes) are healthy for the general population but deadly to children with peanut allergies. Whole wheat bread with gluten is recommended for healthy eating but deadly to individuals with Celiac disease. Healthy eating is a global cliché that is beneficial for public health purposes but a challenge for individuals struggling with and eating disorder that are obsessed with food, calories size and shape and triggers dysfunctional eating and restriction.



Ralph Carson, LD, RD, PhD, is the Senior Clinical and Research Adviser at Eating Recovery Center. He is a clinical nutritionist and exercise physiologist with nearly 40 years of experience in the treatment of addictions, obesity and eating disorders.

Dr. Carson is an active board member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) and the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). He has earned multiple degrees, including a Bachelor of Science from Duke University; Bachelor of Health Science from Duke University Medical School; Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Oakwood College; and a Ph.D. in Nutrition from Auburn University.

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