What, exactly, is eating psychology? For a lot of us, when we hear the term, we immediately think of eating disorders. That’s certainly a part of the eating psychology landscape, but it’s not the whole picture. The psychology of eating refers to the many ways that our thoughts and emotions impact—and are impacted by—what and how we eat.
So what does it mean to be a professional working in the field of eating psychology? There are two main routes you can go. The first is working with people who are suffering from eating disorders. The second is working with those whose struggles around the psychology of eating may not have reached that level, but are presenting real challenges that are holding them back from living their fullest lives.
Here’s what you need to know about each option.
Clinical Eating Disorders
If you want to work with clients who are struggling with eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia, and extreme obesity, for example, you’ll have to complete a traditional clinical psychology training, or a specialized training for dietitians.
A clinical psychology PhD program is typically completed in about five to seven years, and after that, many states require a training period, in which you work with a licensed clinical psychologist. To become a licensed therapist, you must complete a Master’s Degree, which usually takes about two to three years, and to become a registered dietitian, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree—both programs are also often followed by post-graduate training, testing, or coursework.
Providing support to people suffering from eating disorders is important work, as these conditions often pose immediate threats to the client’s physical health and emotional well-being. It is also very specialized work. Choosing to focus on eating disorders means you’re deciding to work with a unique population with a highly specific set of needs.
Eating Psychology Coaching
The other route, which is what we offer here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, is an eight-month training program that prepares you to work with a wide range of people who are facing challenges or concerns around eating.
They may be struggling with overeating, calorie counting, chronic dieting, some binge eating, or unwanted emotional eating, for example. All of these concerns, while they wouldn’t be necessarily be classified as clinical eating disorders, can have a major impact on the client’s quality of life.
These eating concerns are often windows into larger struggles in a client’s life. Someone who struggles with emotional eating, for example, may be turning to food as a substitute for a larger emotional need that has gone unmet. By addressing a client’s eating habits, a coach can often help the client make even more significant shifts in their life.
So many of us experience concerns around eating at some point in our lives. Often, because these issues may not be as dramatic as eating disorders, we allow them to continue without ever truly addressing them. But they can be major barriers to happiness and success, and working with a coach to overcome them can be hugely impactful.
Why do it?
Whether it’s working as a therapist or a coach, how do you know if it’s the right fit for you? There are a number of reasons why most of us choose this route. For a lot of coaches and therapists, it’s because they’ve experienced struggles with eating themselves in the past and now have a deep desire to help others going through the same thing.
There are also quite a few professionals who are interested in how a client’s eating habits can be the jumping-off point for larger life changes and are intrigued by the topic. Whatever your reason, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be perfect to help others. Maybe you don’t have all of your own eating concerns completely sorted out yet—but that’s okay.
What you need is enough of a grasp on the issues at hand to be able to compassionately support and guide your clients as they do the work to take positive steps forward in their lives. The writer Richard Bach said, “We teach what we most need to learn.”
Yes, you need to have done enough work on your own challenges to have gained some meaningful insights to pass on, but what’s most important is the ability to empathize and meet your clients exactly where they’re at.
Become a Mind Body Eating Coach
Now enrolling for October 2023.
Make real, lasting change - in your life and the lives of others using eating psychology coaching tools.
Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast
Get notified when new episodes go live.