Confessions Of A Manhattan Nutritionist: Confronting Bingers And 'Emotional Eaters'

nutritionist on bingers and emotional eaters

"Much of my job is like being a therapist," says a Manhattan-based nutritionist of her practice.

The nutritionist, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, says that her relationship with her clients often becomes intimate as she pushes clients to examine how their eating habits are tied to psychological issues. "I see a lot of people who can't make a connection between what they're eating with their emotional issues."

Thin, fit and tall, the nutritionist says that she charges clients an initial consultation fee of $275. From there, each session costs $120. It's rare for a treatment to go well beyond $1,500. (Some patients are fortunate to have insurance plans that will cover what she called "dietary surveillance" treatment.)

Nutritionists -- who earn an average of $52,250 a year -- are in a fast-growing profession that's predicted to keep expanding, as half of the country is expected to be obese by 2030. As of 2012, 2 out of 3 Americans already is either obese or overweight. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field, which had some 64,000 professionals as of 2010, will grow 20 percent by 2020.

The nutritionist interviewed by AOL Jobs has a master's degree in nutrition and says that she uses cognitive behavioral techniques to help clients recognize the root of some of their bad eating habits. For instance, she urges clients to keep a food journal, recording everything they eat in a day. "It's shockingly helpful," she says.

And what is the most common bad habit her patients have? "Binge eating," she says.

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There are the occasional patients who, in one sitting, gorge on "pints of ice cream, full packages of Oreos or even full watermelons." (In such cases, she frequently will work in tandem with psychotherapists.) But many patients just are seeking a few "small tweaks"-- so that they can lose 10 to 30 pounds. These clients need a little "cracking of the whip" to do the things they know they should be doing: Cutting out processed foods, sodas and limiting portion sizes. (Portions shouldn't ever really be larger than a fist, she says.) And of course, exercising.

While she sometimes has seen patients for years, she says that on average she treats clients for a few months, though some treatments last just a few weeks. She says she's usually seeing a roster of five to 12 clients, but meets with each privately.

What's consistent among all her clients? They are "high-functioning professionals, who are stressed." Such clients, she says, are used to "controlling every aspect of their life, so they use food as an outlet for relief." And in the most extreme cases they "can't control" their eating.

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She has had clients lose as much as 75 pounds on her watch. All clients get a weekly food calendar, so they track their habits, which, the nutritionist says, is a process that greatly helps monitor eating habits.

Losing weight is a process that's "like pulling teeth," she says, but it's common for her clients to shed the weight at a rate of one to two pounds a week.

One challenge in her job: The overzealous patient who thinks he needs to cut out all fat or all carbohydrates. Some patients come in thinking that "eating a piece of bread is blasphemy," she says, and she blames a "Prohibition-style" diet industry. She encourages her clients, much to their shock, to indulge in moderation. Putting a little pancetta or bacon on your Brussels sprouts is "just the right balance," she says.

Have any clients become too demanding? The nutritionist had no complaints, but she did concede that she has had clients, sitting in a restaurant, email her asking her to help them choose a dish from a menu. "I don't mind," she says. "I try to make myself available."

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Dan Fastenberg

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.

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