Just two weeks after graduating from her dietetic internship, Leslie Ely, RD, LDN, CEDRD, started working at Fairhaven Treatment Center in Cordova, Tenn. To prepare for her new role as nutrition director at the residential facility, she devoted all her time and energy to learning about each type of eating disorder she might encounter. Ely also explored ways to care for patients through nutrition education, knowing that misinformation about food often fuels behaviors during eating disorder treatment. “I primarily teach people to eat intuitively again, noticing hunger, fullness and which foods they actually enjoy,” Ely says. “I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into, but now I cannot imagine doing anything else.”
Fairhaven, a residential eating disorder facility for adolescent girls and adult women, is the only one of its kind in the area. Recognizing that the need for proper care is so critical, Ely has become a community advocate for eating disorder education to help raise awareness among the public, other health professionals and those who may be struggling with disordered eating. “If I can impact one person in one way, I am reminded that I’m exactly where I need to be,” she says.
Ely says one of the biggest challenges of her job is finding a proper balance between compassion and flexibility. “I’m often looked at as the one ‘forcing people to come face to face with their fears,’” she says. “But there’s nothing more rewarding than a patient stopping by my office to tell me how they’re able to trust their body with foods again because of skills they learned in my group and therapy sessions.” Fairhaven therapists often tell Ely that clients make progress with therapy due to their improved nutrition status.
Ely is constantly driven to learn more and continues to help and influence others. “Every day teaches me something new,” she says. “I wouldn’t do this hard job if I didn’t truly believe in the powerful effects of proper nutrition.”