Riana’s Path from Struggling with Disordered Eating to Treating it Holistically

I love food! It offers us such great pleasure in life. I want to help my clients to love food (again) too!

I support my clients to let go of guilt and fear around eating and instead slow down, tune in, and savor every bite of their meals. 

My interest in food and nutrition started early; I grew up in Northern California in a Spanish-Italian family that was privileged enough to enjoy home-cooked meals together. My grandparents were sheep, chicken, and vegetable farmers and I played in the dirt A LOT. They taught me how to grow food and care for the earth – and in many ways care for myself. Camping with my family was a culinary feast. Ours was always the campsite with fresh vegetables and we often shared our bounty with fellow campers. We didn’t have a lot, but we always had fresh food and each other. 

While all that sounds like sunshine and rainbows, I also learned at a young age that some bodies were valued more than others. Like many other children of the 80s, I watched the women in my family become obsessed with low-fat everything (y’all remember Entenmann’s??) and they were always “watching their weight.” They never seemed to have a kind thing to say about their bodies; the general tone was one of annoyance and disgust.

That gave me the clear notion that bodies were a source of shame and meant to be hated. Let’s just say I never grew up with a strong sense of self or a hearty dose of self-esteem. While I had (and currently still have) thin-privilege, those messages were drilled into me time and time again.  I always felt like I was chasing some invisible, unattainable goal.

Deciding to study nutrition seemed like a no-brainer – maybe I could finally figure this stuff out and “fix it.”

I ‬studied Clinical Nutrition & Food Science at the University of California at Davis and after several short stints of working in clinical research laboratories, trying my hand at organic farming (I lived in a tent and played in the dirt again for a year along the Santa Cruz coast), and teaching in the public school system, I went on to complete my Masters degree in Nutrition Research at Bastyr University. I wrote my thesis on the flavonoid and mineral content of dark chocolate, analyzing samples of cacao from all over the world. I worked in commercial kitchens and as a personal chef, yet what is most fulfilling for me today is my one on one work with clients, supporting them in honing new skills, as well as their sense of agency. 

Behind the scenes, I also struggled with burnout, hormone imbalances, anxiety and depression – all of which required me to repeatedly slow down, recalibrate, and develop better boundaries and means of self care. I struggled with disordered eating and multiple eating disorders (yes, plural, going from one extreme, anorexia, to the other, binge eating disorder) in college and into grad school. I felt so ashamed and devastated to see something that was my basis of nourishment and means of connection, being used as a tool to numb, isolate, and maintain any semblance of control.

Worst of all, my disordered behaviors created seemingly never-ending feelings of shame and guilt. I remember going home for winter break, and my friends and family telling me how “great” I looked, despite actively wrestling with an eating disorder inside. They had no idea what was going on. It was so confusing to my sense of self to be praised for something that was slowly, and literally draining the life out of me.

It wasn’t until a classmate finally asked if I was OK, that I realized how bad things had gotten.

He was so caring and kind, and I could see how worried he was. It was the first time anyone had said something to me, and the first time I realized others might be able to see how much I was struggling. That was a huge wake up call. I was having a hard time keeping up with my schoolwork and trouble staying focused in class. I took a leave of absence for a term and I got help. It was one of the hardest and best decisions I ever made for myself  –admitting and accepting that I needed help! I did the work. I read all the books. I practiced new behaviors and I learned better coping skills. I worked on my self-talk.

I realized how much (at that time) disordered eating was normalized and even encouraged and celebrated  in the nutrition field. I did a lot of unlearning when it came to the messages of diet culture that were hardwired in me. I talked about my experience. Eating disorders (and the feelings of shame they tend to create) thrive in isolation. It was time to break that cycle.

I became a dedicated athlete, showing up to movement with a sense of appreciation and meeting my body where it is, rather than punishing or forcing myself through more depletion.

More often than not, it involves slowing down and tuning in more: training smarter rather than training harder. Learning how to respect and care for my body again. Learning to trust my body. Choosing adequate rest rather than draining myself to meet a deadline. Redefining my sense of achievement and concept of “enough.” More engagement, less deliberating. More tuning into what’s good, rather than what might have been, or what society tells me I “should” be doing. More acceptance and compassion, less judgment.

Empowering People Who Struggle with Disordered Eating

Due to my personal work and journey, I specialize in empowering people to create and maintain a meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle, supported by balanced nutrition, stress management, quality sleep, movement, and healthy relationships (whether that is with food, self or others). We teach what we need to learn.

I followed a career path that allowed me to pair my respect for scientific research alongside my passions for food and health, while taking a practical, individualized, and realistic approach to wellness that always emphasizes balance.

Something can seem “healthy” in theory, or when viewed through a very narrow lens, yet is not always sustainable or realistic in practice, for a given individual. Worst of all, it may come at a great cost or detriment to other areas of life. What is considered “healthy” for one person, may not serve someone else. 

What sticks out most to me in my long road to healing, is that there is no one right path to recovery and health.  Everyone is worthy of a little refuge to support their recovery. That starts with kindness. Recovery can also be such a long journey – we all deserve a witness to validate our experiences and help us to continue to move forward. 

No matter where my clients may be in their journeys with food and their bodies, I love meeting them where they are in their process.

If you’d like to work with me, schedule here »

By Riana Giusti MS, CN – Schedule an appointment here »