Eating Disorder Recovery: Food Exchanges vs. Calories

When you start treatment for an eating disorder, one of the essential goals is to learn how to make good food choices. There are two common options: counting calories or using the food exchange system. Each of these options takes a slightly different approach.

There is some debate as to which method is better for people recovering from eating disorders. It's important to look at each method and weigh the pros and cons.

Food Exchange System

The food exchange system was initially put together by the American Dietetic Association back in 1950. The goal was to give average people quick and easy guidelines so that they would build a nutritious meal. The idea was to categorize food into similar groups. To create a balanced meal, people selected one option from each category.

As our understanding of food and nutrition grew, the food exchange system was revised several times over the decades. The most recent revision was in 2013.

Some feel the food exchange system is the best option for people recovering with eating disorders because it gives them clear and straightforward guidelines to help them balance portions. There is less guesswork involved, and less time struggling over calorie counting (a habit that many people with food disorders are trying to break). Streamlining choices like this can help reduce anxiety about planning meals. Advocates of this system say it helps teach people with food issues what proper portions look like.

Those who criticize the food exchange system feel that the nutritional value of foods found within one category can vary too much. Someone who restricts calories can fall into a pattern of choosing the absolute lowest calorie foods in each group, thus missing their daily targets by a few hundred calories per day. Some argue it's too simplistic and doesn't really teach people to make better decisions.

Calorie Counting

Some argue that the only way for those with eating disorders to reach their nutritional goals accurately is for them to weigh, count, and add up calories. This is the only way to ensure a person will hit their target calorie goals so that they stand a better chance of hitting their target weight goals.

Learning to count calories accurately can give a patient more control and better prepare them to maintain recovery in any given situation in the future.

Those who oppose calorie counting feel that a person in recovery, particularly in the beginning, may feel more stressed as they watch the calories add up. They may struggle more with open-ended choices about what to eat and get overwhelmed about balancing their meals.

Which Way Is Best

Like with so many things in therapy, a lot depends on the individual. This is something to discuss with your nutritional counselors. You might want to try both ways for a while to see which method works for you.

Sources: Eating Disorder Hope, Healthline

Photo: Pexels

More Articles

Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous type of eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of weight gain, extremely restrictive eating habits, and...

The first rule of eating disorders is not to talk about eating disorders—at least, that's what your eating disorder will tell you.

Many...

It may sound unbelievable, but people can suffer from a severe eating disorder and not even know it. You would think just looking in a mirror...

As the discussion around eating disorders becomes less and less taboo, a growing number of high-profile celebrities have begun to talk about their...

It is hard for someone without an eating disorder to understand why someone suffering from anorexia nervosa would go without food. Most people...

More Articles

More Articles

Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous type of eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of weight gain, extremely restrictive eating habits, and...

The first rule of eating disorders is not to talk about eating disorders—at least, that's what your eating disorder will tell you.

Many...

It may sound unbelievable, but people can suffer from a severe eating disorder and not even know it. You would think just looking in a mirror...

As the discussion around eating disorders becomes less and less taboo, a growing number of high-profile celebrities have begun to talk about their...

It is hard for someone without an eating disorder to understand why someone suffering from anorexia nervosa would go without food. Most people...

What causes someone to develop an eating disorder? Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to answer this question. Stress, emotional trauma, cultural...

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent binging and purging, a destructive cycle that often leaves bulimic...

Laxative abuse is a common practice among people struggling with eating disorders that involve purging, such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia...

Most people find holidays stressful, but the thought of facing holidays can be overwhelming for a person with an eating disorder. If a special day...

Even though most people have some awareness of bulimia, it’s important to remember that the signs and symptoms will often manifest themselves...

Susan Dey first rose to fame in her role as a charming, innocent looking girl named Laurie Partridge on ‘The Partridge Family’, a television...

Eating disorders often do more than just affect a person’s body weight. In extreme cases, disordered eating habits can cause severe malnutrition,...

Your metabolism is the many different chemical reactions that your body undergoes to sustain your life. One of the main functions of the...

Eating disorders are the most deadly of all psychological disorders. Ginging, purging, and starving oneself can have multiple effects on the body...

Bulimia is a very serious disorder that can have severe health consequences. It's not just a choice someone makes so that they can eat more of...