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

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...

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

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

A dedicated fitness routine is a great way to stay healthy and fit, but as with everything else in life, people can take things too far. For some...

If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, you may feel overwhelmed. There are a few things you should know upfront.

First and...

More Articles

More Articles

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...

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

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

A dedicated fitness routine is a great way to stay healthy and fit, but as with everything else in life, people can take things too far. For some...

If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, you may feel overwhelmed. There are a few things you should know upfront.

First and...

Hypoglycemia is a medical term that refers to low blood sugar levels. Usually, this condition is considered a complication of type 1 diabetes. It...

Diuretics are a class of drugs that promote diuresis, a process that increases the production and output of urine. The two most common ways to...

Anorexia, the shorthand name for anorexia nervosa, is an eating disorder that affects millions of people around the world. Even though anorexia is...

Anorexia is a mental and emotional condition, but it can have devastating effects on the body. Health care professionals estimate that only about...

Every year, thousands of amateur and professional athletes struggle with anorexia athletica, a lesser-known eating disorder, and variation of...

The reason eating disorders are so hard to treat is that they are such complex conditions. It is usually a combination of factors that lead up to...

When it comes to the discussion of eating disorders, night eating syndrome is a rarely recognized and often poorly understood condition. Night...

Most descriptions and media representations of bulimia nervosa fixate on binge eating and purging, usually via self-induced vomiting. Although...

New research shows a link between people with cathartic colon disease and the eating disorder bulimia. Cathartic colon is a dangerous condition...

Energy is not just something we need to keep our computers and smartphones charged. If an electronic device can fail to function without...