Monday, February 4, 2013

Calorie Counting Debate

Over the past few weeks, I have spent way too much time researching various eating disorder treatment methods for an upcoming school assignment. Might not sound like the most fascinating topic to most of you, but I have found that I can't seem to get my hands on enough reading material.

For this assignment, I have chosen to take a look at all of the different approaches to treatment and argue which one is superior. Now, obviously, I'm not an expert in this field (yet), so I'm finding this assignment to be quite daunting. The treatment options seem endless- but as a way to save my sanity, I am going to focus on two general methods. 

The big debate seems to be whether to count calories or not while in recovery.

The frustrating thing about eating disorders is that treatment is such an individual thing. There is a very good chance that what works for me won't work for the next person in recovery. Each of us have a different story to tell; different upbringings, cultures, social statuses, opinions, needs, wants... everything. Just because two people are in the same treatment facility doesn't mean they will both adhere to the program rules.

Some of you might not realize that I actually spent time in two different treatment facilities last year. The first one was a more intensive, short term stay and the second one is the place I generally refer to in all of my posts. It was difficult to go from one to the other because their general philosophies were polar opposites. The first place was highly against the regimen at the second place and vise versa; one place taught us to use the exchange system and they other counted calories. One extreme or the other.

As my research continues, I'm finding that a majority of people in recovery are scared to death of counting calories and they believe that by counting, they are engaging in eating disordered behaviors. To me, of course this doesn't make any sense; calorie counting is something I firmly believe in thanks to the treatment plan I am on.

One of the most interesting things I have learned is- a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. No matter if I'm eating 200 calories in chocolate or carrots, my weight will remain the same. At first I didn't believe that was true at all, but with months of eating chocolate chips in my yogurt for breakfast and finally giving into the bacon craze, I'm a believer.

I'm no expert, but I do know one thing for sure; I can go to a birthday party and eat cake without freaking out because I know I can fit those calories it into my meal plan. At one time in my life I was against anything that wasn't considered "real" food and didn't come out of a gourmet kitchen, but those thoughts have changed. I'm surprised my parents haven't told me to lay off the Twizzlers or the Mike n' Ikes yet; sometimes they feel like a major food group.

Also, I have met people who can get by without counting calories and eat whenever they feel hungry. Trusting my hunger cues is still a major NO for me. For years I got high off that hungry feeling. It's actually kind of ironic now, when I start to feel hunger it can be triggering; like I'm doing something wrong.

I feel like I'm just typing a bunch of random nonsense, but there is a point to all of this, I promise.

Many people, myself included, often question why the relapse rate while recovering from an eating disorder is so high, but I think it's starting to make sense to me. With all of the different treatment philosophies and various variables in the patient's illness, it can seem impossible to find a perfect treatment match. 

As I continue to work on this assignment, it will be important for me to keep an open mind and stop my bias thoughts about calorie counting. In the end, recovery ultimately comes down to giving up that sense of control and trusting your treatment team- no matter what their style might be.

It is always frightening to start something new, but trust me, whether you're counting calories or not, recovery is worth it.



  1. Kelsi, I have found the same thing as well. The first treatment center I was at kind of failed--they told me that it would be okay for me to continue to lose weight, as long as I was following a meal plan. The second one used Maudsley Family Therapy (which I would be happy to tell you about for your research) for adolescents, but when I graduated and left home, they used the exchange system.

    1. Hey Sarah! It's a little disappointing to me that it often takes multiple treatment centers before a match is found- but what can you do? Everyone needs a different approach. All I know about the Maudsley method is that it's parent/child based, so I would love to hear more about it!! I'm glad to hear you have found something that works for you! :)

  2. This is such a touchy subject for eating disorders because like you said some people are clearly against all forms of counting and others like it. It's so personal that there's really no right or wrong way to go about it. It's not like someone who doesn't count calories is more "healed" than someone who does. I personally like to count calories because if I don't I won't get enough food. It's that simple for me. I don't think it matters as long as you are doing what is best for you. <3

    1. Tayla, I agree with every single word you just said. I didn't realize how touchy of a subject this was until I read some of the response I got to this... oops. I'm a counter, too for the same reasons you are. This is all good info to have for my project though! <3