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Why Calories are Not the Enemy (but your eating disorder is)

By: Rachel Dodson RD, LDN

My goal for my clients who are pursuing recovery is to help them create an environment where their eating disorder cannot thrive. It’s hard to do the mental work of recovery with a malnourished brain, but if you or someone you care about has walked through recovery, you know that it’s not as simple as “just eat!”

Your eating disorder will do everything it can to create an environment in which it can continue to control you and your thoughts around food. It’s hard to fight the lies your eating disorder throws at you if you don’t have truth to fight back with. So why do we need food?! Why do calories matter?

Simply put, calories are units of energy. We need energy to enjoy our lives and execute the day to day tasks required of ourselves, therefore we need calories! Eating puts the energy our bodies require into our bodies - anything from breathing to vacuuming to running requires energy!

So let’s talk about why we need kcals. Our bodies need energy (calories) to keep us alive - we need energy to maintain a normal body temperature, to digest food, keep our organs functioning properly and hormone production. Nothing to do with body size. Around 70% of our daily energy needs are simply to keep our organs working. ANY movement will require energy - not just exercise - but getting the mail, taking a shower, cooking a meal, etc. - requires energy. Even digesting and absorbing nutrients from food also requires energy! Our brains run off of glucose, the energy they obtain from carbohydrates. When our brains are adequately nourished, we are able to perceive, problem solve, plan, memorize, make decisions and regulate emotions. Physical nourishment is essential to doing the mental work of being a human!

So, what happens in our bodies when we don’t get enough energy? When you aren’t giving your body enough energy, your body will do everything it can to not work as hard since it doesn’t have the energy to do so. Our bodies don’t know the difference between calorie restricting or straight-up famine. Your metabolism (aka the amount of energy your body burns daily just existing) slows, heart rate slows, insulin stops secreting, blood pressure lowers, digestion slows, increase in cortisol, blood flow to hands and feet is reduced, and hormonal shifts that could lead to loss of menses and loss of bone density can occur, all in the name of conserving energy. Your body is resilient and will do everything it can to keep you alive and protected! You may experience unwanted changes with your hair, skin, and nails when you are nourished adequately.

Our bodies require calories. Our bodies need to be sustained in the same way we would never expect to drive a car without gas in it. However, we are not robots. Many factors can effect our calorie demands day in and day out:

  • The weather

  • Where you’re at in your menstruation cycle

  • How you slept

  • Physical activity level

  • Illness or healing from something

  • Stress levels

  • Access to different foods

If we give our bodies enough energy, they will be able to utilize the energy! Nourishing your body is not black and white - again, we are not robots and it’s not just ‘calories in and calories out.”

Eating freely is important in the recovery process. Getting enough calories and not feeling confined to a specific number of calories is important in learning how to listen and honor your body’s needs. Calories are our only source of energy. All food is beneficial because it contributes to the amount of energy that your body requires to function day to day. Also it's important to note, calories also are not just science or energy they are experiences, connection, comfort, joy and so much more!

If you are struggling with where to start in the recovery process, don’t hesitate to reach out for help!

We have immediate openings right now for eating disorder therapy in:

Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

And recovery coaching worldwide.

Click here to get started with therapy today! :

Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview.


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