What Are Exchanges?

The Exchange System is a useful tool for calculating and planning individualized meal plans. Exchanges were introduced in 1950 by the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While they were originally created to help diabetics, the system is now frequently used by dieticians to assist people who are recovering from eating disorders.

Mealtimes are challenging for people with eating disorders. Thoughts and anxieties about serving sizes, calories, and what kinds of foods to eat makes preparing meals a daunting task. Having a trusted meal plan is crucial for ensuring that an individual receives a balance of nutrients, as well as for controlling anxiety, learning what a proper portion size looks like, coping with disordered thoughts, understanding hunger cues, and ultimately regaining a healthy relationship with food. The Exchange System does just that.

So, what exactly are Exchanges? An “exchange” is simply a type of food that falls within one of the six basic food groups: starches, proteins, fats, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. The recommended daily Exchanges for meal plans are different for everyone and are based on personal factors like height, weight, gender, metabolism, so on. An individual is assigned a specific number for every group (i.e. eleven starches, six proteins, etc.) and works with their dietician to fulfill that requirement.

Still confused? That’s all right! We were too in the beginning, but with a little (okay, a lot) of education and practice, we became pros—and so can you.

To learn more about how the Exchange System works, click here. To read about Julia’s experience, click here.