Meal Planning in Recovery
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Unrestricted eating is the answer to the question of how to recover from an eating disorder, and unrestricted 'feast' eating can help you get there, kicking down those restrictive rules as you you go. But for some of us, this can seem too daunting. Your eating disorder disincentivizes eating with every tool in it's nasty bag of tricks: especially feelings-it throws up every horrible, overwhelming thing you don't want to feel, sometimes all at once, to stop you eating. So what about those of us who find unrestricted eating, or even the idea of it, too hard? Meal planning can be a good option, it can help you build up to unrestricted eating and ultimately to recovery.
Of course, it's possible that unrestricted eating may never work for you, and that's ok too. Increasingly, it's being accepted that meal planning can help lessen the mental noise of eating disorders and make it easier to focus our attention on the business of living. Dr Laura Hill, in her fabulous Tedx Columbus talk, equates this with diabetes, where some sufferers stabilise and no longer need medication, while some need insulin for the rest of their lives; likewise, with anorexia, some sufferers are able to stabilise, while some need detailed food plans for the rest of their lives.
Another option is to move from the structure of a meal plan into a less structured plan, sticking with the three meals and three snacks, but experimenting with a more relaxed way of choosing food within that approach.
To start with, in these early stages of recovery,your meal plan should be mostly foods you enjoy, or at least can manage, and you're comfortable eating. This is going to be a narrow list at this point, and challenging your fear foods and regular exposures are important, but let's be honest, if I tell you to eat tiramisu every night, we both know you're not going to do it. Equally trying out food you've never tried before isn't going to work either. At this point you're mind is very sensitive to changes, threats, risks...it's always on high alert and it can be a good idea to tread carefully, but if that's how you choose to move forward recovery will be slower, and slower can mean more time for lapses. (it should be said that there are risks of lapses in any approach.).
Be honest with yourself,and anyone (therapist, recovery coach, dietitian) helping you. You can't hope to progress if you're not open and honest about foods or dishes that you're not comfortable with, or ones that you instantly know you're unable to try at this point in your recovery. If you're open about the food that you enjoy, and start trying different food within those categories, you can challenge yourself to eat different things regularly, avoiding falling back into the narrow, restrictive parameters of your 'safe' foods, while still feel comfortable; this means, i f you love seafood and only eat shrimp, try adding crab or salmon; or if you love chicken try incorporating quorn slices or turkey. If you enjoy peanut butter, try adding in almond or cashew butter.
There's a lot of food involved in recovery. It will feel overwhelming at times. Try and turn those parts of following the meal plan That your really struggle with into something positive, like having cooking sessions with you're favourite people or going grocery shopping with your mum or best friend. There will be times when you can't keep to your plan. Try and learn from what happened and definitely don't beat yourself up about it, just be determined that tomorrow will be different. Feeling you can't eat more than you ate the day before is part of the disordered ED thinking; it's not true and if you give in to it, it's the road to relapse; so if you have a bad day, it's all the more important to eat to your plan the next day: you probably won't feel hungry, and the noise in your head is going to be super loud, so pushing through, mechanical eating is essential.
If you trust the process,and if you see it all the way through, you will reach a point you where you can eat intuitively; you will know when you want a snack, when you have a craving, when you're hungry and when you're full. It will all fall into place, I promise.