In the spirit of me getting back on the recovery wagon, I thought it might be beneficial for me to put together a list of how to effectively follow a meal plan. I think these tips are actually pretty relatable for any type of lifestyle, however, because they revolve a lot around planning, preparation, and attempting to make life around food a little more convenient; perfect for all of us with crazy, hectic schedules.
But also, these tips are for those who find it extremely difficult to increase their daily caloric goals after periods of restriction, or while dealing with disordered eating thoughts.
Hopefully they help!
1.Write it down.
Yup, this may sound annoying, but it works.
Sunday is my day to look at the week, see what I have on my upcoming agenda, and plan what to have for lunches and dinners. I know I pack a lunch every day, and it is typically similar items, but writing them down makes them more concrete and way less to think about the morning of.
It also helps reduce panic when hunger strikes and I am having the oh, so, difficult time of deciding what I want.
This might sound weird but there are so many instances where I will be driving home from Zumba, or detention, thinking, “ok, its time for a meal, now what am I hungry for?”
In my mind I will run through 874674 options, back and forth, back and forth, because I cannot decide what sounds appealing. The problem is, my thought process is still pretty disordered, meaning my ability to make a decision is very much influenced by destructive habits…
“Which has the least amount of calories…”
“Which one has the safest foods…”
“Which do I know will fill me up so I won’t go scrounging for more…”
These questions are pretty regular when I am determining what to consume, and because I want to prevent them from dictating my selections all the time, planning ahead is key.
If I write down what we are having, I can almost psyche myself up for those items (even if they are a challenge) which nearly always leads to a healthier, recovery based, or balanced choice.
2. Make sure you have what you need.
This goes hand in hand with writing things down. When you have a plan, you know pretty much of what you are going to need to assemble your meals and snacks, and can shop for it.
Similarly, you can also look through your pantry, determine what left-overs you will have from previous meals, and create new ones from there. These two actions both save money, and eliminates waste, while helping you construct a plan not too terribly difficult.
3. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
If you are just starting the meal planning process, don’t overdo it with a ton of options or variety that is unfamiliar. While I think changing up a routine is KEY to recovery, sometimes when you try too much, too fast, it also causes panic, fear, and relapse that is not conducive to rebuilding a healthy relationship with food and your body.
I’ll give you an example. Fats and carbs are still my most challenging groups. I love both genres of food, and think they taste delicious, but the thought of having a cookie is terrifying to me.
When I was in the Hershey program, Oreo’s were something that was offered as part of the lunch menu, and were often encouraged to add a little twist to the standard lunch box. Although this is kind of breaking away from my objective of eating more whole foods, if I really wanted a cookie, I know two Oreos are a starch, lipid, exchange; essentially the same thing as a piece of bread and ½ a tablespoon of nut butter.
Especially at times where there is something significant occurring in my life, a potentially triggering situation, I try to stick with things that satisfy my cravings, or might be a little uncomfortable, but that won’t send me into a tailspin where I restrict later.
Sometimes, although challenges are a good thing, it is better to remain in a place where you can maintain following a healthy pattern. My nutritionist used to always say, “don’t rock the boat.” So when you are smooth sailing, perhaps its best to stay on course.
4. Take it one meal at a time.
So what happens if you do get a bit overwhelmed and feel yourself taking the easy way out? This is easier said than done, but DON’T!
This is what happens to me. I will “overeat” at breakfast, and then start planning my lunch as the most minimal thing possible to compensate for my indulgence. Often I will end having something I don’t even want, just because it makes up for my “super large, over the top” morning meal.
This is not how it’s supposed to work. If you are an intuitive eater, one meal typically doesn’t not affect the rest, so if you happen to be extra hungry one day, who cares. That is why it is called intuitive eating, and it’s what “normal” people do.
Similarly, when the meal is complete, that’s it. It is over and shouldn’t really be given another thought. But, as with most things in ED recovery, this is easier said than done. Often I will find myself agonizing over my selections, even after they have been digested, so I try to distract both my mind and body by participating in an after-food activity. You can find some suggestions here, but all I have to say is, board games have become my best friend.
5. Be honest with yourself/self-evaluate.
Oh man, this is a toughie, but is definitely something that should be done pretty regularly.
When I first started following a meal plan, I mean actually following it, I had to check in with myself nearly every week to make sure ED wasn’t over-estimating all my exchanges, or completely dictating my choices.
Here is the tricky part. You have to be honest with yourself. Don’t judge, but just make sure you really did want a salad for lunch. Were you still hungry after breakfast? Did you truly have a full serving of sunflower butter?
I know these things sound trivial, but for a very long time I would barely fill a tablespoon and swear up and down that it was nearly two helpings of a fat source.
WRONGO! and cutting corners leads to absolutely NO progress, mentally or physically.
6. Have a little fun.
Listen, life is about balance.
Let me repeat, BALANCE, BALANCE, BALANCE!!!!
That means there is no such thing as a perfect eater!
For so long I thought I had to hit my caloric goal, or exchanges, on he head every day (or be under it when I wasn’t thinking so healthily!) But there will be days when my stomach is still growling and I am pretty darn close to my magic number for the day.
So what do I do? EAT!
Restriction does not coincide with a low caloric intake. Restriction is simply not eating intentionally when your body is asking for fuel.
Also, if I am craving something sweet, but really the food pyramid says I need more veggies for the day, so what?!
Life is not always about following the rules to a T; sometimes you should LIVE A LITTLE. Tomorrow you might want more of the green stuff but right now you want some frozen yogurt. Eat the icy treat and make your stomach smile.
Flexibility and listening to your body is the ultimate goal of recovery. Although I strongly encourage you AT LEAST meet your daily requirements, understand that food is not supposed to be feared, but instead a necessity and sometimes kind of fun!
Celebrate your life, and nourish your soul. As my grandmother used to say, “life is too short, eat dessert first.” Perhaps we all need to listen to good old Gram.
I hope this helps. I know how difficult it can be to make healthy choice, every, single time, but maybe this list can at least make it a tiny bit easier.
Please feel free to add your ideas because any suggestions are more than welcome! I need them too!! 😉