An eating disorder recovery meal plan is essential in the beginning stages of your recovery. This food plan is essentially the foundation for your recovery; without it, we would not be able to do the deeper, emotional healing work that sustained recovery requires.
Following a meal plan is an important key in your eating disorder treatment plan so that we can lessen and ultimately abstain from all eating disorder behaviors- binging, purging, restricting, and compulsive overeating. Engaging in eating disorder behaviors is abusing our body by depriving it of healthy food and nutrients in healthy proportions and we have to train ourselves to learn how to eat ‘normally’ again. This is not bad, we developed the eating disorder as a way to cope, we must not blame, but need to take responsibility and understand that we can change for the better. Food and eating does not have to be scary or rule your life, even though when starting an eating disorder meal plan it can feel this way!
The most important thing to remember when establishing an eating disorder meal plan is that your body weight will stabilize to its set point over time! This was the number one thing that I had to remember in the beginning- TRUSTING that my weight would normalize if I followed my recovery food plan. I also threw out the scale and stopped weighing myself. Weight is just a number and doesn’t determine your self-worth!
The best way to develop an anorexic recovery meal plan, recovering bulimic meal plan, binge-eating recovery meal plan or any eating disorder meal plan is to develop a customized food plan with a Registered Dietician, one who preferably has experience working with people with eating disorders. Many health insurance plans include this service so check with your provider on finding a good dietician who can help you plan your meals and keep you accountable.
However, I understand that some people might not have access to a dietitian so here are some good guidelines to follow.
General guidelines to follow when creating a meal plan:
Have a balanced and nutritious meal plan.
Our body needs nutrients to fuel itself and be healthy. We must eat for health! Our bodies need food for energy in order to function properly and our brains require nutrients to think clearly. It is crucial to eat foods that are nourishing and healthy that our body wants. It should contain lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, dairy (or alternatives), fats, and grains. A list of each food group and serving sizes for your recovery meal plan exchanges are listed here. Eating lots of whole, natural, raw and organic foods in your meal plan is ideal and can help enhance your mood. It should also be high in fiber which is great for your digestive system. There are different approaches to meal plans as to what ratio you should eat of each food and a dietician can help create an approach that is right for your body type and food preferences. If you need help though, see our example meal plans for eating disorders here and click here to get help estimating portion sizes.
Plan out your meals the night before.
Write everything down that you are going to eat the following day before you go to bed at night- including the time of day when you will have your meals and snacks. Plan for the times you have to go out- work, appointments, etc. – and take a lunchbox with you if you are going to be out during meal or snack times. This helps us to stick to our recovery meal plan and prepare ourselves to be ready to follow our food plan for the following day.
Eat small meals/snacks every 2.5 to 3 hours.
When I was in the early stages of recovery a big trigger for me was feeling extremely full, so to combat this I ate 3 meals and 3 snacks every day, about 2.5 to 3 hours apart. I could feed my body what it needed over the entire day, which helped avoid feeling extremely full in one sitting and also I never got ravenously hungry which helped avoid binging. It also helped keep my energy and metabolism up because my body could digest the food quickly. I began to tune into to those hunger and full cues easier.
Learn to tune into your body.
We must learn to make peace with food and our bodies so that we can nourish ourselves properly. Listening to our body for internal hunger and fullness cues is an important part of this process. Tuning in to the body can be difficult in the beginning, but you will develop this skill slowly over time as you listen to the subtle cues. If you have trouble with this, you may need to keep a food and feelings journal. See an example worksheet here. Our body is our friend, after all we have to live in it! Struggling with feeling fat? Click here to learn what to do when you feel fat.
Don’t deprive yourself.
Are you afraid of certain binge foods? Do you crave sugary sweets and are afraid if you have ‘just one’ you will fall off the meal plan? Fears about food and food rules are very common. Is fear holding you back in your bulimia recovery? One of the biggest things in my recovery was that I love chocolate. I just do, I couldn’t live without my dark chocolate. I realized depriving myself of it would only make me crave it more and then there was a possibility of me binging on that food if I didn’t allow myself to have it. Work in your sweet tooth with your meal plan! If you don’t feel comfortable with it, then don’t do it.
I used to eat chocolate yogurt as my evening snack because it was healthy, yet sweet and satisfied my sweet tooth. If you want to have something sweet, substitute it for a snack. I used to make a tray of (low-fat low-sugar) brownies, cut them into single servings, and freeze them in plastic baggies. Then I would thaw one out at a time and I wouldn’t be able to binge on them. Allow yourself to have this pleasure if you want! Savor every bite. Really enjoy it and then be done with it. You can have another tomorrow so don’t worry about it. Of course, take your time with this, if it doesn’t feel comfortable for you, then don’t do it. The point of the meal plan is to feel satisfied.
Be easy on yourself.
Realize that slips happen, and you might go off your meal plan. Whatever you do, try to get right back on track where you left off. Try not to allow ‘black and white thinking’ to take over…example: “I already started binging, might as well keep going and then purge…” or “I already screwed up today’s meal plan, might as well just screw it and start again tomorrow…” This kind of thinking perpetuates the eating disorder behaviors. The best thing you can do is forgive yourself and get right back on the meal plan. Reach out for support, take a walk, journal, take a hot shower, say positive affirmation quotes, use your toolkit of coping skills- do whatever you can to get through the urge and then continue on with your meal plan.
Be committed to the process.
Sticking to a recovery meal plan might seem like a lot of work at first and let’s face it: it’s probably going to be hard. You didn’t develop your eating disorder in a day and you don’t recover in a day either. It’s on ongoing process and it takes time for your body to adjust to the changes. But remember, recovery from eating disorders is a journey and it does get easier! But you must do the work now to free yourself from the chains of the eating disorder. Today I look back and remember how difficult and painful it was going through this process and I have to say: It’s totally worth it.
Don’t give up hope.
You are worth it and you deserve to recover.
Freedom awaits you!
If you have any questions, please leave in the comments below!!!
Peace, Love + Freedom,