Does a Meal Plan play a Role in Recovery?
As an Eating Disorder Clinician, it is quite normal for me to see clients who ask for a meal plan – I am a Dietitian after all. Clients often say ‘’If you just tell me what to eat, I will follow the plan, it will be easier than trying to do it by myself and I will start to recover”.
There is a large part of me that wishes it were this simple – to be able to prescribe someone a meal plan which includes all the food groups and an adequate amount of food to keep them nourished. I can tell sometimes they are desperate and the dependency on a nutrition plan if exactly what they feel like is needed.
Of course, there is nothing we want more as Clinicians to see our clients recover as quickly as possible – however sadly, a meal plan acts as a ‘Band-Aid’ to the Eating Disorder, allowing it to manifest even more, as food decisions are still rigid and dictated by food rules. Meal plans lack flexibility which means there is no allowance for food freedom, which generally results in…. you guessed it – the restriction, emotional eating, and bingeing cycle.
We want to help you get to the crux of your Eating Disorder – to get you in the driver’s seat, confidently making food decisions based off intuition and listening to your body. For most Eating Disorder clients, letting go of structure and a plan, inevitability results in uncomfortable feelings.
However just like the heat on a warm summer’s day, it can feel almost unbearable…then it subsides.
How will I know when I can eat if I do not have a plan to follow?
As your hunger and fullness cues may not be entirely reliable at the start of recovery, we start by structuring your day – stripping it back to basics with a focus on regular eating at normalised meal times and ensuring your body has enough energy to function.
Ultimately, we start to see improvements in physical and psychological symptoms, and a reduction in ED behaviours, particularly bingeing.
The Role of the Menu Plan (Not Meal Plan)
Sounds similar, but they are very different.
The aim of planning meals is to help normalise regular eating patterns, provide structure and reduce anxiety whilst also being very flexible. The variety of foods change day to day, and week to week, with the menu plan being more of an organisational tool rather than a rigid dietary plan.
Overtime, we take a particular focus to foods you enjoyed prior to the eating disorder and support you to introduce these foods back into your diet.
Using a menu plan to begin with, can have the following benefits:
- Decreased anxiety as you do not have to think about a meal to make every single day of the week
- You are in the driver’s seat, not the eating disorder
- Reduction in trips to the shops during the week, as meal planning helps reduce anxiety
- Lesser chance of impulse buying due to creating a shopping list and having the food in the house
- Less vulnerability to binge eating
- Meal planning allows you to include room for spontaneous events as it is not set in stone
When planning your week, ask yourself –
What am I in the mood for this week?
What will nourish my body and brain best?
What foods do I enjoy and associate nice memories with?
There is a big difference between planning a flexible weekly menu and following a rigid meal plan.
As Abraham Maslow said “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step backwards into safety”.
Our Dieitians are well trained to guide and support you during your journey. Get in touch by calling our wonderful admin team on 02 4363 4334.